There are things going on in the insect world that humans seldom see. Bees are doing their waggle dances. Caterpillars are morphing into beautiful butterflies. And it turns out ants have their own rodeo (sort of), or at least some version of it.
Rodeo ants are a species of tiny ant that climbs onto the back of a larger ant species and then rides them around like a cowboy rides a bull. They have specialized mouth parts that are custom designed to wrap around the waste of their host, and they spend their lives living piggyback on top of this other ant species.
Rodeo ants typically search out a queen to mount … all the better to enjoy the spoils. After all, if you’re going to hitch a free ride on someone, it might as well be royalty. Rodeo ants themselves are also queens–girl ants who don’t have their own entourage of worker ants to serve them. So they crash someone else’s party.
Scientists recently discovered a new species of rodeo ant, called solenopsis. This ant lives in – wouldn’t you know it–Texas. But rodeo ants can be found elsewhere in the world as well. Tetramorium inquilinum, a parasitic ant first discovered in the Swiss Alps, grows large claws that allow it to cling to the back of its host. It also sports an inverted U-shaped rear end that is perfect for riding the queen ant horsey style. There’s also solenopsis phoretica, another mouth-clamping species of rodeo ant found in Florida and the Caribbean islands.
It got me thinking…if rodeo ants can be lurking right underneath our noses, what other odd insect behaviors might be going on out there? Are spiders having dinner parties? Are bumblebees attending balls? Are dragonflies battling medieval nights? Are crickets playing cricket? What other fun and crazy things can you imagine insects doing?
Questions for discussion:
1) What would it be like to have another creature crawl on your back and decide to live there?
2) If you had to have a creature living on your back, what type of creature would you prefer?