Nature – Army Ants

Army ants, also known as legionary ants and driver ants, are a group of over 200 species native to Central and South America and Africa. They are known for their aggressive predatory foraging groups known as “raids” which involve huge numbers of ants sweeping through an area attacking prey en masse. An army ant colony can contain up to 700,000 ants consisting of a queen, drones (males), workers, and soldiers. The workers do the hunting for food and nursery duties, and the soldiers protect the workers, queen, and nest. The soldiers are much larger than the workers and sport giant mandibles. Army ants travel about as a whole colony looking for prey and can form a carpet up to 20 meters (65.6 feet) wide. The ants can consume up to 100,000 prey animals each day.

The army ants do not construct permanent nests but build a temporary living nest with their bodies, held together with their mandibles and hooked feet, called a bivouac. The bivouac is built in hollow trees or in burrows dug by the ants. It is a well-organized structure, in the shape of a ball consisting of many passageways and chambers where food, the eggs and larvae, and the queen are kept. The older workers are located on the exterior of the nest while the younger workers are in the interior. At the slightest disturbance, soldier ants gather on the roof of the nest ready to defend it with their giant mandibles, and some species have stingers.

Army ants have two phases of activity: a nomadic (wandering) phase and a stationary phase. During the nomadic phase, most species move during the day (a few species are nocturnal) capturing insects, spiders, and small vertebrates. At dusk they form their nest, which changes location almost daily. During their foraging they are accompanied by birds known as antbirds and antwrens and numerous other birds, which feed on the invertebrates the ants flush out. During the stationary phase, which begins when their larvae pupate, they stay in one place for two or three weeks while the queen is fed extra in preparation for egg laying. After the pupae emerge and the queen lays her eggs, the colony resumes its nomadic phase.

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” Proverbs 6:6. “The ants teach lessons of patient industry, of perseverance in surmounting obstacles, of providence for the future.” Child Guidance, 59.

“The wisest of men may learn useful lessons from the ways and habits of the little creatures of the earth. … The ants, which we consider as only pests to be crushed under our feet, are in many respects superior to man; for he does not as wisely improve the gifts of God. The wise man calls our attention to the small things of the earth: ‘Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest’ [Proverbs 6:6–8]. ‘The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer’ [Proverbs 30:25]. We may learn from these little teachers a lesson of faithfulness. Should we improve with the same diligence the faculties which an all-wise Creator has bestowed upon us, how greatly would our capacities for usefulness be increased. God’s eye is upon the smallest of His creatures; does He not, then, regard man formed in His image and require of him corresponding returns for all the advantages He has given him?” Testimonies, vol. 4, 455, 456.

David Arbour writes from his home in De Queen, Arkansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: