Tour to Neocene

 

81. The terror of silver forest

 

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The army prepares to the new campaign. Warriors gather, ready to go to the way after the first order. They are perfectly armed, and their armours shine in sunlight. Their gathering takes place in the forest, but there is no echo from loud commands and orders. The communication takes place exclusively by means of smells, and it is necessary to look not in sides, but on the ground to see the soldiers, because all soldiers of this army are ants, though very large ones.
Place of gathering of ant army is rather unusual forest growing on slopes of mountain ridge. Forests of such type are easy for distinguishing from the rich tropical woods growing further down the mountain slopes – foliage of the trees composing these forests gleams in sunrays with various shades of grey, dove-coloured and bluish with droplets of pure white color. Foliage of many trees composing these forests is covered with white pubescence or the thin layer of wax protecting from bright sun of tropical Alpine zone. In Neocene epoch such forests grow only in one place of the Earth – at the Hawaiian Archipelago. On hillsides majestic gum trees tower, which foliage shivers and sparkles with silver in gusts of wind blowing from the ocean. Grevilleas shake their branches, and their carved leaves sparkle in sunlight by white underside, and young shoots and still underdeveloped leaves are entirely covered with rich pubescence. Above the forest on thin trunks crones of fan palm trees rise, which leaves are covered with glaucescent wax layer. And acacias, in contrast to grevilleas, have compound plumose leaves of numerous tiny leaflets trembling in wind. As against to slim gum trees, they have wide umbrella-like crones. Ancestors of all these trees did not appear at the islands in the natural way – the origin of “silver forests” of Hawaiian Islands takes its roots in human epoch; people have introduced numerous alien plants, which have quickly superseded native flora of the islands after human disappearance, and in due course of evolution have formed set of their own species. Therefore all ecosystems of Hawaiian islands may be considered as an original monument of human activity, which result is noticeable even millions years after the disappearance of the initiator of these events.
The forest formed by descendants of alien plants are inhabited by descendants of the animals introduced by humans. Tree crones of “silver forests” are populated by numerous birds, which are descendants of finches, sparrows, mynas and other birds introduced by people. They are perfectly adapted to life in island ecosystems, but their presence at the islands is also not a result of natural colonization of islands. Under forest canopy pheasants wander – they are also descendants of one introduced species. Among tree roots and in tree crones rodents live and various predators similar to martens and cats, but descending from mongooses, hunt them – and they also are descendants of species introduced by people. Large Hawaiian forest geese frequently go to mountain forests, where they are less disturbed by a ruthless feathery predator kuahana; ancestors of these two species of birds have appeared at the islands already after the ending of human epoch.
After the endemic plants the majority of insects inhabited Hawaii before the human colonization has become extinct. Together with people at the islands ants, wasps, termites and others insects alien to the ecosystem of the islands have appeared, and already after human epoch islands were populated by sawlegs – large predatory grasshoppers, which also have formed a number of endemic forms at the islands.
Among fallen foliage in underbrush of “silver forest” an active movement takes place. The ant army represents a terrible spectacle, because these ants belong to the species of monstrous ants – one of the most dangerous ant species inhabiting Hawaii in Neocene epoch. Body length of ergates reaches almost 30 mm, and soldier individuals are even larger because of large head and elongated mandibles. Because of numerous light-reflecting hair their body covers shine like silver in rays of the sun penetrating through forest canopy. Black heads of soldier ants armed with hooked white mandibles are especially precisely visible on this background. Some individuals sparkle their new chitinous armours, whereas other ones look dimmer: there are new recruits in ant army.
Ants scurry around of the hole under roots of the fallen tree – here was their house during the last some weeks. Larvae hatched from the eggs laid by queen female have finished metamorphosis recently and have turned to young ants. Now almost nothing keeps them at the old room: food resources in nest vicinities were obviously exhausted, and all larvae have pupated and stay in transportable condition now.
The ant colony prepares to abandon their shelter: ergates had not moved away in searches of food today, but keep near the nest. All insects in the colony feel changes, and they all submit to the invisible signals proceeding from the queen – the largest individual in the colony, the great Foundress and the oldest member of the colony. Now one more breeding cycle has come to the end: queen’s abdomen has become empty, she has restored forces after the period of intensive egg laying and is ready to travel again.
Chaotic bustle of ants around the nest decreases gradually. More precisely, at the periphery of the colony ergates and soldiers are still scurrying, and in middle of the congestion of insects the chaos is replaced by more organized behaviour. Ants near the center of the colony are almost motionless, making only short steps on tiny spot of the ground, lift heads up and open mandibles wide. Something important is happening, that organizes and mobilizes great numbers of insects.
Some more ergates and soldier ants had run out from the nest, and after them one more ant has appeared. As against to other members of the colony, it is very large individual of black color, almost twice longer than the average ergate. Readiness of ants for defense is not surprising: it is a queen, on which well-being life of the colony depends entirely. It is rather hard for the queen to move: its abdomen has almost cylindrical shape, and it is difficult for her to hold it above the ground. Therefore some the largest ergates support her abdomen carefully. From time to time one of them even squeezes under her abdomen and creeps for any time in such inconvenient pose, helping its queen to move. The queen’s power resides in strict execution of her “orders” given via chemical substances secreted by her body. Chemical signals organize the colony and order its behaviour. Tens of soldier with massive white mandibles make the way through crowd of ergate individuals, surrounding their queen. Some tens of soldiers form a reliable protection for the foundress of the colony.
Ants are as if hypnotized by her occurrence. The chemical signal from the queen is clear to all members of the colony – they should abandon this place and move to new location. But it is necessary to supervise over mood of the colony and over readiness of individuals for action. And queen slowly creeps to the edge of the colony, and soldiers around of her part ergates forcibly. The colony is gradually organized, and this behavior becomes a stimulus for the beginning of the movement. Soldiers line ahead of the queen and creep in thickets using one road previously reconnoitered by foragers. The colony gradually forms a usual march formation: queen with “retinue” of the soldiers, pupae protecting by small “nurse” ergates and soldiers, and the majority of working individuals follows them, protected by other soldiers distributed along the column in regular intervals. Pupae carried by ants will finish metamorphosis soon, and new warriors will join the army. Ahead of the column of ants scouts – the largest and strongest foragers – run. Some of them searched for food in this direction, therefore district across which the colony began to move, is partly familiar to them.
