The common name "army ant" refers to any one of 200 species of ants in Africa and Central and South America that are known for their aggressive foraging behavior and group predation.
The ants lead a nomadic lifestyle and do not construct deep burrows or permanent shelters like other ant species. Instead, colonies reside in temporary nests, spending most of their lives on the move. And when they move -- everything in their path better watch out.
During their raids, the ants attack their prey in groups of more than 100,000 individuals, using their sheer numbers and powerful jaws to overrun and kill animals much larger than themselves. Usually, they feed on other bugs and small reptiles, but some African species have been known to overwhelm large vertibrates.
National Geographic, which produced a video on the creatures for its "World's Deadliest" series, described army ants as "nature's Mongol hordes," alluding to the tribes of nomadic horsemen that conquered much of Asia and Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries.
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But while the ants certainly leave a path of destruction in their wake, like the Mongols, for all their warlike behavior, army ants are somewhat misunderstood.
In 2010, the BBC reported on a study that argued that "more than 300 species, ranging from birds to tiny mites, depend in part on a single species of army ant for their survival." This meant that the ants, who are famous for their destructive appetites, actually "support a greater number of other life forms than any other known species."
Certain African tribes, like the Mofu of Cameroon, use army ants in medicine and in agriculture, where they are a natural and effective method in the fight against crop pests.
Army ants are also of interest to biologists as an example of convergent evolution. Although the ants have their differences, different species of ants on different continents have all developed the same behavioral traits.
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