January 25, 2012


Sometimes you don’t even have to venture out of the confines an EcoTraining wilderness camp to experience one of nature’s unique phenomena. And it also doesn’t have to be big in size to be a very special sighting.

Just look at these matabele ants (Dorylus sp) that went on a raid at the edge of the fireplace at our Mashatu camp recently. Jip, they may be small, but don’t let their size fool you, they are some of the natural world’s most fearless warriors, and may it be added all female…

In South Africa, these ants are named after the Matabele tribe that swept through the southern parts of the continent in the 1800’s, destroying all before them. Elsewhere they are known as African driver ants.

These massive black marching columns are a sight to be seen on one of their missions, whether hunting for food or moving their bivouac to a new location. When on the go, the larger soldier ants will be positioned on the outside, flanking the smaller worker ants on the inside and thus protecting them.

Here at Mashatu it happened like almost everywhere else – first the scouts are dispatched to locate a source of prey, most of the time termites. They pick up the scent and then the colony congregates and follows, sometimes numbering in the millions.

It is fascinating to sit and watch how at first a couple of individuals manoeuvre at the front, going back and forth, sometimes seemingly losing the trail, then picking it up again, with the rest following.

And then, when these specialist termite colony raiders get to the source, it’s literally all-out war. The termite soldiers are killed first, pulled apart by the large pincers of the soldier ants. Then the nymphs and eggs of the enemy are carted back to be fed to their own queen, males, larvae and other ant colony members. 

What makes this even more amazing and in true military style, is that none of their own gets left behind. Even with their mouths and hands full of the loot, the injured ant soldiers get carried back to the bivouac.

You see, it doesn’t need to be a pride of lions on the back of a buffalo dagga boy to be impressive. Here’s to the little guys!

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