The colony of monstrous ants moving to the new residence resembles a flow of liquid mercury. It stretches to a column some meters long and about 5 cm wide; when ants creep in underbrush, in rays of light penetrating forest canopy armours of insects gleam. No matter how the marching column is stretched, the queen is constantly surrounded by the ring of soldiers and ergates serving her.
The colony has gradually crossed the borders of the territory explored by foragers. Smell paths became less precise, and familiar reference points have remained behind. It is necessary to be more cautious at the unexplored grounds, therefore movement of the column is slowed down a little, and the soldiers have joined scouts, ready to attack any potential danger.
Movement of ant column does not appear unnoticed for other forest inhabitants. First of all smaller forest inhabitants occupying underbrush and bushes feel it literally at their own expense. In due course of movement of the column of insects foragers run in various directions and almost at once return with prey of insects and other invertebrates. It differs strikingly from the situation which had taken place recently at the former residence of monstrous ants: there the forest was devastated fast enough within the reach of foragers, and they had to make far sorties for maintenance of colony members with the foodstuffs. Now the colony is gradually sated. Foragers drag lots of prey to their relatives: beetles, caterpillars, and even bugs. Neither an armour, nor camouflage colouring save from them. Even the smelly liquid secreted by bugs does not stop hungry ants. Killed and dismembered insects and snails are transferred to relatives and disappear in numerous hungry mouths. Nevertheless, the part of prey simply never meant to reach the final consumers.
In bushes high-pitched and squeaky bird voices are audible from nearby. Like shadows, under bushes small and dimly coloured birds with long thin legs – Hawaiian ant starlings – rush. These birds always lived near the colony of monstrous ants, robed foragers and conducted rather comfortable existence due to it. And when ants have gone to a new residence, the part of these birds has followed them. Hawaiian ant starlings have very modest appearance, as opposed to many of their neighbours. Small birds with black plumage and thin white beaks run dexterously around the colony of ants. Their eyes are bordered by rings of white featherless skin, and birds easily distinguish each other in shadow of underbrush.
Living next to such dangerous insects as monstrous ants, Hawaiian ant starlings should be able to avoid dangerous meetings with them; in addition, they should be dexterous and fast. Not all birds succeed to be such ones: sometimes young birds appear too careless, and stings of monstrous ants interrupt their short lives. But birds having the best acrobatic skills and quick reaction provide to themselves excellent protection and diverse menu. The main interest of these birds is not ants, but the prey which is dragged to the colony by forager ants. Hawaiian ant starlings peck the insects caught by ants, avoiding stings dexterously.
Small birds as if perform a freakish dance at the banks of the live river of ants. They quickly run back and forth, dexterously jump up and take wing, escaping from ants. Almost not using wings, small birds jump over a marching column of ants and soldiers vainly raise heads and open mandibles wide, trying to protect their relatives.
Forager comes back to the column, dragging a small beetle, which is still moving in its mandibles. One Hawaiian ant starling has noticed this forager and has overtaken it in several jumps. The bird has seized ant’s prey, but the hunter was not ready at all to leave it so easily: the ant only has clenched its mandibles even harder, not letting off the beetle. The bird took wing and perched on the bush branch so fast, that it has not noticed that holds in its beak two insects instead of one. And the ant obviously does not wish to leave its prey and bends its abdomen threateningly, spraying an acid. The bird has shaken its head, ant’s mandibles have slid off the beetle’s armour, and the dangerous insect has fallen down and has rushed to the congestion of its relatives.
Hawaiian ant starlings are not the only birds expressing interest to ant colonies. In some parts of forest mightiest araucarias tower, and their needles also have grey shade. These plants also are descendants of the species introduced by people, and they also harbor and feed some original birds.
Among araucaria branches small birds with plumage of bright red and greenish olive colours flash. When they flutter from one branch to another, black feathers in their wings and black heads are visible. And at the closer look one more interesting feature is found out – tips of maxilla and mandible cross like at crossbills of human epoch. Due to it they are named as false crossbills. These birds move in branches with dexterous jumps – they are descendants of sparrows and have inherited from them a manner of movement. Birds of bright red color are adult males, and individuals with olive plumage are females and immature males. Usual food of these birds includes resinous seeds of pines and araucarias, but they occasionally diversify it with insects, receiving from them a necessary protein part of food. Males keep at some distance from each other, not missing an opportunity to display themselves for the female on brightly lit branch of araucaria against the background of blue-grey needles. The courtship season at these birds lasts all year round, therefore male has a lot of chances to capture the female’s heart with its behaviour and beauty of plumage. In bright sunlight white rings around of eyes of mature male are especially well visible.
Voices of ant starlings draw attention of false crossbills. Birds fly down to the lower part of tree crone, and then fly down on the ground in united flock. On the background of fallen foliage even the olive plumage of females looks very bright, therefore they should be more cautious. Birds actively join the chase of ants, though their movement on the ground lacks the ease and grace characteristic for Hawaiian ant starling. They prefer to hunt monstrous ants from branches of bushes. Having perched along the way of movement of the ant column, birds quickly fly down on the ground, seize ants and take wing back.
