These ants spray their victims with acid before decorating their nests with their skulls
There is one species of ant that could be considered one of the most grotesque due to its unusual choice of interior decoration: the decapitated heads of their victims.
Scientific studies have always found Formica archboldi ants tend to keep a lot of old body parts around their homes. “A lot of ants are very clean, they will remove dead workers or food scraps,” said Adrian Smith, director of the Evolutionary Biology and Behavioral Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Many ants take their rubbish outside the nest and put it in a heap called midden, which also serves as a cemetery. The main idea of having a clean nest is to protect the queen from infection.
However, the Formica the ants “for some reason leave a lot of their waste in their nests,” says Smith, who examined these insects for two years and produced a study in 2019 on his findings.
“When you open their nests and find a lot of body parts – it’s probably because they didn’t throw out their garbage.”
Native to Florida, these skull-gathering ants are particularly fond of devouring trap-jaw ants (Odontomachus brunneus) – usually not an easy target. Trap Jaws have a powerful sting and a spring-loaded bite, which is why they got their English name.
Unlike other ants, Formica do not have a stinger. Instead, they spray a dose of formic acid on their victims, a charge that can completely neutralize a jaw-trap ant. “A spray can knock out a trap-jaw ant and an individual Formica an ant could take down an entire jaw-trap ant, a remarkable feat given that jaw-trap ants are commonly known [as a]fierce predator, ”says Smith.
The majority of a Formica the diet is trap ants. “Suppose they would eliminate two or three workers a day,” Smith said. And the skulls are not digested or broken down easily: “They are the hardest part of the exoskeleton, they are all hollowed out, all the muscle is gone, these are just the head cases or the skulls”, a- he declared. “They’re kind of like discarded chicken bones.”
Another theory is that Formica keep leftovers to chemically mimic the trap-jaw ant they feed on. “When they touch each other with their antennae, they actually smell,” Smith says. “One way to acquire the chemical, if they don’t manufacture it themselves, perhaps is to keep the carcasses they acquire to maintain the odor of those ants.”
Although scientists discovered these little creatures almost a century ago, it was only recently that stories about them have been widely shared.
“There are rich details all around us that we overlook or don’t pay attention to,” Smith says. “These guys have always been in Florida, but they’re unique, we’ve known these ants and their strange collections of body parts since the 1930s, but no one has taken the time to study them.” These studies give us a reason to appreciate these things, show what is out there, admire them and protect them. “