This silverfish didn’t fool the army ants. But many do.
The silverfish Malayatelura ponerophila is a kleptomaniac parasite that lives amongst the fierce army ants of southeast Asia, hanging out in the insect’s mobile colonies and living off the food they bring home. But how does it survive as a full-time impostor?
A study just accepted for publication in the journal BMC Evolution shows that these furtive freeloaders avoid detection by rubbing themselves all over immature ants called callows, “adolescent” ants which recently emerged from their larval stage. This gives the silverfish a coating of chemicals, called cuticular hydrocarbons (or CHCs), that the near-blind ants use to recognize nestmates in the dark. It is a dangerous way to live; army ants have keen senses and are usually adept at recognizing intruders, even expelling or killing fellow Leptogenys distinguenda if they smell like they’re from a different colony.