Birds don’t typically eat Army Ants, most likely due to the ants’ high formic acid content. However, opportunistic birds have been known to scavenge on the insects fleeing the wrath of the marauding Army Ant.
In one of the nearby trails of the lower El Pangán ProAves Reserve (located in Barbacoas, Nariño), a swarm of Army Ants is found accompanied by a mixed flock of ant-eating birds, consisting of various species. Among them are the Banded-ground Cuckoo (known locally as “Sainero”), Bi-colored Wren (Gymnopithys bicolor), Zeledon’s Antbird (Hafferia zeledon), Ochre-breasted Tanager (Chlorothraupis stolzmanni), Black-headed Antthrush (Formicarius nigricapillus), Tawny-crested Tanager (Tachyphonus delatrii), and the Spotted Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus erythropygius).
Home to over 300 species of birds and a diverse array of other flora and fauna, El Pangán Proaves Reserve is one of the few places in Colombia with recently confirmed sightings of the Sainero (Neomorphus radiolosus), a secretive and rarely-observed species.
The Important Role of Ants in Tropical Ecosystems
For many, Army Ants (also known as Legionary Ants or Marabunta) have a bad reputation: They are known for mercilessly consuming whatever insect dares to cross their path. However, they play an extremely important role in tropical ecosystems and many species are dependent on the ants for their survival.
Birds that follow the Army Ant belong to a group of understory insectivores, which includes families such as Thamnophilidae and Formicariidae. These birds move about the understory, trailing the army of explorers during their expeditions to find food.
The Legionary Ants don’t limit their search to the forest floor either– they often climb trees, poking around any and all crevices as they scan for their next meal. Any living organism small enough to be overpowered is considered prey, including caterpillars, spiders, millipedes, grasshoppers, cockroaches, and other creatures that call the leaf litter home. They’ve even been known to feed on small vertebrates such as tree frogs, salamanders, lizards, snakes, and baby birds– right from the nest. The exploring ants startle nearby insects, causing them to flee. Meanwhile, the ant-eating birds lay in wait on the fringe of the army, poised to devour the fleeing insects.
We thank Juan Carlos Luna, Southwestern Region Deputy Director, for his great management at El Pangán ProAves Reserve and for sharing these spectacular images with us.