BATON ROUGE In the jungles of Central and South America, a group of birds has evolved a unique way of finding food by following hordes of army ants and letting them do all the work.
Robb Brumfield, assistant curator of genetic resources at the LSU Museum of Natural Science and assistant professor of biological sciences, first witnessed this peculiarity in 1989 when he accompanied then-LSU graduate student Ken Rosenberg to Peru as an assistant.
Rosenbergs project investigated dead-leaf-foraging, which is a specialized way that some tropical bird species have devised to find food. These species find their insect prey by probing dead, curled leaves suspended in vine tangles, Brumfield said. But as he walked endless jungle trails each day in search of these dead-leafing birds, he became captivated by another novel approach some applied to hunting for food: army-ant following.
With this type of specialization, flocks of birds track army-ant swarms through the forest. When millions of these army ants are on the move, they consume every insect, spider and lizard they come across, said Brumfield. Naturally, any animal that hears them coming and theyre very, very loud runs the other way. The army-ant-following birds have learned to take advantage of the swarm by perching above it and preying on insects and other small animals trying to escape. Its reminiscent of the mockingbird that follows me when Im mowing the grass, picking off the insects that had been hiding there.
Now, nearly 20 years after that first trip to Peru, Brumfield has again teamed up with Rosenberg, who is now at Cornell Universitys Laboratory of Ornithology, along with Jose Tello of the American Museum of Natural History and three other LSU researchers Matt Carling, Zac Cheviron and Nanette Crochet to study the evolution of army-ant following.
Over the last 50 years there has been some outstanding work on the ecology and behavior of army-ant-following birds, but the
|Contact: Ashley Berthelot|
Louisiana State University