Ambush Predation of Stingless Bees (Tetragonisca angustula) by the Solitary-Foraging Ant Ectatomma tuberculatum
Social insect colonies are high-value foraging targets for insectivores, prompting the evolution of complex colony defensive adaptations as well as specialized foraging tactics in social insect predators. Predatory ants that forage on other social insects employ a diverse range of behaviors targeted at specific prey species. Here, we describe a solitary foraging strategy of the ant Ectatomma tuberculatum, on nest guards of the stingless bee Tetragonisca angustula. We observed multiple instances of E. tuberculatum ambushing and successfully capturing the hovering and standing guards of T. angustula near nest entrances. The unique hovering behavior of the guard caste of this bee species, an adaptation to frequent cleptoparasitism by other stingless bees, may make these guards particularly vulnerable to ground-based, ambush attacks by E. tuberculatum. Likewise, the behavior of the foraging ants appears to adaptively exploit the defensive formations and activity patterns of these bees. These observations suggest an adaptive and targeted predatory strategy aimed at gathering external guard bees as prey from these heavily fortified nests.
KeywordsSit-and-wait bee eating selva ant jataí abejas angelitas
We thank the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the community of Gamboa, particularly Hermogenes Fernandez-Marin, for field support and access to nests; Stephen Pratt, Ted Pavlic, Jennifer Fewell and David Roubik for useful discussion; and Andrew Suarez for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Permits for this work were issued by the Panamanian Ministry of the Environment (MIAMBIANTE) to KMB. Funding was provided by contract number FA8651-17-F-1013 from the United States Air Force/Eglin AFB/FL.
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