For more than 60 years, researchers and scientists have been studying the behavior of the mysterious Florida ants (Formica archboldi).

Florida ants’s habitat has been restricted to the Southeastern US, mainly in Florida and some parts of Alabama and Georgia.

Photo by Adrian Smith

Experts discovered that the ants’ nests were full of decapitated heads of trap-jaw ants, which are known to be quite fearsome predators.

In a study published in the journal Insectes Sociaux, lead researchers Adrian Smith from North Carolina State University, analyzed what happens when the Florida ants kill its enemies.

Smith found out that Florida ants mimic the trap jaw ant by making a layer of wax that covers the surface of the ant the same way the wax covers its prey.

In a time-lapse video footage, it showed the Florida ant sprayed formic acid to the trap-jaw ants to immobilize it. The killed ants were then dragged into their nests and dismembered.

“This behavior leads to the presence of trap-jaw ant head cases in their colony, like what has been reported for this species in field notes over the last 60 years,” the study stated.

In an interview with Newsweek, Smith said they have not established a link between the chemical mimicry and the Florida ant’s predatory behavior, noting that its action is associated with social parasites.

“Usually these species use chemical mimicry to avoid detection and aggression from their target species,” Smith said. “The weird thing about this instance of chemical mimicry is that F archboldi are disguising themselves as trap-jaws to avoid being parasitism themselves.”

He added that more research will be needed to understand the evolutionary relationship between the Florida ants and trap-jaw ants.

“Now F. archboldi is the most chemically diverse ant species we know of,” he said in a statement. “Before this work, it was just a species with a weird head-collecting habit. Now we have what might be a model species for understanding the evolution of chemical diversification and mimicry.”

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