Having felt danger, ants have slowed down moving forward and began to gather to a defensive position. Soldiers raise menacingly their black heads with white mandibles, and ergates gather around of them, also posturing menacingly. When bright male of false crossbill has flied down on the ground once again to catch one more ant, it was met by furious soldiers. False crossbill male has made some jumps along the edge of a colony, hoping to peck less protected individual, but everywhere it met only mandibles of soldiers ready to put a painful sting. At the same time the Hawaiian ant starling, moving in easy, almost ballet jumps, has snatched out from ant colony a caterpillar brought by one forager. At false crossbills reaction is much worse compared to these birds: only one false crossbill female managed to seize the late behind forager ant, and in the colony soldiers frighten off birds rather effectively. Around queen and pupae the main part of the soldiers has gathered, and they are quite capable to sting to death any bird which will intend to attempt upon the most valuable thing the colony has.
After several unsuccessful attempts to seize an ant false crossbills have receded, have gathered to the flock and have returned to the tree. Ant starlings have also lost their interest to ant colony: defending insects do not drag food to the colony any more, and birds have nobody to plunder. Gradually the situation around the colony became less disturbing, and soldiers have calmed down. Ergates have returned soon to their former occupations – to care of pupae and queen, and forager ants have bustled to search for food.
Day has passed marvellously quietly and even successfully: foragers have returned with plentiful prey, and the colony greedily absorbed the preyed beetles, caterpillars and even one young sawleg, which appeared insufficiently quick and was dismembered by ants. But sun already sets, and the place for a new settlement is not found yet. It will need to be made in the near future, because queen gradually prepares to the new breeding cycle. Ants still have some more days to spare, but during this time the reliable shelter which may be converted for the habitation with the minimal efforts should be found. Now insects should spend a night open-air.
The colony of ants gathers between tree roots – they form at least minimal protection in the case of rain or wind. Army ants construct temporary camp of the most accessible material – of their own bodies. Ergates surround queen and soldiers with a wall of their bodies, and this wall accrues upwards, forming gradually a friable construction, which is in constant movement. Queen is reliably hidden inside, and pupae are protected. Soldiers constantly ply along the edge of the colony, and occupy the corridors built of chained relatives of ergate caste.
Night in mountains, even in conditions of tropical climate, is a durability test for insects. Air cools down quickly: canopy of “silver forests” is friable and hardly keeps heat accumulated by ground and plants. Therefore, ants appeared in the top part of a colony become languid gradually. But the soldiers, preferring to stay in deeper layers of the colony, are always ready to repel an attack of any enemy.
Hawaiian night of Neocene epoch is surprisingly beautiful. Pattern of constellations is only vaguely similar to the view of the sky existed in human epoch. But stars are surprisingly bright, because air is clean and transparent – there is nobody to pollute it, and last traces of chemical pollution were absorbed due to activity of live organisms millions years before this time. But the mankind had irreversibly “polluted” biosphere with alien kinds of live organisms, and their descendants are appreciable at Hawaiian Islands at any time of day and night.
At night in foliage of trees small mammals rustle – these are arboreal rodents inhabiting forest canopy and hunting insects or searching for flowers rich in nectar. From lowland forests calls of frogs – also descendants of alien species – are audible. Bats silently fly among trees, fluttering their wings, and in foliage fires of glowworms light up, flicker and fade. Some inhabitants of Hawaiian Islands are descendants of natural immigrants reached the islands already after the ending of human epoch. But anyway the basis of ecosystem is made of descendants of the introduced species. Some of them are really uniquitous: these are the mosquitoes found at the islands very favorable place for breeding. Calls of nocturnal birds and ultrasonic signals of bats are audible at the background of high-pitched hum of myriads of mosquitoes, among which there are both harmless kinds forms not feeding in adult condition, and blood-thirsty creatures able to poison the life of every animal having blood. They rage especially actively in warm lowland forests, but some species constantly live in mountain “silver forests”.
In darkness rustle of dry foliage under someone’s legs is heard, and in faint light of the waxing moon one more forest inhabitant appears. It is a long-bodied and long-tailed creature with small head, similar in shape to a cross between cat and marten, but equal to a small dog in size. But it is not a cat, not a dog and not a marten, but the descendant of mongooses introduced to the archipelago in historical epoch. Presence of mongoose descendants in fauna of islands has essentially affected a direction of evolution of the Hawaiian birds. While before human colonization of islands flightless birds were numerous and diverse, in early Neocene only few birds could loss the ability to flight and exist successfully in the dangerous world, where mongoose descendants rule.
This predator decided to go to night hunt is kuamu, the largest predator of mountain areas. This individual is still young and has not reached the maximal size. This animal also has very poor experience in hunting, therefore it frequently makes mistakes and stays hungry. This animal searches for accessible prey and does not disdain frogs, lizards and insects. In moonlight eyes of the beast gleam: kuamu has rather good night vision. Considerable aid in its search of prey is rendered by sense of smell – at night this beast relies more upon its sensitive nose.
Kuamu has felt the sourish smell emitted by a colony of monstrous ants spending the night on the ground. It has made some steps aside a tree, among which roots ants hide, and has soon come across a moving sphere of insects. This beast hardly suspects, how dangerous these huge ants can be. Most likely, it had not to face them before – that is why their smell does not cause fear in it. Kuamu’s breath has warmed some ants in the top of congestion, and one soldier among them. The smell of air exhaled by the beast has immediately caused alarm among them. Reaction of insects was almost instant: squealing kuamu has jumped aside from the congestion of ants, has run off and began to rub its quickly swelling nose by paw. And at the top of live ant hill some insects have threateningly opened their mandibles wide, ready to repel one more attack. But it has not followed. Sniffing and snuffling kuamu trudged to the bushes. Its muzzle has swelled a lot, and nose is burning as if in fire. It is still alive, but has got a good lesson, which will hardly be forgot now. And ants have defended their right for life once again.
