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LEXICON

 

 

Weaver Ant

Common name of an in Southeast Asia living genus of ants with the Latin-scientific designation Oecophylla smaragdina, also commonly known as the Green Ant, which refers to the gaster, i.e. the bulbous posterior portion, of the ant queens, that are generally greenish-brown in colour. Worker weaver ants have a red-brownish body and are in Thai called mot daeng, i.e. ‘red ants’. Weaver Ants owe their name to the way in which these social insects build their nests (fig.), which is done either by sewing together several small tree leaves, or by folding larger ones until the edges meet, fastening the ends with silk threads produced by their larvae (fig.). They first pull the ends and edges of the leaves together using their legs and mandibles, often with workers forming living bridges between the ends, until they are attached. Whilst holding this position other worker ants then sew or weave the leaves together by pressing their silk-producing larvae against the edges in alternation, using the sticky larval silk as a natural glue (fig.), forming a tent-like compartment that serves as a retreat, a nursery, to relocate more ants, and to store food, including intruders such as other ants and insects that wandered into or near the nest by accident. Weaver ants usually build their nests high up in trees, often fruit trees and especially mango trees (fig.), which led to the Thai proverb mot daeng faeng phuang ma-muang, which translates as ‘red ants disguised as a bunch of mangoes’ and refers to a wolf in sheep's clothes, said especially of a controlling and jealous husband. However, sometimes nests are built in lower locations, such as shrubs or plants. Arboreal weaver ants are polydomous, i.e. inhabiting several nests, with several leaf nests making up a single colony. To collaborate in this nest-building endeavor, as well as in its defence, a high level of organization and coordination is required. For this, weaver ants communicate by releasing chemicals called pheromones, that affect the behavior of the others. Besides this, they also use touch and make various gestures with their bodies to signal and pass on information, e.g. to indicate a food source or defend the colony (fig.). In addition, workers exhibit social carrying behaviour, a trait in which one worker will carry another in its mandibles and take it to a location that requires attention (fig.). In Thailand, the larvae of Weaver Ants, called khai mot daeng (fig.) are eaten by some people. To harvest them, smoke is used to sedate the ants as they have a painful bite and are able to spray formic acid onto the bite wound which intensifies the pain and discomfort even more. Like some other species of ants, Weaver Ants also feed on plant lice known as aphids, which are harmful to plants but beneficial to the Weaver Ants as they eat the sweet liquid released by the aphids. See also mot. See also WILDLIFE PICTURES and WATCH VIDEOS of nest building (1), (2) and (3).