You may have heard that Costa Rica doesn’t have an army. Well, . that is only partially true. The country may not have a human army, but it is home to one of the most formidable and fascinating animal armies on Earth.
Called “guerreros,” or “warriors” in Spanish, army ants are quite distinctive. Typically, most ant species create stationery nests in trees or underground, but army ants are nomadic. They carry their nest with them, traveling in legions over large swaths of land, alternately attacking, defending and foraging for food in service to their queen. Their unique behavior is what gives them their name, and their fearsome reputation.
The ant legion is made up of a queen, larvae, young ants, male ants, and millions of worker ants. The queen lays the eggs, so she is invaluable to the colony. One of the most fascinating elements of army ants is the nest in which the queen, eggs and larvae are protected. The nest, cCalled a bivouac, is actually made up of worker ants, who join their legs together to create a hollow ball that surrounds the queen and her progeny and keeps them safe.
When the queen is actively laying eggs, army ant colonies stay in quiet, protected areas of the forest. When she stops laying, they head out in search of food. Their hunting style is also legendary; they traverse the forest floor like a moving carpet, mowing over everything in their path, covering and devouring any small animal too slow to get out of the way.
Mainly, army ants feed on small insects, including millipedes, cockroaches, caterpillars and katydids. Though not a real threat to larger animals, army ants also prey on small lizards, snakes and frogs. Additionally, they have been known to battle other ant colonies, and to occasionally take on wasp’s nests.
While they do have powerful mandibles and a stinging bite, army ants are not a real danger to humans, as they only bite in self-defense. Native Costa Ricans are friendly to ants, but they do take precautions to keep them away for safety.. These ants are actually fascinating to watch as they pour across the floors of homes and other buildings, and carry away all of the spiders, roaches and other bugs that lurk around in corners.
Army ants can be found across all of the neo-tropical countries, including Costa Rica. The best places to see them are Cahuita National Park, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Children’s Eternal Rainforest Reserve, the La Selva Biological Station and Corcovado National Park.
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