It looks like the “Florida Man” trend, typified by the strange behavior of residents in The Sunshine State extends to species other than humans. Newsweek reports that there’s a species of Floridian ants that uses the skulls of other ants to decorate their nests. The ants are called Formica Archboldi and scientists have been studying their behavior for decades.
At first, researchers believed that the ants were just squatting in the nests of another ant species called the trap-jaw ant but further investigation showed that the presence of the skulls was evidence of a much more nefarious practice. Observations showed that the Formica archboldi copy the chemical composition of the wax that covers the trap-jaw ant to lure them into a trap. The Florida ants then spray them with acid. When the unsuspecting victim dies, they take them back to their nest and tear the body apart which explains the ant skull decor.
“This behavior leads to the presence of trap-jaw ant head cases in their colony,” read a study on the species published by Insectes Sociaux.
The authors of the study added that they aren’t sure why the Formica archboldi behave in this way. The chemical mimicry that they employ to trap the other ants is especially puzzling they write.
“It’s really unusual for an ant species to display this much variation in chemical signature. Also, chemical mimicry is usually a tactic used by social parasites, but there’s no evidence that F. archboldi are a parasitic species,” read a statement from Adrian Smith one of the researchers involved in the study.
He added that there needs to be more research into the ants’ behavior so that they can understand their predatory practices. They could also help to understand how “chemical diversification” evolves.
“Before this work, it was just a species with a weird head-collecting habit. Now we have what might be a model species for understanding the evolution of chemical diversification and mimicry.”
As Discover Magazine reports, trap-jaw ants are known for being pretty fierce in their own right. This species has a powerful spring-loaded mandible which can close on their prey 700 times faster than humans can blink, according to Science Alert.
But in face-offs against the Formica archboldi set up by the researchers, the trap-jaw ants were beaten 10 out 10 times. Another type of ant, the F. pallidefulva was only able to get the upper hand against them 1 out of 10 times, according to the study.