At the dawn nocturnal inhabitants hid, and the forest began to fill with other sounds and smells. Sun rays have heated up bark of tree above roots, among which the colony of ants spent the night. Insects warm gradually and shake off night catalepsy. Some ants have crept on tree bark, have heated up, and then have quickly returned to the colony and have disappeared in one tunnel formed by bodies of their relatives. They lose heat on the way, but heat up other individuals simultaneously. It is a slow process, but the temperature inside the ant colony began to rise. The warmed up individuals become more active. They creep on roots of tree and heat themselves independently. Temporary “camp” of ants began to turn gradually to a colony ready to further movement. Ants stand on bark, absorbing sun heat greedy by black legs and spots on abdomen. After a while the sunlight becomes too hot for them, but they are protected from it by silvery colouring of body covers. In the morning ants sunbath willingly and clean themselves, setting themselves up before the marsh. Queen followed by its numerous retinue has come to heat among the last. Due to dark colouring it is quickly warmed, and at this time ergates carefully clear it of dust and particles of ground.
Having warmed enough, monstrous ants arrange a column again and come out of view among bushes.
Sun rays penetrate through tree crones, and “silver forest” is in all the magnificence, shining with silvery pubescence and glaucescent wax cover. Due to free-growing forest canopy sun rays penetrate up to the ground, and in “silver forests” dense underbrush develops: bushes, perennial grasses and tree seedlings. In the majority, the plants of underbrush are also descendants of the introduced species. Above tree crones thin and graceful trunks of fan palm trees rise, topped with small crones of gleaming glaucescent leaves. As opposed to palm trees, acacias spread widely their umbrella-like crones. One of typical tree species in “silver forests” is Hawaiian bird acacia. This ornithophilic plant constantly blossoms in conditions of tropical climate, providing with nectar diverse forest inhabitants.
Leaves of bird acacia are very large – the length of fully developed leaf reaches half meter. They are not simple, but bipinnate, because of what a shadow created by this tree is not dense, but lacy – under this tree bushes can grow rather good. Young leaflets, underdeveloped yet, are covered with rich white pubescence, protecting growing tissues from damage by sun rays. At fully developed leaves pubescence is kept on the bottom side of the leaf. The growing tips of branches are also pubescent, but cover with a smooth bark very soon.
In tree crone the numerous orange-yellow “tails” hang down and shaken in wind – these are tree inflorescences offering the pollinators sweet, though a little bit watery nectar. And forest inhabitants do not make anyone waiting. On inflorescences numerous birds of grayish-green color with long beaks creep and flutter – these are mountain honeybirds. This species is the largest among relatives, the majority of which inhabits warm humid forests in lowlands. Mountain honeybird also differs in some sedateness of movements compared to noisy and fussy representatives of related species. Feeding on inflorescences of acacia, bird simply seizes them hard by paws and begins sucking nectar from flowers with the help of long and slightly bent beak. When the bird is feeding, not making superfluous movements, it hardly can be seen at the background of foliage, because its plumage also has obvious silvery shine. But it becomes very well appreciable when flies up and searches for the next inflorescence: on the bird’s back an orange spot literally flashes like a fire, which was hidden by wings before.
Mountain honey birds behave rather tolerant to a society of relatives, but prefer to keep one by one, except for nesting time. In the morning in tree crones bitter trills of these birds are audible. Males involving females perch on tips of long thin branches, having preliminary fleeced off leaves from them. It is an obvious invitation to making of family: like all their relatives, mountain honeybird hangs a plaited nest on such branch, and tree-climbing predatory mammals cannot reach it. Displaying male perches on branch and utters loud trill sharply breaking on the loud note. While females are not present beside, he declares himself only by voice. But when female replies his call, male begins to display itself: opening wings and fluffing orange feathers on back, he is swinging on the branch, inviting female to join him and to form family. Female chooses branch very captiously, frequently leaving male, if she doesn’t like the chosen branch. Therefore male always has some spare branches for the display. If female tries to fly out, male quickly flies to new branch and invites her already therefrom, expecting that she will stay a little bit longer in his territory and will show favour to his courtship.
The birds free of posterity rearing drink nectar of acacia, hanging dexterously on shaken inflorescences, doing it also upside down. They are not alone at this feast: nectar involves a plenty of insects. Trees of tropical forest, as against forests of temperate latitudes, are generous for nectar and trust the mission of pollination to a wind only as the greatest exception. They basically use “address” delivery of pollen by means of numerous birds and insects.
Mountain honeybird flies up from the inflorescence of acacia with head powdered with pollen. When it will search for nectar on the next tree, its plumage will inevitably touch thin flexible stigmae of flowers, and there is a probability of successful forming of a new fruit. But birds of this species frequently feed on trees of various species, not giving preference to any particular species. Probably, the time too short for appearing of closer union of bird and plant has passed compared to situation typical for Hawaii before human colonization. And it is more favourable for some plants to keep a certain universality to be not dependent on a unique pollinator species. And grevillea is one of such plants. Crones of these plants are decorated with numerous orange flowers accessible to various kinds of insects. In grevillea flowers motley butterflies of several species at once drink nectar. They do not compete to each other – their caterpillars feed on different plants, and the adult life of imago is so short, that there their competition is simply out of question. But all butterflies fly up quickly, when above the flower wasp has begun to hover. Its appearance is unusual: in sunlight its silvery body sparkles, as if supporting the general “fashion tendency” of mountain forests. But, when it lands on the flower, one more feature of this species is appreciable: its wings are black, as if smoked. It is Hawaiian mountain wasp, one of typical species of insects in mountain forests of Hawaii of Neocene epoch. In every place, where there are sites of such forests on hillsides, these wasps settle. These ones and many other descendants of animals species introduced by people have transformed the ecosystem beyond recognition. The appearing of wasps at the islands had, maybe, the most far-reaching consequences for formation of tropical forests of Hawaii in early Neocene. The presence of the specialized pollinator insects has given to insect-pollinating plant species an undeniable advantage in due course of evolution. Specialized ornithophilic trees are much less numerous in forests of Hawaii, than they were earlier, before humans.
One wasp on grevillea flower is followed by some other ones. Wasps gather nectar, not missing an opportunity to catch a small insect appeared too slow. They do not eat meat, but feed their larvae with it. However, Hawaiian mountain wasps should show care – they are far from being the last part of food chain, and the appearing of one more insect confirms this fact.
