Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Some Tropical Birds Depend Completely On Army Ants To Flush Out Prey

Date:
October 17, 2007
Source:
Louisiana State University
Summary:
In the jungles of Central and South America, a group of birds has evolved a unique way of finding food -- by following hordes of army ants and letting them do all the work. Some of the birds rely solely one species of army ant. Brumfield pointed out that, "This makes the professional army-ant followers sensitive to many of the very real threats to this ecosystem, like deforestation, global warming and other similar issues. If anything affects the ant population, it could be devastating for these birds. But what is perhaps most surprising is that, despite the bird's dependence on one primary ant species, the specialization has persisted for millions of years."

Researchers found some tropcial birds that are completely reliant on army ants for food.
Credit: Image courtesy of Dan Lebbin

In the jungles of Central and South America, a group of birds has evolved a unique way of finding food -- by following hordes of army ants and letting them do all the work.

Related Articles


Robb Brumfield, assistant curator of genetic resources at the LSU Museum of Natural Science and assistant professor of biological sciences, first witnessed this peculiarity in 1989 when he accompanied then-LSU graduate student Ken Rosenberg to Peru as an assistant.

"Rosenberg's project investigated dead-leaf-foraging, which is a specialized way that some tropical bird species have devised to find food. These species find their insect prey by probing dead, curled leaves suspended in vine tangles," Brumfield said. But as he walked endless jungle trails each day in search of these dead-leafing birds, he became captivated by another novel approach some applied to hunting for food: army-ant following.

With this type of specialization, flocks of birds track army-ant swarms through the forest. "When millions of these army ants are on the move, they consume every insect, spider and lizard they come across," said Brumfield. "Naturally, any animal that hears them coming -- and they're very, very loud -- runs the other way. The army-ant-following birds have learned to take advantage of the swarm by perching above it and preying on insects and other small animals trying to escape. It's reminiscent of the mockingbird that follows me when I'm mowing the grass, picking off the insects that had been hiding there."

Now, nearly 20 years after that first trip to Peru, Brumfield has again teamed up with Rosenberg, who is now at Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology, along with Jose Tello of the American Museum of Natural History and three other LSU researchers -- Matt Carling, Zac Cheviron and Nanette Crochet -- to study the evolution of army-ant following.

"Over the last 50 years there has been some outstanding work on the ecology and behavior of army-ant-following birds, but the details of how the specialization evolved had not yet been examined," Brumfield said.

"Using a hypothesis of the evolutionary relationships among antbird species that we reconstructed from DNA gene sequences, what we found is that army-ant following has been around a long time, possibly as long as six million years, and that its evolution followed a logical progression from least specialized to most specialized," said Brumfield.

There are three main categories of specialization found in army-ant-following birds. The first, called occasional army-ant followers, are the most casual of the three, utilizing the insects to round up food but only as the swarm passes through their territory. Regular army-ant followers, the next level up in specialization, will follow the army ants outside of the flock's territory but are not completely dependent on the ants to provide food. These birds regularly hunt for themselves. The final, and perhaps most interesting, category is that of the professional army-ant followers. These birds are completely reliant on the army ants for food, presenting a problem almost as unique as the situation itself.

"These birds depend almost solely on one species of army ant, called Eciton burchellii," said Brumfield. "This makes the professional army-ant followers sensitive to many of the very real threats to this ecosystem, like deforestation, global warming and other similar issues. If anything affects the ant population, it could be devastating for these birds. But what is perhaps most surprising is that, despite the bird's dependence on one primary ant species, the specialization has persisted for millions of years."

The team published their findings recently in "Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Louisiana State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Louisiana State University. "Some Tropical Birds Depend Completely On Army Ants To Flush Out Prey." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071016092103.htm>.
Louisiana State University. (2007, October 17). Some Tropical Birds Depend Completely On Army Ants To Flush Out Prey. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071016092103.htm
Louisiana State University. "Some Tropical Birds Depend Completely On Army Ants To Flush Out Prey." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071016092103.htm (accessed March 30, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, March 30, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Arthropod Fossil Might Be Relative Of Spiders, Scorpions

New Arthropod Fossil Might Be Relative Of Spiders, Scorpions

Newsy (Mar. 29, 2015) A 508-million-year-old arthropod that swam in the Cambrian seas is thought to share a common ancestor with spiders and scorpions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Vietnam Rice Boom Piles Pressure on Farmers and the Environment

Vietnam Rice Boom Piles Pressure on Farmers and the Environment

AFP (Mar. 29, 2015) Vietnam&apos;s drive to become the world&apos;s leading rice exporter is pushing farmers in the fertile Mekong Delta to the brink, say experts, with mounting costs to the environment. Duration: 02:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Lioness Has Rare Five-Cub Litter

Raw: Lioness Has Rare Five-Cub Litter

AP (Mar. 27, 2015) A lioness in Pakistan has given birth to five cubs, twice the usual size of a litter. Queen gave birth to two other cubs just nine months ago. (March 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Jockey Motion Tracking Reveals Racing Prowess

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 26, 2015) Using motion tracking technology, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are trying to establish an optimum horse riding style to train junior jockeys, as well as enhance safety, health and well-being of both racehorses and jockeys. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins