All ants form hive minds, working together with uncanny precision to build giant colonies. But weaver ants do a lot more: They domesticate other insects and "milk" them for food, use tools, and go on group scorpion hunts.
There are other kinds of ants that do some of these things, but weavers seem to excel at doing a lot of things we think of as pretty civilized, and on a mass scale.
In a National Geographic article about weaver ants, Douglas H. Chadwick writes:
Each weaver ant colony inhabits from half a dozen to more than a hundred nests at any given time, forming a metropolis of boroughs and suburbs connected by busy commuter routes. A hierarchy of workers and soldiers maintains and defends this territory, which spreads from treetops to the forest floor, staying in sync through constant communication. They touch each other with mouths, forelegs, or antennae. They lay down scents with different glands to send different messages. They release more pheromones into the air to broadcast signals quickly and widely. They even display symbolic behavior: To warn of an approaching enemy, for instance, they jerk their bodies in a kind of ritualized fight.
Scientists have likened weaver ant communication to a type of language with primitive syntax.
Weaver ants use biotechnological tools. They take advantage of their larvae's ability to weave silk cocoons for themselves, turning the little proto-ants into glue guns whose silk holds the colony's leaf walls together. Chadwick writes, "Straddling the leaf seam, an adult uses its antennae to tap the head of the larva held in its jaws, telling it to extrude silk from its salivary glands." Yes, the weavers use their babies to build cities.
All photographs by Mark W. Moffett/National Geographic
Here the weaver ant uses a larva to squirt silk onto a leaf to mold it into a shelter.
In the "dairy," an ant milks small insects for "honeydew," a source of carbohydrates.
Working together, the ants overwhelm a giant scorpion and take it back home to share protein with their sisters.
When the queen ant is in danger, the workers protect her with their bodies.