Loud buzz of wings of a massive insect has forced silvery wasps to fly up and to hide in tree foliage. Buzz becomes louder, and one more wasp appears on the flower. One glance on it is enough to understand, that it is better not to be at enmity with this insect. This wasp is twice longer than Hawaiian mountain wasps, and its colouring is the obvious warning addressed mainly to vertebrate animals inhabiting forest canopy. Body of this insect is smooth and shining, of bright red color with black cross strokes on abdomen. Its thorax and back part of head are also black, but legs are of white color almost entirely. Red, black and white – these colors were used by poisonous coral snakes of human epoch, and after some millions years the same combination of colors is meant exact the same thing, though not at the snake, but at the insect. In the rest, except for colouring and the size, this wasp differs from other relatives only a little. This species is Hawaiian hornet, a relative of mountain wasp, but larger and more aggressive. Red colouring is not visible to eyes of insects, but they all the same prefer to seek safety in flight at the appearing of these monsters – Hawaiian hornet is a predator. Birds also stay away from these wasps – poison of Hawaiian hornet is powerful enough to kill a small bird.
Having a snack of nectar on grevillea flower, the hornet flies up and makes some circles above the branch. The mountain honeybird perching on the inflorescence of the bird acacia stretched branches in the neighborhood, observes it cautiously. When large wasp has flown by very close, the honeybird has flied from the inflorescence and has skipped to the next branch, which was slightly waved under its feet. From this branch for a long time an inflorescence of acacia out of bloom hangs down, and on it there are some ripen fruits of this tree – wide flat legumes about 25 cm long. Their sides had turned dry and brown now, and seeds have completely ripened. To give rise to new trees, they require a small help, which forest inhabitants can render, and mountain honeybird appeared one of its involuntary assistants. Its touch to the branch has caused simply squally response. From the slight push the ripen legume of acacia has literally blown up: its sides had instantly curled up to tight spirals, scattering flat seeds with spotty black-and-white cover in various sides. Moreover, one by one some other fruits have bursted at once: touches of sides of one fruit have caused the real chain reaction. This process is accompanied with the loud clicks, which have forced several honeybirds to fly up, uttering alarm calls. Seeds scatter in sides for several meters, hit against leaves and trunks of the next trees, but because of their weight fall on the ground very close to parent plant. Certainly, it would be not too favourable, but the plant has one more assistant, which is capable to distribute seeds to even greater distance.
When bursted fruits have clicked loudly, and seeds of plant falled on the ground, the large rodent has got out of fern thickets – the mountain kapo. It is very similar to hamster in constitution: it has heavy built body, large wide head and rather short paws. Dense fur of animal has grey color with obviously expressed yellowish shade on stomach. The beast has reared on hind legs, has sniffed, has scratched its stomach by forepaw and has walked to acacia. Short naked tail contrasts comically to bulky fluffy body of this animal: mountain kapo is one of descendants of rats introduced to the islands in human epoch. It looks, as if the animal has grown up in comparison with its ancestor, and the tail has lag behind the general increase of the size, and has remained small and useless. But the animal is not disturbed by how it looks. It has much more important cares – search of food and escaping from enemies.
Mountain kapo loves large mealy seeds very much. Due to powerful jaws it easily cracks firm seeds of palm trees and acacias and eats away their nutritious contents. And it is, perhaps, as important assistant of Hawaiian bird acacia, as a mountain honeybird.
Mountain kapo waddles under the tree, smelling wood litter. It has found out seeds of acacia lying on the ground easily enough due to their very appreciable black-and-white cover. Smooth seeds resist to its teeth for some time, but the beast succeeded to gnaw one of them. Sharp incisors have punched hard cover, have broken it off, and the animal has pulled out from the seed shell a large embryo with thick cotyledons full of starch. It has thrown on the ground an empty seed shell and began to slurp with an appetite. Having swallowed food, it started to gather seeds in mouth. When it was gathered much enough of them, mountain kapo has trotted into the thickets. It has left far from an acacia, carrying away some large seeds in its mouth, but it was not for meal at all. To be more exact, it nevertheless plans to eat them, but not right now.
The territory is well familiar to the beast: mountain kapo lives here more than one year and its odorous marks are placed in vicinities plentifully. In its territory mountain kapo knows well all tracks, and also secluded places and shelters for the case of unexpected danger. The beast has run some tens meters across the thickets, has stopped and has sniffed at the ground. It has tried to scratch the ground by claws, but has only scraped out a small stone and has walked away. In the other place literally at once under a surface of the ground a large stone had been found, and kapo’s claws have scratched against it. After several unsuccessful attempts, mountain kapo has found at last a place, where the ground is soft enough. It has quickly dug out a hope by forepaws, has shaken out seeds from the mouth into it, and then has buried them. It did not begin to mark this place with urine, and has left odorous label not far from this place on the trunk of small tree. Having smelt the ground once again, kapo turned around and has run out to gather food again. Quite probably, that exactly this stock of seeds will be eaten in 2-3 days, but there is always a probability of that the beast will simply forget about the existence of this cache and will not return to it any more. And then it will be a plant’s turn to take advantage of the chance. It takes place so regularly enough: nearby to kapo’s new cache from the ground the whole bunch of bird acacia sprouts grows up – this is a sprouted stock of seeds forgotten for a long time.
Mountain kapo has returned to the acacia and has continued seed gathering. While there are no competitors beside, it succeeds to fill freely a full mouth of seeds within fifteen minutes only. But it must remember also about being careful: for some times senses saved this rodent from an attack of kuamu, of its most malicious enemy. Therefore mountain kapo behaves very cautiously: it frequently rears on hind legs and listens attentively. It has heard, that voices of the forest have changed: in the common chorus of voices bitter calls of the Hawaiian ant starlings, several birds at once, are heard better. It can mean only one thing: ants come. It already had to meet these insects, more precisely to save its life from them, when it was younger and has just left its mother. At that time only its speed has helped it to move away from a column of hungry six-legged predators.
