A Matabele ant colony has an average of 400 to 1,400 members, depending on location (3). A single queen is responsible for reproduction of the colony, as the worker ant does not breed. The queen typically occupies the colony nest, along with eggs and larvae (6).
The Matabele ant preys exclusively on termites (4). This species will attack termites with ‘raiding columns’, which may be up to 1,000 individuals strong and up to several metres long (4) (7). A single ‘major’ worker scouts out foraging termite parties. The worker moves slowly, searching for termite pheromones with its antennae, sometimes travelling up to 95 metres from the nest (3) (5). Once a termite party is found, the ‘scout ant’ returns to the colony, laying a chemical trail. This trail is then followed by the raiding column in order to find the termites (8).
When searching for termites, the Matabele ant raiding column is lead by a single individual, the ‘scout ant’, who originally found the foraging termites (4). Ants in the raiding column will spread out and attack the termite foraging party by breaking open the soil sheeting constructed by the termites to cover their food, and digging into the termite tunnels (8). Termites are captured, stung, and dragged to the surface, where the ants pile them up while they continue hunting (3).
Once the raid is complete the ‘major’ workers will carry up to 12 termites each back to the nest (7). Raids occur in mornings and evenings, and at night in dry periods (3) (7). The Matabele ant colony can make repeated raids on termite colonies without completely destroying the termites, effectively harvesting them (5).
The Matabele ant is unusual among insects in that even when outside the nest, it will act in co-operative self defence. This species will help nest mates under attack from the smaller, but incredibly aggressive, driver ant (Dorylus sp.), by scanning for and removing the ants that are clinging to nest mates’ extremities. The Matabele ant has even been observed to turn back, after initially running away, in order to rescue beleaguered nest mates (9).