If you're one of the more than 6.4 million YouTube viewers to watch this amazing time-lapse video of a swarm of ants eating a whole gecko, you may have wondered how these voracious, social insects managed to pick apart an entire reptile in less than 24 hours.
Although it's hard to tell for sure because of the quality of the video, Moffett postulates that the insects seen tearing apart the dead gecko are red imported fire ants, a species native to the floodplains of northern Argentina. According to Moffett, they are "highly bred for warfare against each other."
"Fire ants have a sting and operate en masse to incapacitate prey. They could indeed have killed something the size of this lizard, although this particular specimen appears to have been dead from the start," Moffett wrote via email.
According to Moffett, the red fire ant is an invasive species, having "proliferated subtropical habitats worldwide because of its proclivity for stowing aboard ships." The U.S. Department of Agriculture has mapped the spread of red imported fire ants through many southern and southeastern states.
Red fire ants can leave a nasty sting, but Moffett insists they're not the worst "when it comes to cutting flesh." That distinction is reserved for African driver ants, "which have knife-blade jaws and have killed cattle... and babies in cribs," according to Moffett.
Driver ants are among 200 species commonly referred to as "army ants," which are known for their nomadic lifestyle and aggressive behavior while foraging in groups. During their raids, groups of more than 100,000 individual ants attack prey, using their sheer numbers and powerful jaws to overrun and kill animals much larger than themselves.
The video, which you can watch above, was uploaded to YouTube in January 2008 by user "JaGe090879."