Matabele Ants take their name from the Ndebele-people of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Historically known as the Matabeles and led by their fearsome chief Mzilikazi, they broke away from Shaka‘s Zulu-kingdom in the early 1800’s, warring their way through most of northern South Africa with spectacular results.
Matabele Ants are widely distributed over sub-Saharan Africa and live in subterranean nests, often more than half a meter deep and usually with multiple entrances but a single chamber in which the queen, eggs and larvae are cared for by the workers. At up to 2.5cm in length, they’re among the largest ants in the world.
Matabele Ants feed solely on termites, and the way in which they attack their quarry with military precision in regiments between 200 and 500 strong is a sight to behold. First, scout ants go out in search of termites, and when successful quickly return to the nest to get reinforcements without the termites being any the wiser. The scout then leads the army, following in a column-formation, back to the site. The army stops a foot or so from the termites, waiting for the back of the column to catch up. As soon as they are all in place, the army of ants then rush on the termites, breaking open their tunnels and killing as many termites as they can. After the raid the army assembles in the same spot where they waited to attack earlier, now with their bounty in their jaws, before setting off back to the nest in their familiar column-formation again. Even more astoundingly, Matabele Ants are known to rescue compatriots injured during the raid and carry them back to the nest to recuperate.