Wandering about in the forested premises of Singinawa Jungle Lodge can be quite rewarding if you are interested in the smaller fauna. The forested patch, which is in continuation with the Kanha Tiger Reserve, is home to several amazing creatures. Some of these creatures carry a fearsome repute. Then there are others which are completely harmless, but dress up like the aforementioned formidable creatures.
Weaver Ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) are the all too familiar large-sized red ants you can find in a forest or in a garden. The social ants are quiet arboreal in nature, and can be mostly seen scaling barks or foraging through the canopy. Using the silk produced by the larvae, worker Weaver Ants bind together large leaves to form a nest, and hence they get the name. But a single nest, a large, globular structure of leaves bound together, is not the entire colony. A single colony can have multiple nests, spread over several trees, and can easily contain over half a million workers.
As is the case with any social ant species, the ants we see regularly, and are most familiar with, are the worker ants. In case of the Weaver Ants, there are two categories of workers. The bigger-sized workers, called major workers, carry the duties of foraging, defending and expanding the colony. Minor workers, smaller in size, mostly tend to the larvae and ‘milk’ small insects for honeydew.
Its the major workers which denizens of the forest are wary of. Marching through the canopy or on the forest floor, soldier Weaver Ants look for potential prey. Victims are bitten repeatedly and formic acid is sprayed on wounds, which causes extreme discomfort for us too. Working as a team, these soldiers are able to kill animals much bigger than themselves. It is this act that earns the ants the reputation of being dangerous.
For exactly this purpose, some other small critters want to look like a soldier Weaver Ant. Some spiders if fact have come very close to perfecting this mimicry. Several jumping spiders, belonging to the genus Myrmarachne, mimic ants. One in particular, mimics the soldier Weaver Ants. The aptly called Weaver Ant-mimic Jumping Spider or Kerrengga Jumping Spider (Kerrengga = Weaver Ant) (Myrmarachne plataleoides or Myrmaplata plataleoides) is difficult to tell apart from an actual Weaver Ant soldier at first glance. Spiders belonging to this group even move their first pair of legs like the antennae of an ant to complete their mimicry. The jumping spider gains protection from its predators because of it looks; no predator would want to attack a Weaver Ant for the fear of more of them being close by.
But there is another spider which mimics the soldier Weaver Ant for more devious reasons. This is the Ant-like Crab Spider (Amyciaea cf. forticeps). Just like the jumping spider, this spider also mimics the soldier Weaver Ant. This spider not only moves close to marching soldier ants, but when an opportunity presents, it grabs one to feed on as well. Thus, the Ant-like Crab Spider not only gains protection from the marching ants, but also gets its food.
Whatever is the reason for their mimicry, these spiders display an amazing step in evolution these animals have taken to ensure survival. But for any ardent nature-lover, these are simply objects of endless amusement.