Weaver Ants

Posted by on Dec 20, 2013 in Think & Believe Newsletter | 0 comments

Weaver ants are among the rulers of the forest canopy. Unlike most species of tree-dwelling ants, they are not dependent upon finding hollow branches or gaps under the bark of their host. These industrious insects make their own homes in unique fashion. 

When a fertile queen establishes a new colony, she finds a suitable leaf on an uncolonized tree. She lays the first brood of eggs and feeds and protects them until they reach maturity. At that point the workers take over the maintenance of the colony and the queen is reduced to merely laying eggs for the rest of her life. As the colony grows, workers begin to construct a clever nest within the leaves of the tree.

A worker will walk along the edge of a leaf, testing it with her mandibles (jaws). When she finds a sufficiently pliable leaf, she will begin to pull on the edge with force. Her activity attracts other ants, who join in pulling the leaf edge either in on itself or toward another leaf. More and more ants will join the work party, pulling the leaves together by sheer force. Sometimes the leaves are farther apart than one worker can reach. In that case, the workers form chains by grasping the waist of the worker in front of them. As the chain of workers is drawn in, the “anchor ants” detach themselves as each successive ant gains footing on the base leaf. Once the leaves are in place, other workers bring in the “weavers” from which the species takes its name. 

Each worker carries one larva in her mandibles. The worker will touch the larva against the leaf and gently squeeze it with her mandibles. The larva begins to extrude a thin strand of silk, attaching it to the leaf surface. The worker moves the larva to the surface of the next leaf, where the silk is again connected. The pair continues this dance, back and forth, until the larva has exhausted its’ supply of silk. Other workers and larva are repeating the same procedure all along the leaf edges. Once the leaves are firmly connected, the workers turn their attention to the next leaf. They can construct a nest averaging in size between a man’s hand and head in less than twenty four hours. Large colonies of weavers can involve numerous trees, with multiple nests and queens, and potentially half a million workers.

This weaving process is a major sacrifice for the larva. Only the larva in their final stage have silk glands, and only a limited amount of silk can be produced. Ordinarily the larva would use this silk to spin her own cocoon for her metamorphosis into a pupa. Giving up her silk allows her to ensure not only the survival of the colony, but herself as well. Protected by a strong nest, she can still reach maturity. 

Weaver ants are fanatically protective of their host trees, killing most other insects that come within their territory. They will even bite birds and mammals that they consider a threat. Indeed, farmers in Asia have used them as biological pest control since about 400 BC, encouraging them to colonize in fruit orchards. 

Weaver ants have a highly specialized lifestyle. Is this evidence of creation or evolution? Even though ants appear to be the most intelligent of insect species, some say they are little more than biological robots. Most of their behavior is thought to be the result of instinct, rather than conscious thought processes. How then did they come up with the idea of using their own young to weave together the nests that shelter the colony? How do they know which stage of larva can produce silk? Who taught them to use their own bodies to make chains for construction purposes? Remove any of these steps, and the entire colony is at risk of destruction. I believe their complex society is not the result of a series of happy accidents, but a carefully designed and orchestrated plan. Only God could have conceived such brilliant survival strategies and set them in motion.

By Joyce Trump

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