If you have a keen eye, you may be lucky enough to spot a green ant nest perched high in the upper branches of canopy trees. A bulging cluster of leaves, these nests represent a secret and complex world.
Green Ant Nests
Green Ant (Oescophylla ssp.) nests are constructed by the Green Ant colony’s frontline workers. These workers use their bodies as chain links, bridging gaps between leaves, slowly moving them into place. They then use their silk-producing larvae as a glue stick to fasten the leaves into place. Having played their role, the larvae are left to pupate within this carefully designed nest.
Green Ant nests are a common sight. Each colony can be made up of 150 nests, containing almost half a million ants. While the outer nests serve both as a supply and a defensive outpost to protect the centrally located headquarters accommodating the queens.
The trees benefit immensely from this partnership. While providing the raw material for the ant’s home, the trees are guaranteed a swift and aggressive response to any herbivores from their protective defenders in return.
Green Ants & Butterflies
While there are a large number of complex inter-species relationships that exist in the ancient rainforest, one of the most extraordinary occurs within the Green Ant nest.
Multiple species of butterfly will seek out Green Ant nests before laying their eggs. Once their eggs hatch into caterpillars, the ants transport the caterpillars into the nest itself where they are cleaned and protected. In return for this nurturing, the caterpillar releases a sugary, protein-rich honeydew for the ants to feed upon.
As night falls, the caterpillar leaves the nest to feed upon neighbouring plants, surrounded by its ant-bodyguards. If these bodyguards travel out of the caterpillar’s comfort zone, the caterpillar calls them back using vibrations that mimic the ant’s calls.
Green Ant Threats:
Green Ants don’t have an easy life. Upon leaving the safety of their nest, the worker ants need to overcome a range of obstacles.
Many types of insects and plant predators attempt to lure Green Ants into their traps. These include bugs offering an irresistible (but poisonous) honeydew; plants such as the Drosera ssp that lure ants in by offering sugary sweet treats; and even spiders that join the ant colony in disguise and attacking from within.
So if you do happen to see a Green Ant colony, spare a moment’s thought for all the complex interactions that are taking place inside this miniature treetop world.
Written by Skyrail Rainforest Cableway environmental ranger Marc McConnell