Army ant colonies are home to a treasure trove of raided food and helpless juveniles that other insects would love to feed on. But one does not simply walk into an army ant colony and start eating.
Ill-prepared intruders would face swarms of aggressive ants eager to defend their nest. That’s why many insects, such as silverfish, mites, and wasps, have developed armor or clever disguises to raid ant colonies. How cool is this? Beetles transform themselves over time to become just like an ant.
Several species of rove beetles, a diverse family of tiny elongated insects, take this to the extreme.
These beetle species are able to infiltrate ant nests through an elaborate mimicry scheme, evolving ant-like antennae and legs, ant-like smells and even ant-like behaviors to assimilate within the ranks of their hosts.
In the last 60 million years, this beetle-to-ant disguise has emerged 12 different times in various genera of rove beetles around the world, according to research published this month in Current Biology.
“There’s nothing else quite like it in biology,” said Joseph Parker, the Columbia University evolutionary biologist who led the study. “These beetles have independently evolved to live with army ants. They sort of morphed into the shape of their ant hosts and their behaviors have changed, too.”