Newly discovered ant species uses pro-spy techniques to infiltrate colonies

Crematogaster ampla
CC BY 3.0 Head of a turtle ant by April Nobile

Walks like a turtle ant, acts like a turtle ant - and looks like a mirror turtle ant?

Researchers from George Washington University discovered a new ant species that survives by infiltrating other species and accessing their food. The ants were found among a colony of turtle ants in Brazil.

"I did a true double-take when I first saw this new species," said Dr. Scott Powell, the researcher who made the discovery, in a press release. "As I turned away, after seeing what appeared to be large numbers of host foragers, it registered that a couple of the ants I had just laid eyes on were not quite like the others. Turning back around, I managed to re-find the few peculiar ants in the masses of host ants, and everything followed from there."

Powell decided to name the new species mirror turtle ants after observing that they managed to escape detection by mimicking the turtle ant colony they were infiltrating. Mirror turtle ants raised their abdomens like turtle ants and made sure to dodge turtle ants so their smell wouldn't give them away. This is the first case ever recorded in nature of a species using visual-mimicry to parasitize another species.

Further studies have shown that mirror turtle ants successfully crept into 89 percent of host (turtle ant) territories. Looks like they've got the spy infiltration routine down better than James Bond.

The parasitic mirror turtle ant (right) mimics the raised body posture of the host (left) in order to trick the host into thinking the parasite is one of its own. Image Cred: Scott Powell/CC BY 2.0

Tags: Biomimicry | Insects

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