Ants of the genus Dolichoderus are common in the New World, and form one of the most complex and confusing groups of ants. Along with the Azteca ants, they are one of the most conspicuous genera of ants in tropical ecosystems, and one of the most common in the subfamily Dolichoderinae (Ortiz and Fernandez 2007). Among the 64 species, there are 12 in the New World. Dolichoderus ants are generally arboreal and omnivorous.
They have been known to live in abandoned termite nests. The colonies consisting of large numbers of ants have a relationship with a type of parakeet known as the Tui parakeet. Tui parakeets are one of the three birds who choose to nest in termitaria inhabited by both termites and the aggressive biting ants (Dolichoderus sp.). They acquire the strong smell of the ants, most probably trail substances, and thus the birds are undetected by the ants and allowed to remain in the nest. The ants indirectly protect the birds from predators such as night rodents and marsupials, by providing a kind of ‘olfactory camouflage’ with their strong scent that masks nest odors. It’s also been said that the ants may also help tidy the birds’ nests, by removing feces and ectoparasites.
One interesting thing about these ants is the fact that they have a special defensive behaviour in which they shake their nest, creating a loud noise. If their nest is disturbed or the tree on which they have their nest is moved, then the noise begins. At night, if the nest is exposed to light, they also make this very strange noise. It sounds somewhat similar to that of a heavy rain falling on the leaves of the trees.
Dolichoderus ants are an especially difficult group of ants to identify. There is much variability within species, specifically with regard to size, sculpture, and color. Due to this fact, there are numerous subspecies and varieties of each that have been recognized.
Youth, Howard. “Birds in Swarm’s Way – National Zoo| FONZ.” Welcome to the National Zoo| FONZ website – National Zoo| FONZ. 21 July 2009 <http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Publications/ZooGoer/2007/4/birds_insects.cfm>.