The harvest of edible weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) from plantation crops
Canopy dwelling weaver ants (Oecophylla spp.) are used to control a variety of pests in a number of tropical tree crops. What is less familiar is the existence of commercial markets where these ants and their brood are sold for (i) human consumption, (ii) pet food or (iii) traditional medicine. In Thailand, for example, weaver ant brood is harvested in vast amounts as a delicacy and sold for twice the price of beef. As these markets provide a basis for commercial ant farming, the possibility of using plantations patrolled by weaver ants as catchment areas for ant harvest, was examined. Depending on management, 32-115 kg ant brood (mainly new queens) was harvested per ha per year without detrimental effect on colony survival and worker ant densities. This suggest that ant biocontrol and ant harvest can be sustainable integrated in plantations and double benefits derived. As ant production is fuelled by pest insects, problematic pests are converted into food and additional earnings. To assess the profitability of providing additional food for the ants, O. smaragdina food conversion efficiency (ECI) was estimated in the laboratory. This estimate suggests the feeding of weaver ants in ant farms to be profitable.
International Union for the Study of Social Insects, Iussi 2010, Xvi Congress in Copenhagen Denmark, 2010