Kalunde, the guest, and the safari ants

16 March 2010

By Lazaro George - Guide, Greystoke Mahale

Safari ants are social insects that live in big colonies. Their social structure is made up of a queen, a king, soldiers and workers. In the rainy season there are plenty of these ants around and you can see them walking in big files along cleared trails on the forest floor. These ants, cute as they are, they inflict nasty bites if they crawl onto your body especially to the soft parts.

Safari ants basically communicate by pheromone, a chemical secretion which upon being released by one member - potentially a soldier - is picked up by all the other ants and in just a fraction of seconds they all start biting, following the lead of the first ant to bite. Their biting is so painful that no one can bear it; a victim could do anything to get rid of them.

On one of the days recently out there in the forest tracking chimpanzees, we happened to stand on the safari ant’s trail unknowingly, following a marvelous chimp viewing we were having at that particular moment. We knew we were on the ant’s trail when one of my clients started to jump while poking his hand in his trouser and shirt. We all got alert, and started to look around. Right where we stood was a safari ant’s trail, and the line was disrupted and dozens and dozens of safari ants were raising their heads up with the pincers widely opened. We had to leap away but some ants had already crawled on us.

My one client, after getting severe bites from the ants, couldn’t bear it any longer and he decided to take off his trousers. To us it wasn’t amusing as it was a normal reaction that someone could end up resorting to when he has such a nasty insect on him. But Kalunde, the oldest male in the habituated M-community, had a surprising reaction as he seemed to be amused at seeing someone taking off his trousers. Kalunde and the other chimpanzees, they probably have never had such an experience of seeing people half naked. Therefore seeing that was a bit of a surprise to him, we thought. After all the ants had been reomoved the guy got dressed and Kalunde got back to his normal staring stance.

Follow us