NAIROBI PARK DIARY

Safari ants

Famous for their painful biting, they are completely blind and rely on pheromones to communicate

In Summary

• A single colony can contain over 20 million ants

Army ants
Army ants
Image: GARETH JONES

My vehicle stopped suddenly near the Kingfisher picnic site. In front of me, a moving mass snaked its way across the road. A closer inspection revealed millions of red safari ants, known as ‘siafu’ in Kiswahili. It was fascinating to watch their deliberate aggressive advance.

This triggered memories of an event that happened to our family many years ago in the Kibali forest, Uganda. In early evening darkness, we walked into a very large mass of army ants in our path.

I realised immediately what had happened and shouted, “Run!” Even though we moved with record speeds, many ants still managed to bite us. The result was an “ant dance” that would have won any dance competition, and having to partly remove clothing to get rid of them, as they do not let go easily.

There are 60 species of army ants in the genus Dorylus, mostly found in Central and East Africa. A single colony can contain over 20 million ants. They are completely blind and rely on pheromones to communicate. Pheromones are secreted chemical hormone factors that can have different scents for different reasons, like alarm pheromones, food trail pheromones or sex pheromones. I guess it is a bit like humans using different types of pre-coded deodorants to communicate various messages without speaking.

Safari ants serve good purpose in nature by cleaning any dead matter or pests and vermin from an area, including in human homes. The Maasai still use the large pincer jaws as stitches to close their bush wounds.

So next time you visit the Nairobi national park, be on the lookout for a moving mass crossing the road. It could be a line of thousands of siafu ants.

Yes! God has created many wonders, and safari ants are one of them.