Using insect traps to increase weaver ant (Oecophylla longinoda) prey capture



Weaver ants (Oecophylla spp.) are managed in plantations to control insect pests and are sometimes harvested as a protein-rich food source. In both cases, the amount of insect prey caught by the ants is imperative for returns, as more prey leads to more effective biocontrol and to a higher production of ants. Malaise-like traps placed in trees may catch flying insects without catching ants, as ants may use pheromone trails to navigate in and out of the traps. Thus, ants may increase their prey intake if they are able to extract insects caught in traps. In a mango plantation in Tanzania, we estimated the amount of insects caught by simple traps (cost per trap = 3.9 USD), and whether Oecophylla longinoda was able to collect insects from them. On average, a trap caught 110 insects per month without catching any weaver ants. The number of insects found in traps with ant access was 25% lower than in control traps (ants excluded), showing that ants were able to gather prey from the traps. Ant activity in traps increased over time, showing that prey extraction efficiency may increase as ants customize to the traps. The prey removed from traps by ants constituted 5% of the number of prey items collected by O. longinoda under natural conditions (without traps), potentially increasing to 14% if ants learn to extract all insects. Thus, prey intake may be increased with 5–14% per 3.9 USD invested in traps. These numbers increased to 38 and 78%, respectively, when light was used to attract insects during night time. Combining ant predation with insect trapping is a new approach potentially building increased returns to ant biocontrol and to ant entomophagy.