Ants Staging Ambushes

From Nature via BoingBoing:

Using a home-made trap, a tiny species of ant is capable of ensnaring prey much larger than itself and tearing it to pieces.

The ants (Allomerus decemarticulatus), which live in Amazonian plants called Hirtella physophora, construct a honeycomb-like structure out of their host plant’s fibres from which they can stage an ambush.

The worker ants hide in the holes of this death trap with their mouths open wide, waiting for locusts, butterflies or other insects to land. When prey arrives they quickly seize its extremities, pulling on legs, arms and antennae until the hostage is rendered immobile. Once trapped, other ants from the colony arrive to sting and bite the prey until it is paralyzed.

Posted on April 26, 2005 at 9:52 AM18 Comments


Meg April 26, 2005 12:35 PM

I know Cory over at BoingBoing seems to think you’re a god, but they already covered this one. It’s interesting, but really, how about some real security coverage?

Jack Krupansky April 26, 2005 1:04 PM

Ants rule! Some day maybe I’ll write a book (or maybe simply a blog post) entitled “Everything I Ever Learned that Really Mattered I Learned From the Ants”.

Defense, offense, resiliency, adaptation, survival, ants have all the bases covered.

— Jack Krupansky

Arik April 26, 2005 1:11 PM


This is security. It’s just not computer security.

The ants are coordinated just like a horde of zombies, posed to make a denial-of-flight attack on the unsuspecting insect that happens to stumble into the trap. While the insect is unable to disconnect or fight his attackers, the real attack can be performed. The insect is “owned”, its “resources” are now used in the procreation of new ants.

It might take some time for the vendor to deal with this type of attack, although it is “in the wild”, because of the slow renewability of the insect’s firmware. A possible solution may be to equip the insect with detachable limbs or maybe to code some pattern-recognition for the honeycomb structures that the ants create, which will effectively eliminate this attack vector.

The ants can then turn to another vector… and so on and so forth.

— Arik

Roy Owens April 26, 2005 7:18 PM

The lesson for the insects being, be imaginative in looking for threat models. The ones you didn’t think of will bite you — well, everywhere.

Clive Robinson April 27, 2005 2:23 AM

In the Bee world there is the example of a smaller slightly more heat tolerant speacies forming a ball of their bodies around a bigger attacking species. The heat they generate cooks it to death which I suspect is still an unpleasent death even for an insect.

It is interesting to note that the smaller species has arrived at an effective stratagie in that they lose ten or twenty of their number to kill one attacker. However if they try and run or fight in a different way they will lose several hundred of their number.

Arturo Quirantes April 27, 2005 2:40 AM

I welcome most of Bruce’s posts, but I don’t know how to handle this. The story about the penguins borders the funny (a good laugh is always welcome), but how does ambush ants relate to computer security?

Next time, I suggest an in-depth analysis of the Resident Evil 2 movie. I always wondered why the female cop knew about shooting at zombies’head while the rest of her colleagues just waste their ammunition by shooting elsewhere. Whatever happened to security warnings? Not to think about the risks when the good guy penetrated the city’s security network while the bad guy …oh well, I don’t want to spoil it!

Ant Victim April 27, 2005 3:10 AM

Survive and adapt, remain openminded, you never know what you’ll learn, that will allow you to survive.

Bram April 27, 2005 7:55 AM


Sorry — I am just chuckling over nothing. I am the “bram” that proposed the Nature article to Doctorow (You’ll see my name appended to the BoingBoing post)
I am amused that the mentioning got me a lot of visitors but no extra comments — instead the comments appear on other blogs!

So I am easily amused.


Probitas April 27, 2005 11:29 AM

When I was 14, I washed windows for some neighborhood stores to pick up spending cash. the techniques I learned washing windows made me an expert drywall finisher in very short order, since the motions are quite similar.

The people who decide to attack your systems are not learning only from books titled “How To Attack Computer Systems For Fun And Profit”. If you can only learn defense techniques by rigidly applying what you learn in stricly security blogs and books, you will suffer greater losses than those who can also learn from ants and butterflies.

Tammy April 27, 2005 3:00 PM

And if you think Bruce is still just about computer security, then you’re not paying attention.

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