In the same time with approach of voices other signs of approaching danger have appeared. Some rats with strips on back parts of backs have jumped out of thickets, galloped fast near kapo and have come out of view in fern thickets. Following them, the lizard has hasty run on the ground, rustling with fallen foliage. Then from bushes fiery-winged pheasant male has appeared. The beautiful bird has barely looked at kapo and has quickly walked in bushes, shaking head at each step. Soon among fallen foliage the first monstrous ant foragers have appeared. It can mean only one thing – the main column is already on its way, and if kapo will not escape, it will detain the promotion of the column of insects only for a while, turning to their food. Kapo has deeply inhaled air by nostrils and has felt a familiar smell, which is associated with danger since its childhood. Situation becomes too dangerous, therefore it has stopped seed gathering and has rushed away clumsily, following other forest inhabitants.
Ergates of monstrous ant harvest food for their colony with terrible efficiency. Due to its size ergate is capable to kill almost any insect appearing on its way, and the column of these ants can easily kill a cat-sized animal.
The forest along the way of ant column looks as if lifeless – the most part of animals moved out from the way of ants and wait for pass of ant column, keeping a safe distance. The one who will delay or will be too self-confident, risks to appear only the next prey of ant colony. But in forest always there are more inhabitants, than it is possible to see with naked eye. Many forest inhabitants have skillful abilities of masking, and even very sharp sight cannot distinguish a lizard from a piece of mossy bark, and an insect from a knot or a dry leaf. But even skilful masking does not save these animals from the predators searching for prey with the help of smell sense. And ants just belong to the number of such predators. For them forest is a place of concentration of numerous smells carrying the various kinds of information – about prey, enemies and possible shelters. Every forager checks necessarily a source of smell interested it – this way it is possible to find out food faster.
The smell of blood involves monstrous ant foragers like a magnet, and directs them reliably like a compass. Having caught this smell, a numerous group of foragers separated from the main column and moved to the search of its source. Ants creep up on stalks sticking out from the ground, twigs or dry leaves, moving their antennae in air and defining a direction to the source of smell. After several minutes of chaotic moving they managed to find out a proper direction, and the group of insects has gone in search for food.
The bird could hardly discern a source of smell of blood which involves ants so much. Only casual movement of leaves on the ground could prompt it, how a little drama had taken place about half an hour ago in underbrush was finished. In woof litter large and heavy insect moves slightly; it has wide body and wings covering it like a cloak. Brownish colouring with dark veins and grey spots on edges of wings makes this creature absolutely imperceptible on the background of decomposed foliage. Legs of this insect are decorated with scalloped outgrowths, which give to it even greater similarity to fallen leaf. Flat and wide head resembles a shovel, and under it large front pair of legs equipped with denticles on the internal side keeps half-eaten corpse of small lizard. It is flat-legged sawleg – a representative of the diverse group of carnivorous orthopterans widespread at the islands of Pacific Ocean. Despite of the neighbourhood of birds and mammals, sawlegs have found a convenient place for life at Hawaii and have evolved to numerous endemic forms here.
Heavy-built insect spends a lot of time on the ground. Due to camouflage colouring and particular body shape it is difficult to see it on the background of fallen leaves, even when it moves. Now flat-legged sawleg is busy with dinner, and only its head gnawing meat and the front pair of legs turning prey to more convenient position move. The insect slowly devours its prey, relying on protection given to it by colouring and body shape. But its feast is close to the end: some ants run near it, trying to find a source of smell. One ant has stopped, has moved its antennae, and then began to move directly to feasting sawleg. Giant grasshopper has interrupted its meal, has risen on all legs and has raised its antennae discomposedly, swinging them in air. While the ant is only one, it is very easy to finish with it – one wave of front leg would break its body less, than for one second. But sawleg’s movements had involved other monstrous ant foragers, and they have creeped directly to it. Sawleg has felt smells of several ants and has taken an alarm: it has raised front legs, has spread them wide in sides and has turned their white underside forward. Ants undoubtedly see this threatening demonstration of predatory orthopteran, but do not recede and only come closer. Sawleg is not going to recede, still hoping that the threatening posture will have an effect. Ants have a superiority in number, and it gives them a confidence. One of them has crept on the back of sawleg surpassing it in size and weight, and has seized its wing with mandibles. Response was very swift: one sawleg’s front leg has brushed it away from back like a midge, has clamped it between femur and tibia, and spikes have pierced it through. Sawleg continues its threatening display, and convulsing ant already hangs on spikes of its front leg. It does not stop other ants and they continue their attack. Before any of them could put a sting, sawleg has made a long jump above heads of coming ants, has stretched its wings and has flied out to thickets, uttering loud rattle. Half-eaten lizard left by it appeared very useful – it appears dismembered to pieces immediately and dragged out to ant colony.
As monstrous ant column moves forward, foragers make a kind of “exploratory attack”: they eliminate dangers at the way of a column and harvest food, even combining these two tasks sometimes. Groups of foragers run in underbrush and attack small animals appeared within their reach and did not manage to hide from them. One ant has crept on tip of a dry leaf sticking out of wood litter to catch better the smells of underbrush. When the ant gleaming its hair on chitinous armour has raised its head and has extended antennae, a leaf under it has begun to move. To be more exact, the observation post chosen by ant has only external similarity to fallen and partly rotten leaf, but actually represents a live and healthy animal – leafback toad. This amphibian, a descendant of South American cane toad introduced to Hawaii, in due course of evolution has developed perfect masking confusing any possible predators. Leafback toad is dug in wood litter and it seems, the events around almost not disturb it. But the world has reminded of itself in the most unpleasant mode: frightened ant has simply stung this toad. Feeling pain, the amphibian has pulled, scratched out an insect from itself by leg and began to inflate its body. Now its masking is replaced by warning display. When its sides were inflated, bright red coloring of stomach with black speckles scattered on this background became especially appreciable. Such warning works perfectly in case of birds capable to perceive red color, but is useless against insects, which are not impressed by coloring of stomach of leafback toad, too dim for their system of colour perception. Having inflated strongly and displaying bright underside of legs, toad stays motionless for some time, warning the possible enemy by brightness of its coloring. But in some minutes the amphibian begins to hiss loudly, letting air out from its mouth and returning to its normal size. Having begun to move, the amphibian has turned on paws and began to dig itself in leaf litter.
