forest hut

The Hunting Party

5th September 2023

forest hut, Kolambi

In the morning, around 08:30, Dhruv and I were sitting in the verandah, when Dhruv spotted an earthworm writhing some distance away. We went to see, and from one angle, it looked like the whole ground was shimmering and boiling. As we got closer, we realized the whole ground was covered by a huge legion of Black Carpenter Ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus).

Twelve to fifteen of them were attacking the earthworm. A few of the ants were heading towards a pile of leaf litter, and yet more were coming towards us. We retreated; we really didn’t want to get in their way because they could deliver painfully nasty bites.

More ants joined the ones that were bringing down the earthworm, and in a few moments, they had accomplished their task. Then, they re-joined the line which was heading towards the leaf litter.

Just as we were wondering why they needed to go into the leaf litter, two frogs came hopping out of it.

One of them was pretty small, but the other (see in photograph) was big. I hadn’t seen it before so I got my camera & photographed it.

The ants didn’t really bother them, so the frogs just hopped away. And then a big earthworm came out of the leaf litter; it was approximately 15cm long. The ants were quickly on it, until 20 or more of these amazing hunters were crowded around it.

Some other ants had found a dead House Cricket (Acheta domesticus). It took them around a minute to strip it down into small pieces that they could lift.

Just then another earthworm came out of the leaf litter, this time a bit smaller. Again the ants pounced on it in no time. And then it struck us what this whole extremely clever army was up to. One division was driving out all the residents of the leaf litter. The other division fanned around the leaf litter, ready to pounce on any thing that came out, be it frogs, earthworms or centipedes.

Wait, did I just say ‘centipedes’. Yes, I did. And that’s exactly what came charging out of the pile. Now, centipedes are not like earthworms. This particular specimen, an Indian Centipede (Scolopendra hardwickei), was measuring 12cm &, like the ants, it was a predator itself. The ants knew this, but they stood their ground, blocking the centipede’s path.

This not the same individual, but the same species

The centipede did not stop to think about what to do next but stampeded through the whole battalion like an elephant through an entire army. The ants had no time to react, but one quick ant came in and bit the centipede on the tail, slowing it down. The other ants started moving towards the centipede. It looked like the ants were going to get there in time to help their brave comrade and finish the hunt. When the tables turned…

The flexible centipede turned around in one fluid motion, clamped its mandibles shut on the ant, & crushed it to pieces. The other ants stopped as they saw one of their own be preyed on by their prey. The centipede flung the dead ant away & scampered on. The ants tried to catch it, but it was too fast. It soon reached a hide-out under few stones.

This episode in real time happened so quickly that I had no time to capture it on my camera. The ants who had not witnessed this battle were the ones who were hunting the earthworms. They had done a pretty good job, the earthworms lay cut up & ready to be taken to the ant’s fort.

After that, they hunted a small spider. It was also time for Dhruv & me to have breakfast.

After a few hours we came back to check what the ants were up to. They had finished their hunt & were going back to their home in a sophisticated line. Some of them were carrying food.

We followed the line, which led to their home. It was under some big stones. We loved the entrance, which was a miniature moss-covered arc.

The cosy moss-covered entrance.

We felt lucky to witness these extremely evolved & able hunters at work.

One response to “The Hunting Party”

  1. Komal V Avatar
    Komal V

    Superb Shree. Your story narrating skills are so good. I could certainly imagine the whole episode and feel as if i was there with you guys. The frog looks really angry, i feel it wanted to get photographed. Paparazzi. Hahahaha. Good job dear. Keep it up.

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