Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the May 5, 2008 Newsletter written in the community of 28 de Junio, in the Central Valley 8 kms east of Pujiltic, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 800 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 16° 18'N, LONG. -92° 28'

On my way into the reserve frequently I cross fast- moving lines of larger-than-normal ants. With their lines, they're unlike the army ants I spoke of earlier, who move as dark, broad blotches across the forest floor. That story is archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/chiapas/army-ant.htm.

The ants I'm talking about now move in straight lines several ants wide. Still, I suspect that they still may be army ants. For one thing, occasionally you'll see a whole grasshopper or caterpillar being carried along. For another, in this species large soldier ants patrol the line boundaries, and those soldiers possess enormous, incurved mandibles, seen at the lower right below:


In that picture the big-mandibled ant is a fully developed soldier, while a less developed one stands guard at the far left, and smaller black workers stream by at the top of the picture.

I'm guessing that these are members of the genus ECITON because soldiers of that genus are famous for bearing very large, incurved mandibles. In some ant genera ants use their huge mandibles to break seeds but in Eciton they're weapons for protecting the colony.

Looking at the soldier at the lower right you can easily imagine applying the critter to a cut in your skin, having her clamp down with one mandible on one side of the wound and the other mandible on the other side, so that the closed mandibles pinch the severed sides together. At that point with your thumbnail you could decapitate the ant, leaving the head serving as a suture. I've had this use described to me, though I've never seen it.

I think I'd rather try closing a wound with my fingers, then apply some strong spider-webs of the kind we can find here, which also are known for holding wounds closed.