Toad’s movements have achieved an opposite effect: it has involved new ants. Some forager ants at once directed to the toad. For some time the amphibian tries to outwait their presence, keeping an immovability. But one ants had crept right on its head and began to creep on its eyes. Having closed eyes, leafback toad has brushed this ant away from itself by paw, and the reaction has followed immediately: one ants has seized its fingers by mandibles. The toad has reacted equally quickly: it has simply put fingers into her mouth and has swallowed an ant. Feeling a smell of insects, toad resorted to one more mean of protection. Amphibian’s skin has become covered with numerous droplets of poison exuding from skin glands. It simply began to smear poison on skin by one paw or another. This amphibian equally dexterously makes it by both front and hind legs. Within several minutes it has refreshed protective greasing on skin, and it seems to work successfully. Forager ants run near to it, but do not touch it. Even having run against the toad, the ant has only stopped for one second, and then has rushed away. Poison has saved the toad from danger of death – without such protection it would be eaten within one hour. But the number of ants turns more and more – their column gradually approaches. Therefore the toad has got out of leaf litter and has slowly crawled away.
Feeling danger, animals escape from the column of insects. The toad crawled aside the nearest bushes when over it slender bird legs have stepped, having forced an amphibian to take a protective pose and to inflate its stomach slightly for the short time. It appeared on the way of several fiery-winged pheasants - these birds are able to fly, but prefer to travel in underbrush at a walk, flying up only in case of extreme danger. Right in front of the toad the whole group of these birds – bright silvery male with black wings and some brownish females – has run. Behind them in thickets rustle is heard. Pheasant male has raised its head, has looked round and has uttered alarm call; all birds have rushed away. They have hidden from the view in a bush, and in few seconds only their excited voices were heard somewhere far away.
After pheasants among ferns the spotty kuamu’s skin has flashed. The animal is obviously not going to hunt pheasants, though in any other time, maybe, any of these birds would become its prey. The beast does not try to hide and to behave silently, and runs through thickets literally straight ahead. For any second it raises its head and looks back, and the reason of such behaviour becomes clear. It is a female kuamu, and she carries a cub in teeth – rather advanced, but not independent yet. Somewhere at the territory she has a spare shelter, and she carries it there. Female is followed by male, also having a cub in teeth. He runs right along female’s trace and also leaves a dangerous place.
But the natural world is severe: not everyone is able to escape from a column of aggressive and dangerous insects. Monstrous ant foragers regularly supply a colony with prey, which is dismembered and devoured on the move. But it is only an easy snack not for long. Nevertheless, forager ants feel the smell of more significant prey, and the part of them goes to exploration.
Under roots of low-growing grevillea mountain kapo female has arranged a hole and gave birth to cubs. They were born recently, therefore are still naked, blind and unable to walk. Female is compelled to devote a significant part of time to care of posterity. Having had a meal in forest hastily, she returns to the hole and feeds her cubs with milk. Hole is a good refuge: once she managed to drive away from her litter a young kuamu, to which she nearly gnawed out a nose when it has tried to thrust its muzzle in her hole. Only predator’s speed had saved it. Now kapo female hears alarm calls in the forest and understands, what they mean. The only hope for rescue is that insects will simply not notice her shelter and will pass by. Therefore kapo female has got deep into the hole and has lain near to her cubs huddling like a bunch. Nothing foretold the changes, and she has simply fallen asleep, feeling how her cubs move when sleeping.
The trouble has come suddenly. As if the heated iron, ant sting has burnt female’s muzzle. She has pulled, has jumped, and has received immediately one more sting in her paw. Having inhaled air, she has felt a specific smell of insects, and fear gripped her. Ants crept into her shelter one by one and have blocked ways to escape. However, kapo female could not recede: at her legs cubs crawled about. One of them has begun to squeak shrilly – it was bitten by ant. Humming threateningly, kapo female rushed to insects. She began to bite and to squish them by paws. But in close space of a hole small and quick ants had conclusive advantage. At this time cub’s squeak has turned to silent whimpering and has interrupted at all – ant’s poison has did the deed. In air the slight specific smell – chemical signal of ants for the beginning of mobilization – had spread. Having felt it, foragers began to behave much more aggressively, and new stings burned paws and sides of kapo female. Soldiers of a colony have begun to go down from the ground surface into the hole, and it has already solved the outcome of fight. Mountain kapo female does not wish to surrender and uses its last ounce of strength to struggle. Her body burns like in fire, eyes and nostrils are almost swollen shut from numerous stings, but she still catches insects and bites them. The bitten off heads and abdomens fall in nest litter, but ants as if continue to battle even after that: the bitten off heads seize kapo female’s skin and hang on the animal in death grip. The pain of stings is intolerable, and female does not try to defend itself any more: she tries to protect cubs, covering them with her own body. However, ants come as a dumb and ruthless mass. The chemical signal contains only one order: kill it. And ants use the best efforts to execute it. In kapo’s hole there is an emergency exit, and female could escape at her own wish, but the parental instinct orders her to care to cubs. And kapo female eventually loses this unequal fight with ant mass. She perishes from numerous stings, trying to save up her cubs in a last ditch effort. Some of her cubs were alive, when she has died, but they were lost from the first stings of ants.
