Melissotarsus, a Wacky Ant

There is an African ant species of tiny workers that lives in big trees. In these big trees, the little ants scurry around long, narrow cavities in the bark, tending to the even littler insects they harvest as livestock. Outside of these big trees, the little ants can barely stand.


The difficulty that the gals have in standing up straight is owing to the unusual, upturned shape of their mid-coxa, the first segment of their middle legs. This morphology forces their middle legs into an upturned position, increasing grip in the bark tunnels they inhabit but hindering movement when outside the tunnels. Furthermore, as AntBlog Myrmecos noted in 2012, Melissotarsus ants may be the only non-humans known to farm animals for meat, and the adult workers spin silk!

Melissotarsus may have a mere four species to its name, but they’re four wacky species indeed.

5 thoughts on “Melissotarsus, a Wacky Ant

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      1. Haha actually yeah, I was thinking the other day about how it would be really cool if slowly, slowly, slowly over time ants eventually evolved the ability to build metal tech, and eventually maybe even evolved the ability to leave the planet and go out amongst the stars, but all the while totally lacking awareness! Like, literally just through evolutionary mechanisms, evolving the requisite abilities, rather than learning them. (Just like different ant species have for aphid farming, meat farming, mono-culture crop farming, etc.)

        But then, i was thinking today about /just how slow/ that process takes, and now actually I wonder if there might just not be enough time left on earth for that to happen.. This chart from Wait But Why says it’s reasonable to guestimate that there’s only about 600-800 million years of habitable earth time left:

        And ants have already been around for what, 150 mya? Hmm actually maybe that’s enough time that it’s possible, but it seems like probably it’d be too much of a leap for such a slow process to make. (And this discussion is of course ignoring the fact that there’s no selection pressure to go to space… it’s not really a gradual thing; you’re either building rockets to orbit or you’re not doing that.)

        Anyway, I guess I was just wondering whether it would be possible for the galaxy to contain an ant-like species that was completely non-intelligent but was still mindlessly migrating from planet to planet. Like the Formics from Ender’s game but minus the hyper-intelligent / telepathic Queens-with-souls. And my guess now is /probably/ not, just cause there might not be enough time on any given planet for the random process of natural selection + genetic drift to chance upon space travel before life is extinguished.. But that said, with a big enough galaxy, maybe it’s out there somewhere!


  1. Haha okay yeah, sorry, upon reflection, I’ve read enough Philosophy Phridays that I should’ve known better. As actors that observe the world and make decisions, obviously ants are #sentiant. I should have said “all the while, each ant still unaware of its part in inter-planetary colonyzation.”

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