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January 8, 2008

Hunting Strategies of Birds in Panamanian Jungle (Image 3)

An antbird from the humid lowland jungles of extreme eastern Panama, near the border of Colombia.

Robb Brumfield, assistant curator of genetic resources and adjunct assistant professor of biology at the Museum of Natural Science at Louisiana State University, studies the evolution of strategies that antbirds, woodcreepers and ovenbirds use to find their insect prey. Brumfield discovered that one of the more interesting tactics used by antbirds and woodcreepers to find food is to follow army ants--numbering in the millions--as they march through the leaf litter, consuming every insect, spider and lizard in their path. The insects that escape the path of the ants by flight, like grasshoppers, katydids and crickets, are quickly devoured by the birds, trailing behind the swarm.

Brumfield also found that there are different levels of specialization among the birds. The first and most common level are the occasional army-ant followers. These are the bird species that will follow an army-ant swarm as it passes through their territory, but will not follow the swarm beyond the limits of their territory. The next step-up in specialization is regular army-ant followers--the species that will follow an army-ant swarm beyond the limits of their territory, but are regularly also found foraging independently of swarms. And finally, there are the true specialists, the professional army-ant followers. These are species that rely entirely on army ants to flush prey from the forest floor.

To learn more about Brumfield's work in the field, see the NSF Discovery story, "Birds Follow Army Ants to Find Prey.". [This research was supported by National Science Foundation grant DEB 03-32093.] (Date of Image: April 2004) [Image 3 of 5 related images. See Image 4.]

Credit: Robb Brumfield, Louisiana State University

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