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 dipterocarp forest which is subject to several months of very hot/dry conditions during the annual dry season.
The plants are commonly called ‘ant plants’ because of their 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 have specialized roots that grow inside the bulbous leaf and obtain nutrition from the ant’s waste that is deposited inside the leaf. It also utilizes the higher levels of carbon dioxide that are produced by the mass of ants living inside the leaves.
The workers of this species are quite small at 2.5 – 3 mm in size and are a light brown colour with a black abdomen. Queens are notably larger at 4 - 5 mm. They are very aggressive and if their chosen plants are disturbed they will swarm out of the inhabited leaves in vast numbers, ready to attack anything they can find!
In its natural habitat during the dry hot season, it endures an extreme environment with a wide variation of temperature, very low humidity, and strong competition for any scarce food source. However, for a few months every year when the annual 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.
They have normal alate flights during the rainy season, and newly mated Queens can establish colonies independently by seeking out unoccupied leaves of an ‘ant plant’ or can 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 large interlinked colonies spread over several trees.
It takes to captivity very well and will readily adapt to artificial nests. They consume a wide range of food, and in captivity, with limitless food, the queens will start to lay a mass of eggs, and with no need to divide to conquer new territory, the colonies just seem to continually increase in size.
Summary: A small species that is very aggressive. They breed very quickly and will take a wide range of food. Easy to keep, but also very good at escaping their enclosures.