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Directed Aerial Descent Behavior in African Canopy Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)


Several species of neotropical ants direct their aerial descent toward tree trunks during a fall from the forest canopy. The primary goal of this study was to determine if afrotropical arboreal ants exhibit similar gliding behavior. Ants were collected from nine tree crowns in late secondary forest at a hydrocarbon extraction site near Gamba, Gabon. Of the 32 species tested, the behavior was observed in five Cataulacus spp. and three Camponotus spp., making this the first report of gliding in African ants. Aerial glide performance (horizontal distance traveled per unit vertical drop distance) decreased with increasing body size among species and among individuals of Cataulacus erinaceus. Characteristics of directed descent behavior in C. erinaceous were very similar to those of the neotropical ant Cephalotes atratus.

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F. Dallmeier, A. Honorez, O.S.G. Pauwels, M. Lee, and T. Pacheco provided logistical support. Comments from R. Dudley and M. Kaspari improved the manuscript. A. Henderson, A. Mikheyev, G. Moussavou, and E. Tobi assisted in the field. We thank Shell Gabon for allowing us to conduct research within the concession and the Secrétariat Général of Gabon for providing collection and export permits. This research was supported in part by the National Geographic Society and the National Zoological Park. This paper is contribution #81 of the Gabon Biodiversity Program.

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Correspondence to S. P. Yanoviak.

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Yanoviak, S.P., Fisher, B.L. & Alonso, A. Directed Aerial Descent Behavior in African Canopy Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). J Insect Behav 21, 164–171 (2008).

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  • Body size
  • canopy
  • Gabon
  • gliding
  • tropical forest