Up in the Air with Red Ants and their woven leaf nests

28 Jun

Ants live in cracks (in cavities of anything – walls, plants, etc), Ants live in hills (ant hills),

But ever heard of ants living in a nest in trees?

Tree / Weaver Ants, Kanha National Park


I had not, but met with these tree / weaver ants in our resort, The Baagh in Kanha. We were out for a walk when we saw these large funny balls of leaves hanging on trees with numerous red colored ants all over it. Our guide then introduced us to these remarkable creatures that live in large colonies in leaf nests hanging on trees and display a unique nest-building behaviour – where worker ants construct nests by sewing leaves together using larval silk.

At the sight of these nests my curiosity was piqued and once back home, I read a lot more about these unique tree / weaver ants and their colonies. These colonies are founded when a mated female (a queen) lays a batch of eggs on a leaf, then protects and feeds the larvae until they develop into mature workers. These workers then construct leaf nests and perform a variety of tasks that are essential for the survival of the colony i.e. collecting food, making new nests and defending the colony.  Just like a mini self-sufficient country of ants.

Nests of weaver / tree ants, Kanha National Park

Nests of weaver / tree ants, Kanha National Park

I also loved what I read about their defence mechanism in an article in national geographic (link below). There are actual soldier ants that maintain and defend their territory from predators. This territory covers the entire perimeter of the tree i.e. from the treetops to the forest floor. Though these soldiers don’t speak they are still always in full sync by the use of chemical and tactile communication signals. They exchange information via  touch with mouths, forelegs, or antennae, they lay down scents with different glands to send different messages and release more pheromones into the air to broadcast signals quickly and widely. They even display symbolic behavior such as attenation and body shaking to stimulate activity in signal recipients.

Ants around their nests, Kanha National Park

Ants around their nests, Kanha National Park

But the best part was how they construct their leaf nests. First one worker ant stands at the edge of a leaf and tries to grasp the edge of another nearest leaf. If the distance between two leaves is quite a bit then a second worker ant climbs over the first. The first ant holds the second ant from the waist and tries to hold him closer to the second leaf. This climbing like a chain continues, till the required leaf is caught by the edge. Then the entire chain pulls in unison, often along with other workers that have formed parallel chains and reinforcing cross-links, to draw the leaves’ edges together. Workers then arrange themselves like live staples along the seam between the leaves, legs holding on to one edge, jaws gripping the other.

Ants constructing their nest. Pic courtesy - wikipedia

Ants constructing their nest. Pic courtesy – wikipedia

Post that other workers bring larvae (that are about to enter the pupal stage and metamorphose into adults) to donate their silk to the colony. Holding the edge of the leaf, an adult uses its antennae to tap on the head of the larva held in its jaws, signaling the larvae to extrude silk from its salivary glands. This silk glues the leaves together and then the entire process is repeated till the leaves are stuck. Quite a bit of work, phew.

Ants all over their leaf nest, Kanha National Park

Ants all over their leaf nest, Kanha National Park

The more I read about these ants and their behavior, the more I felt that they were far more evolved creatures than us, humans. And I wondered who learnt from whom? Nonetheless quite an interesting creature, isn’t it?

In case you too want to read more on these tree ants / weaver ants, you can check these links on national geographic and on wikipedia. 🙂

6 Responses to “Up in the Air with Red Ants and their woven leaf nests”

  1. Juliana Lightle June 29, 2014 at 05:07 #

    How fascinating. There are ants here that make nests in the ground–about a 12 inch circle–with long tunnels from hill to hill. I used to kill them because they sting if they bite. However, once I learned they are the main food for horned lizards (horny toads), I left them alone. Horned lizards used to be common, but pesticides have made them increasingly hard to find.


    • getsetandgo June 29, 2014 at 19:21 #

      This is so interesting… Would love to see these nests tooo… Any idea what they do when it snows?


      • Juliana Lightle June 29, 2014 at 19:28 #

        I think they just hide under the ground. Will take a photo of their nest and post it, but you won’t see anything but a circle of fine gravel and a hole in the middle.


      • getsetandgo June 29, 2014 at 21:13 #

        Hey, will wait for the pic. Thanks 🙂


  2. JZ June 30, 2014 at 14:33 #



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