Pillage Ant: New Slave-Making Ant Species Discovered in Eastern U.S.

Posted on January 20, 2014

Temnothorax pilagens or Pillage Ant


A new species of slave-making ant has been discovered in the Eastern U.S. The Pillage Ant (Temnothorax pilagens) sends tiny raiding parties out that almost always succeed. The ant utilizes "chemical camouflage and artistic rapier fencing" to defeat its opponents. An average raiding party consists of just four slave-hunter ants. Pillage Ants are only two and a half millimeters long, making them small enough to enter the acorn nests of other ant species.

Defending ants often do not even fight the invading Pillage Ants. Recognition of the enemy is often prevented due to the neutralizing chemical components on the cuticle of the slave-hunters.

Even when they recognizing the invader, defending ants have a near zero success rate against the Pillage Ant. The Pillage Ant uses its stinger in such a sophisticated manner that it targets it precisely into a tiny soft spot on the defending ant's neck, causing immediate paralysis followed by a quick death. The scientists say Pillage Ant raids result in a 5% to 100% casualty rate on the attacked nest, while the Pillage Ant usually suffers no casualties.

A research paper about the new ant species was published here in ZooKeys. It says Pillage Ants will capture both offspring and adults in their raids and integrate them into their slave workforce. The ants are so successful in their raids that scientists are uncertain what keeps their population down.

Photo: Bernhard Seifert