In the Brazilian rainforest, a grasshopper lands on a leaf and seals its fate. It was after a quick meal, but this leaf belongs to the Cecropia obtusa plant and it employs hidden bodyguards – ants. Underneath its leaves, thousands of Azteca andreae ants lie in ambush, poised at the edges with their jaws outstretched. As soon as the grasshopper lands, the ants rush out from their hiding places, seize it by the legs and pull it spread-eagled. The leaf turns into a medieval torture rack, with the ambushers holding the victim while their nestmates bite, sting and dismember it.
This hunting strategy is all the more amazing when you consider that the ants weigh just over a milligram each while their prey – including grasshoppers and moths – can weigh up to 10 grams. Ants are famously strong and they obviously hunt in large numbers, but even so, holding down a struggling insect that outweighs them by around 10,000 times can’t be easy. It’s the equivalent of a team of humans holding down three struggling blue whales.