Form and Function

Eciton burchellii is the commonly referred ant when dealing with the species Eciton (Army Ants). It is the largest and most expansive species of Army Ant. They can range in color from a deep golden color to dull brown. (Animal Diversity 2012). One major characteristic that one can easily point out are their enormous numbers and swarm raiding ventures (Amateur Entomologists’ Society 2013). This species is distinguished normally by its long, pointed, mandibles. Used with permission from Alex Wild.
 They use these hook-shaped mandibles
 along  with hooks on their feet to do a
 number of various functions from killing prey
 to gripping and hooking their bodies together
 and forming bridges and bivouacs (Animal
 Diversity 2012). Each colony of E. burchellii
are  consisted of one permanently wingless
 queen and four type of workers (Wildscreen
 2013). There are enormous numbers in this
 species of ant that make up each and every
 colony averaging around 500,000 worker
 (Franks 1989, Meisel 2006, Garnier et. al. 2012, Pawnation 2012).

The workers in the colony make up four types of castes.  The smallest of the two castes are known as ‘minims’ and ‘mediums’. These castes configure smaller groups to collect prey items. The next larger caste are specialized to use their long legs and mount prey organisms below their bodies. These ants are from the ‘porter’ caste. The largest of of the Army Ant worker castes are known as the ‘majors’. These Army Ants use dangerous mandibles to defend the colony from invaders (Wildscreen 2013).

E. burchellii are a very interesting ant to look into when learning about communication skills. They have many ways to communicate! Their most important way of communication is by chemical signals. These chemicals are called pheromones which can be released into the air for a number of different situations. They can be used to signal for recognition of a nest mate, food, alarm, and sexual communication (Animal Diversity 2012).Workers in the colonies also use chemicals to mark foraging trails in which others can follow. They do this by wiping or smearing these chemicals on parts of the habitat with their abdomens as they walk (Animal Diversity 2012, Pawnation 2012). Army Ants have other ways of communication (Pawnation 2012). As stated by Nigel R. Franks in his article Army Ants: A Collective Intelligence, “Through communication and mass action, army ants find flexible solutions to complex problems.” One different way that Army Ants communicate are with touch and vibrations . Workers within the colony do not communicate visually. This reason is due to the fact that they are almost completely blind (Animal Diversity 2012)! These roles of the workers show some of the limits of self-organization mechanisms in our world today (Deneubourg et. al 1989).

These ants are able to adapt to their surrounding  environments and have a great understanding about what  their roles in the colony are. They have enormous capacities  and their degree of intelligence is overwhelming  (Deneubourg et. al 1989). As stated on the  interactions  page, army ants use  large numbers and swarms called raids  to prey on their  food.  They are well-equipped for killing  prey besides the  aspect of having large numbers to swarm. Army ants have distinctly large mandibles and stingers, which they use to overwhelm their prey when they swarm. They use these mandibles and stingers to overwhelm their prey with bites and stings. These ants either eat their prey on-site or rip it to shreds. Then they carry any leftover pieces back to the temporary nest (bivouac) to share with the group (Pawnation 2012).

One aspect that is unique to this species of army ant is there ability to adapt to their environment when  a crisis may hit a raid they are on. Each worker ant is approximately only 1cm long. When on a raid for food and survival they have networking trails that can extend over 100 m (Pawnation 2012, Animal Diversity 2012, Ametur Entemologists’ Society 2013,  Garnier et. al. 2013). They are extremely versatile and can keep
 speeds of up to 13 cm/s even when carrying prey items  
 (Garnier et. al. 2013). When living in unpredictable and
 irregular terrain, these ants are able to overcome many
 issues and problems that other species of ants may have.
E. burchellii
need to keep up the high rate of traffic flow in
 order for the colony to get sufficient food survive (Garnier et. al. 2013). These ants have an extremely important way of modifying their environment by using their own bodies. When approaching uneven terrain like gaps, holes, and overhanging gaps, they link their legs together with the tarsal claws they have. This then allows for traffic flow to keep going and maintain speed over the linked ants bodies (Garnier et. al. 2013).

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