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Are New World army ants the dangerous killers that movies and other media suggest?

After all, look at the jaws (mandibles) on the Eciton burchelli soldier. (Photograph by April Nobile / © / CC-BY-SA-3.0, downloaded at Wikimedia) Appears fairly fierce.

So, are they really horrors?

When reading the recent review of the Antsbirds & Ovenbirds book, Ossein asked for more information about Skutch's descriptions of the army ants. Alexander Skutch spent years in the tropical rainforests where he commonly encountered army ants. Did Skutch worry?

On page 21 of the book (link will take you directly to the page), Skutch writes of Ecition burchelli:

"These ants are not nearly as formidable as sensational accounts depict them. They specialize on invertebrate prey. Active vertebrates of all kinds readily avoid them, perhaps not without a few stings."

He goes on to add that

Often I have continued to sit at my table and write, while army ants scurried over the floor around me and the ceiling above me."

On page 24, Skutch makes the point that New World army ants don't even eat dead vertebrates. He recalls a time when a dead bird fell in the path of the raiding army ants and another time a dead snake was left in the path of the ants. Both times the army ants did not consume the remains, even though they were actively foraging.

The antbirds that follow the army ants are in no danger. In this video, you can see an elusive bare-eyed antbird standing while ants run nearby. It seems more concerned about the camera than the ants.

Bottom line, when it comes to New World army ants, the fervor has been mostly hype.

Have you ever heard that villages in some areas welcome army ants into their homes for pest control? Does anyone have a primary source for to back this up?


If you think being an ant photographer is glamorous, guess again.

The crew filming army ants for National Geographic's Great Migrations series tells it like it is.

And the results of their hard work:

And now I'll go nurse those Pogonomyrmex stings...

Edit: Now if National Geographic had only included some of the information in this post about the other creatures that depend on army ants for survival.