The Dorylines are considered to be a primitive ant sub-family. Army ants, Driver ants, Legionary ants ... whatever you call them, tales of how enormous swarms of these vicious little biters attack everything in their path, stripping even large mammals to the bone, are themselves legion. Most of the stories are complete junk, of course, but that is not to say that these ants make for pleasant encounters. The red Cape species, Dorylus helvolus, is fairly common but seldom seen, on account of its secretive habits. The nomadic ants only move on at night or, occasionally, on very overcast, dull days. They form dense trails that move silently through the leaf litter under your hedge, or in the veld. They form temporary nests in compost heaps or even inside dead animals. They are almost entirely carnivorous and can be quite good at cleaning up pests from the garden. The yellower species, Dorylus fulvus, is very rare in the Cape.
Dorylines are unique amongst ants for their very strange reproductive castes. The queens are huge: they are the largest individuals amongst all South African ants, measuring up to about 35 mm in length. They clearly cannot fly, so Driver ant colonies must spread by ‘budding’, ie females are mated in the nest and move out with some workers to form new colonies. In fact the queens resemble termite queens more than ant queens, enormous sausage-like egg-laying machines that get carried by hundreds of workers when the colonies move on.
Male Driver ants are also enormous, compared to the workers. From 25 to 30 mm in length, they cause alarm when they fly into lights at night. They curl their gasters threateningly when caught, and gnash their mandibles together, but they are feeble creatures, completely harmless, and popularly known as ‘Sausage flies’. Our dogs always eat them because they are easily caught, and they’re probably highly nutritious.
You can read more about our local Dorylines by clicking on the name below:
Dorylus helvolus [Red Driver ant]
Dorylus fulvus (Westwood , 1839)
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