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Weaver Ants
Oecophylla smaragdina

Kerengga, Green Ant, Red Ants

weaver ants' nest in a sea hibiscusWeaver Ants eat any small creatures that they can find, but they are particularly attracted to nectar. The weaver ants do not have a stinger, but inflict a painful bite which is aggravated by irritating chemicals secreted from their abdomen.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Large reddish ants with a fierce bite.

Status in Singapore: Common.
close up of weaver ants and their silk
World distribution: Tropical Old World from India to Taiwan, across Southeast Asia to Australia.

Family Formicidae.
Nest-building: Weaver Ants' nests are among the most complex ants' nests. The ants choose living leaves to build nests. These provide well camouflaged protection from predators and the elements. To create their neat nest, chains of worker ants form along the edge and pull the edges together by shortening the chain by one ant at a time. Once the edges are in place, an ant holds one of their larvae in its mandibles and gently squeezes it so the larvae produces silk. The silk is used to glue the leaf edges together. The larvae have special glands to produce lots of strong silk. The adults do not produce silk.

close up of weaver ants constructing a nestA colony may be dispersed over several nests which may be placed in various locations in a tree, or even span several trees. The queen is located in one nest and her eggs are distributed to the other nests.

The ability of simple-minded ants to co-ordinate on such complex tasks is being studied for applications in robotics. If the ants' behaviour could be better understood, simple cheap robots could be built that could achieve complex tasks.

weaver ant sipping on nectary of sea hibiscusRole in the habitat: Weaver Ants are exploited by plants and animals. Some plants such as the Sea Hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliceaus) secrete nectar in their leaves to attract these ants, which in turn protect the plant from insect leaf eaters. The nasty bite of the ants also discourages larger herbivores. Another plant that does the same is the Great Morinda (Morinda citrifolia). Weaver Ants' nests are often found in these two plants at Sungei Buloh Nature Park.

Some other creatures also exploit the Weaver Ant's sweet tooth. Some caterpillars of the Lycaenidae and Noctuidae butterfly families secrete a honey dew that attracts these ants to protect them. Some of these caterpillars are more sinister and use their bribe to gain entry into the ant's nest and devour their larvae! Some jumping spiders look and more importantly, smell like ants, and in their disguise, enter the ant's nest to devour them and their larvae.

Status and threats: Weaver Ant eggs (i.e., pupae) are harvested and sold in markets in Thailand and the Philippines. The taste of the pupae has been described as creamy. The adults are also eaten, their taste has been described as lemony or creamy and sour. The Dayaks in Borneo mix adult ants with their rice for flavouring. Needless to say, harvesting these fiercely biting ants requires good technique!

The ancient Chinese as early as in 300 AD, exploited the voracious appetite of these ants by using them to control insect pests in their citrus orchards. A Weaver Ants' nest is introduced into the orchard, and the ants encouraged to colonise all the trees by placing bamboo strips among the trees as "ant bridges". This practice is now being revived as a cheaper means of growing fruit (which can then be sold as higher value organic fruit), and dealing with insects that have developed resistance to chemical insecticides.


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Nature's Niche
By Ria Tan, 2001