So suppose you are strung up high in the canopy of the Peruvian rainforest (as you do), and you see a small black object whiz by your face. Is it a tiny tropical batman? A baby sloth shooting at you with his tiny pistol perhaps?? NO!! Chances are it’s a gliding ant. A whaaa? A gliding ant!!!
First off I have to thank my dear friend and coworker for bringing these amazing ants, Cephalotes atratus, to my attention! It seems like I learn something new and ridiculous every day in the world of Entomology. My favorite thing about this whole business is that some guy filmed the gliding phenomena, take a look!
My second favorite thing is the fact that they decided to do a “control” drop test on a known non-gliding ant, in this case a Paraponera clavata (otherwise known as a bullet ant otherwise known as one bad-ass stingy motha whaaaa!). I like the way he just *poofs* down into the understory, you can almost hear the little cartoon falling noise. I hope he’s ok…but the rainforest floor is a dangerous place for a lone hormiga.
In fact, that’s precisely why scientists think gliding behavior evolved in certain ant species. For about half the year the Amazon rainforest floor is flooded and full of hungry fish – not the best place for an ant to work on his backstroke. Also, somewhat hilariously, gliding ants may from time to time purposely jump off of trees to avoid predators. Unlike Alicia Silverstone in Aerosmith’s “Crying” video, they don’t need ropes, AND they don’t even flip off their boyfriends when they land. In fact, instead of plummeting to their doom, they simply glide back to the tree a little ways down the trunk. Pretty ingenious!
Here’s more info. about the phenomenon. I would click even if only to see some pictures of Cephalotes atratus – they look like little Darth Vaders! So far the scientist in this article has drop-tested a total of 60 species of ants looking for similar gliding behaviors, and has found some form of gliding in about 25 of the species!! Who knew? I sure didn’t. They should drop-test some sloths next!! Maybe there’s some cool gliding ones we don’t even know about.