It’s not just the massive mammals that highlight the landscapes of Tanzania. Take a look at these freaky monster ants. 

On Tuesday of last week I found some old National Geographic magazines in our school library. I pulled out a few, some with covers missing, and the next day checked out a gnarly article about army ants in South America.

On Thursday morning I was walking from my room to the computer lab when I saw a bold, squiggly black line crossing the dirt path about 50 feet ahead. I approached to see an ant parade. But these weren’t your happy-go-lucky, walk-away-with-your-sandwich-on-a-Sunday-afternoon picnic ants. These were a frenzied mass extending the width of the path, a long clump wherein some were stationary, some patrolled, and finally others did the running.

A section of the line

True, I had already seen many ants here leading up to this day and had even awed at the size and viciousness of some of them, but having just read the article, I couldn’t resist interrupting my lab plans, running back to my room to grab my camera, and documenting this scene fresh from the article the day before.

Getting back to the parade, it wasn’t the marchers that struck me so much as the ones doing other tasks. Ants are known for their teamwork, but I hadn’t seen this before. Many clung together to form a hallway/tunnel for runners below. This was an example of how these ants compared to those in the magazine.

Picture from magazine showing how the South American ants cling their legs together to form bundled nests.

Similarly, the ants before my feet this morning were attached to provide retaining walls for those scrambling beneath. I wasn’t able to get close enough to determine how they clung, but cling they did.

It’s hard to see without movement, but below that façade is a swiftly moving freeway of smaller ants making their way.

Take a look at some footage:

Students crowded around to watch their American teacher photographing this normal sight. One student told me that the ants were moving to a new place. The magazine also talked about the nomadic nature of the army ants in South America.

Another parallel were the different sizes and appearances within the species of these two continents’ ants. The magazine article described the classifications of the ants they studied.

These African ants featured “warriors” as I dubbed them. They dwarfed the little ones and patrolled the “freeway” on either side, attacking anything/anyone that should come and threaten the movement.

You wouldn’t think that ants have that much to threaten you with, but get a load of this guy:

The article also talked about how native South Americans use the ant heads to stitch wounds. Their bite locks together the two ends of the cut. Then you snap off the head, and you have a stitch. I could see the same thing working here.

As I recorded the ants, students talked about eating them—I think they were joking. Then they talked about the ants “eating” me.

“Be careful”, one said.

“I’m fine”, I said back.

Maybe a minute later, I hopped up with a falsetto “Hooo!!!” to the students’ excited amusement. It wasn’t just ants in the pants, though. They bite. It was a pin prick with an added sting and a bit of a goose bump reflex. You can tell there’s a bit of poison in there.

After 20 minutes, I continued to the lab. Half hour after that, I was sitting at my desk when I felt a pin-prick sting on my hip. I whipped my hand on the affected area and felt a tiny body beneath the fabric of my shorts. I pulled out the tiny culprit, squished it in the process, and threw it on the floor. Getting back to work, I was interrupted a minute later with another sting, slapped my shin, and pulled out from my pant leg one of those monster-jawed ants.

After this, I felt them everywhere–even when they weren’t there. I had to end this little morning naturalist’s detour with a bucket shower.


The article in the National Geographic August 2006 edition started off by saying that “Ants are our co-rulers of the land.”  They are “an estimated ten thousand trillion strong worldwide”, making their and humanity’s collective weight roughly equal.

From Africa to North and South America, ants are a wonder. Here at my school in Tanzania, they take on a beastly nature.



4 Responses

  1. Breakdown Safaris

    Props for writing about an insect that most people never even think about. These little guys are so very important to our ecosystem…Although their bites are very unpleasant. Well done!

  2. Bob D

    Loved the part about the required shower. What minds we have! Very entertaining piece. BTW, Evaristo continues to be impressed with your work. He is evidently hearing good things!

  3. Paula

    Hi Brandon,

    Your ant experience sounds funny!!! I have been so wanting to call you to sub. Hope you are enjoying your trip! Paula

  4. peter

    hello Brandon,
    i’m happy there is still snow on the ground here in St. Paul.
    Had a wonderful day at Harrison today.

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