Posted by: scrubmuncher | November 7, 2009

Scoundrels – #6

As we’ve seen with the ant-mimicking spiders (see scoundrels – #8), the imitation of ants is often very elaborate because of the fringe benefits of living with these industrious insects, namely being able to taunt your predators safe in the knowledge that the worker ants around you are a pretty potent repellent. The relationship of the ant-mimicking spiders with ants is a rather benign, albiet one-sided one, i.e. they pretend to look like ants for the sake of defence, but there are some insects that have taken the ruse to a more devious and abhorrent level.

There’s a group of ground beetles, the paussines, that make little or no attempt to look like ants, but they have evolved other, more subtle disguises allowing them to live deep in the ant’s nests where they are free to come and go as they please.

Paussus sp. Ghana

This is what a typical paussine beetle looks like. See the massive antennae - probably important for producing ant odours (www.entomology.lsu.edu/lsam/inquilines/InquilineHetaeriine.htm)

Platyrhopalopsis sp. Thailand

Another paussine beetle, but with even more elaborate antennae. Apart from their odd appearance, these beetles can also fire boiling-hot noxious chemicals from their rear end - useful if they ever find themselves away from the protection of an ant's nest and confronted by a predator (www.entomology.lsu.edu/lsam/inquilines/InquilineHetaeriine.htm)

These wily beetles mimic the smell of ants, and because odour is so important in ant colonies the beetles are simply accepted, no questions asked.  Any animal that manages to live inside an ant’s nest without being hounded and pulled apart like soft bread by the workers is on to a winner.  The nests of these social insects are miniature fortresses and, as an added bonus, they’re chock-full of toothsome morsels. There are abundant eggs, larvae, pupae and waste heaps to keep even the greediest predators and scavengers busy. Paussines are predators and like malevolent house-guests they wander through the galleries and chambers of the nest, smelling of ant, helping themselves to their host’s brood. Occasionally, a worker ant will grow suspicious as the greedy beetle demolishes yet another plump larva, but under ant interrogation the paussine simply exudes more L’Eau de Ant from its bulbous antennae and the numerous pores on its body and the suspicions of the worker are quickly allayed.

For the sheer underhandedness of the paussine beetles they are at number 6 in the scoundrel chart.

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