Philidris laevigata

Philidris laevigata

     This species is able to survive in very harsh habitats where many other species cannot. They do this by having a mutually beneficial relationship with an epiphytic succulent plant called Dischidia major. This plant is found growing on trees in open sparse diptocarp forest which is subject to several months of very dry and hot conditions during the annual dry season.

     These plants are commonly called ‘ant plants’ because of a unique symbiotic relationship with ants. The plant develops what are called ‘bullate leaves’ which are hollow bulbous modified leaves. The ants use the hollow leaves of the plant to nest in. The ants benefit from having a readymade home with high humidity inside the leaf, and the plants benefit from the protection the ants provide against any plant eating pests. The plants also obtain nutrition from the ant’s waste that is deposited inside the leaf as it has specialized roots that actually grow inside the bulbous leaf, and utilize the higher levels of carbon dioxide that is produced by the mass of ants living inside the leaves.

     The workers of this species are quite small at 2-2.5 mm in size and are a light brown color with a black abdomen. Queens are notably larger at 4-5 mm.

     Newly mated Queens seek out unoccupied leaves of an ‘ant plant’ and can found colonies independently or enter existing established colonies. Young and mature colonies will readily accept new queens after their flights forming strong multi queen colonies. As the colonies increase in size they spread out and inhabit more plants growing on their tree, or on trees nearby eventually forming interlinked super colonies.

     In its natural habitat during the dry and hot seasons it endures an extreme environment with a wide variation of temperature and humidity and strong competition for any scarce food source. However, for a few months every year as the rains start and more food becomes available, the queens become very prolific, quickly producing massive broods to take advantage of the extra nutrition, and utilize the opportunity to build up their workforce and produce new alates.

     It takes to captivity very well and will readily adapt to artificial nests. They consume a wide range of food and have multiple queens in a colony. Once it is in captivity with limitless food the queens will lay a mass of eggs - and with no need to divide to conquer new territory, the colonies just seem to continually increase in size.