Humans and ants benefit from the interactions with each other, army ants prey upon pests that destroy crops and the ants relatives of E. hamatum have actually been used as a agricultural pest control in China. Army ants kill a number of pest insects throughout the areas they inhabit and stop livestock pest such as the screw-worm from spreading in the American-southwest. The ants are also welcomed home guests since they can clear a house of all bugs, beetles, cockroaches, mice, snakes, or anything else that may be hiding in the confines of the house.
Histerid Beetles, Pulvinister nevermanni is specific to Eciton hamatum, rides on the major worker’s underside of the head. These beetles climb onto the ant’s body to groom the ant to acquire its odor so it can integrate into the colony. These beetles feed on the dead ant brood and their prey; the ants intentionally bring these beetles into the colony to be integrated. These beetles are obligatory symbionts, so they need the colony to survive.
Bristletails are found with many types of army ants and are sponsible for cleaning the workers and nests. Their primary activities include feeding on the secretions and particles on the surfaces of larval, pupal, and adult army ants.
Planodiscus, a mite that is exclusively phoretic on New World army ants and typically attach themselves to the underside of the middle or hind legs of ants. This mite mimics the legs of the ant to avoid being taken off during grooming.
Phorids, humpback flies, are scavengers that follow the ants as they migrate. The larvae of the flies feed on dead animal, plant, and fungi material. They can be found at the ends of the migrating columns of ants. The phorids do not actually ingrate with the ants though but rather live at the edges of the colony. They live on dead ants and refused prey that has been killed or wounded.
Birds also follow the army ants as they migrate and go out in search of food. The birds are opportunistic and follow along by the searching swarm of ants for insects to be flushed out of their hiding places. The insects that the birds target are typically wounded insects being attacked by the ants or any insect that attempts to flee from the approaching mass. This relationship with birds is most established with the ant species Labidus praedator and Eciton burchelli of the New World ants, but is still seen with other ant species as well such as Eciton hamatum.
Marchocheles rettenmeyeri, is an ectoparasitic mite that attaches itself to the hind leg pulvilli of the ant. The mite inserts its chelicerae into the membrane of the hind leg to hold on and feed off the hemolymph of the ant. This mite is special because it is highly adapted for the parasitism of eciton ants. The mite, upon attachment, serves as the new foot and lets its hind legs act as the tarsal hooks for the ant.
Predators of Ants
Tetradonia margialis is a beetle most commonly found living around Eciton hamatum bivouacs. These beetles are capable of sensing the pheromone trails that the ants use to communicate and can be in close approximation with the ants that travel on raiding trails. These beetles usually attack any ant injured or uninjured but the uninjured ants usually escape. These beetles catch their prey by the hind legs and drag them away from the trails to be separated. The main part of the ant that is fed upon is the bodily fluids that come from the ants.
Blind snakes, of the genus Leptotyphlops, travel along with and follow the army ants that they feed on. This snake can detect and follow the trail of pheromones that the army ants use to guide and communicate with each other. These predators are able to integrate and travel among the groups of ants they eat without being attacked by the ants. The snake’s ability to secrete a mixture of feces and clear, viscous liquid repels the insects and allows them to “blend in” among their prey. This secretion also deters other insectivorous snakes and snake-eating snakes with which the blind snake may want to evade. An interesting fact about this relationship is that many indigenous people who live in close proximity to the ant call this snake the ants cow. They reason being that this snake is assumed to live among the ants until the ants cannot find enough food to eat so they eat their "livestock" which they keep on hand. To check out another cool snake, Enhydrina schistosa, click here!
Ants as Predators
Ants also can be predators of other animals such as colonial insects like wasps, bees, and other ants. Eciton hamatum specializes in colony raids and acquires almost all of its food by colony raiding.
Snakes and other small vertebrates also fall victim to the swarms of ants if they are not careful. Even larger snakes such as anacondas and pythons skeletons have been found stripped clean by the ants. The attacks on vertebrates however are largely opportunistic seizing the opportunity to attack caged snakes or those who have are immobilized by consume a large animal.