They’re well known for their hard work, but now a species of Kangaroo Island ant is also shown to be adept at ‘playing death’, a behavior that University of South Australia researchers believe is a world first of record.
It was discovered serendipitously while researchers were examining pygmies’ boxes and bat nests on Kangaroo Island, a colony Polyrhachis femorata The ants seemed to be dead… until one of them moved.
Researchers believe the ants were “playing dead” as a defense strategy to avoid potential danger.
Published by CSIRO, This is the first time that an entire colony of ants feigning death has been recorded, and the first record of ants Polyrhachis femorata Ant species of South Australia.
Wildlife ecologist, UniSA Assistant Professor S. ‘Topa’ Petit, says she was surprised to discover a colony of what appeared to be dead ants in one of the nest boxes.
“The mimicry was perfect,” says Associate Professor Beatty. “When we opened the box, we saw all these dead ants… Then one of them moved a bit.
“This type of defensive immobility is known only among a few ant species – in specific individuals or molds – but we know of no other cases when it has been observed in entire colonies.
In some boxes containing colonies Polyrhachis femorataSome individuals took a while to stop moving, and some did not. It is difficult to understand the motives for this behavior.
Assoc Prof Petit says nest boxes may offer an opportunity to study the behaviors of ants feigning death, which is of great interest to many behavioral ecologists who research a variety of animal species.
The discovery was made during the Kangaroo Island Nest Fund Project, where 901 box cavities were monitored across 13 diverse properties as part of wildlife restoration efforts in the wake of devastating bushfires in 2020.
Kangaroo Island Research Station co-investigator Peter Hammond says he used to call the Nest Box project “Invertebrate Friends,” because invertebrates were often the sole concern of bats and pygmy nest boxes.
“We’re learning a lot about invertebrates as well as target vertebrates,” says Hammond.
“Most of our several hundred nest boxes are on burnt ground, but we also have some unburned properties as controls because our goal is to determine the value of nest boxes in bushfire recovery.
“Polyrhachis femorata Closely related to the endangered Narrow-Leaf Mallee community, it colonized many squirrels very quickly. However, we also have records for two other properties in the West, which indicate that the ants will use other habitats.
“we think that Polyrhachis femorata The species has been severely affected by the wildfires.”
Assoc Prof Petit says there is a lot to discover about this species.
“Polyrhachis femorata is a beautiful arboreal ant that tends to be quite shy, but little is known about its ecology or behaviour,” says Assoc Prof Petit.
“We have a relatively unknown world of ants under our feet and in the trees. Ants provide critical ecosystem services and are a vital part of functional ecosystems on Kangaroo Island and elsewhere.
“It’s so exciting to have such an endearing species Polyrhachis femorata She lives on Kangaroo Island and we look forward to learning more about her habitat.
“We have no doubt that other ants with similar death-feigning behaviors will be discovered in Australia, but it is exciting to be among the pioneers.”