On the ground surface nothing specified the tragedy had taken place in kapo’s hole. Then the ant colony breaks gradually a march formation and moves to the hole. Soldiers continue to protect the queen, having surrounded her with wide ring, having raised heads and opening mandibles wide, but all foragers scurry between hole and “camp” like a thin silvery streamlet. The column of foragers leaving a hole carries pieces of meat and the skin stained with blood. They are devoured greedy by soldiers, and the softest pieces of meat are carried to the queen and to young individuals bursted from pupae during the ant campaign, which should gain strength to take high-grade part in life of the colony.
The victory of ants has not remained unnoticed. Sparkling white beaks and “glasses”, near an entrance of the kapo’s hole there are some Hawaiian ant starlings on duty. When the ergate burdened with a load looking especially appetizing appears, the bird darts off, picks up food dexterously, shakes the ant from it in one movement and flies away to safe distance to swallow its prey. All these actions take few seconds, and the bird returns to its post.
But even in view of damage put by feathery robbers, the ant colony literally bathes in abundance of food. Within several hours corpses of kapo female and her cubs are eaten up to bones, and bones are picked clean.
Ants stay in kapo’s hole longer, than it is needed simply to cut off a piece of meat and to carry it away. Some individuals creep on walls and ceiling of the nest chamber, surveying it. In the nest litter numerous fleas were found out, but it was hardly possible to catch them. Their worm-like larvae appeared a fine addition to the feast. Ants have quickly finished with mites lived in kapo’s hole, and have eaten several bugs managed to suck a lot of kapo blood before the massacre began. Everything is ready to the appearing of new owners in a hole. And after the signal from ergates the sluggish queen surrounded by a ring of soldiers began to crawl down in the gallery downwards, to the nest chamber. Its movement means only one thing: the colony has found new temporary dwelling, and will begin a new breeding cycle soon.
In depth of kapo’s hole intensive movement began. Ergates have dragged all possible dust outside – the rests of litter of kapo’s nest. Bones of the hole owner and her cubs were additionally scraped clean, and everything, that was possible to be pulled out from the hole, had been pulled out by ergates and had been thrown out near to an entrance. Queen settled in the depth of hole, where it is perfectly protected from predators. But for now it is not ready to lay eggs yet, because the microclimate in the nest still doesn’t fit its needs. In the hole of mountain kapo there is too intensive ventilation through an emergency exit. Termites, the most skillful builders of the insect world, would solve such problem in few hours. Also ants forming long-term nests would easily cope with it. But monstrous ants are bad builders of capital, long-term constructions. They lead a migrating way of life, and it is easier for them to find or to occupy any suitable shelter, rather than to build it from zero. They are professionals in finding of decisions for maintenance of comfortable residing of the queen and its posterity in marching conditions. They perceive vegetative matter more as a dust, and abilities to excavations are reduced to primitive expansion of already available tunnels. The most accessible building material for them represents bodies of relatives, of live ones. Therefore, the decision of the problem of nest microclimate appears very simple: ergates and some soldiers simply gather in tunnels, creep on each other into some layers, seize each other by legs and mandibles, and form of their bodies some kind of the openwork fuses, which slow down a stream of air. Depending on as far as closely they nestle against each other, air permeability of the fuse of live insects varies. Passes for movement of relatives are left in these partitions. Besides the ants forming partitions can uncouple for a short time, passing their relatives inside or outside. For enemies of the colony such “live wall” becomes in fact an absolute obstacle.
The stream of air blowing through a hole is slowed down and softened, and within several hours the atmosphere in living chamber becomes warmer and damper. Queen feels the change of microclimate, and from it the new chemical signal, of which ergates waited, follows soon: it is ready to breed again. Large ergates making its nearest “retinue” gather around of it and carefully clear queen’s body, cautiously touching it by antennae and tips of legs. Now in queen’s body the real conveyor of egg producing gradually started its work. Food requirements of queen began to increase; having slightly opened its mandibles, it demands of food from surrounding individuals, and it is fed on the spot by the ergate which has made the way to it literally on backs of soldiers. The whole sense of existence of ergates is the service to their queen, which is the major member of the colony. And when getting such signal, they are ready to work up to deterioration to satisfy all its requirements.
Queen’s abdomen begins to inflate gradually, and it loses the ability to creep independently for a certain time. Cuticle on the abdomen is stretched and between chitinous sclerites pale, soft and elastic sites appear. Queen’s ovaries began to fill with eggs, which move along them, as if on the conveyor. At last, there comes a moment, when the first egg leaves a female’s organism. This is a first egg in new residence, and it demands care like tens of other eggs, which will be laid after it. Ergates crowd not only near queen’s head, but also at the tip of its abdomen. They carefully pick up appearing eggs and carry them to another part of the chamber. Incubation should proceed at constant temperature and humidity. But wet and motionless air is a fine microclimate for the appearing of microscopic fungi, which spores are always present in air. Therefore, working individuals lick and clear surfaces of eggs to prevent the distribution of infections. When it is necessary to increase humidity, ergates becoming “gatekeepers” simply nestle against each other closer and air circulates slower. But after the rain, when air becomes cooler and damper, “doors” pass a maximum amount of air.
Mountains of Hawaii represent a place, where the atmospheric moisture is condensed; therefore the rain falls here every day. Before the rain bird acacia produces a lot of nectar and mountain honeybirds gather for short-term, but the rich feast to hide then in shelter and to wait a rain with a full stomach. Tree also prepares for the beginning of the rain: magnificent bipinnate leaves fold, and leaflets nestle against the leaf axis. Therefore, despite of the cloudy sky, under bird acacia trees and related kinds it becomes a little bit lighter before the rain.
Jets of a rain fall upon the “silver forest” with their whole fury, but such impact is habitual to trees, and they successfully resist it, having thrusted roots deep in cracks of rocks. Water flows from mountains, gathering to numerous streams and rivers, which quickly reach the ocean. On steep slopes streams of water carry even stones of the small size. Trees restrain fury of streams and force them to flow slower. A significant part of rain water is absorbed and kept by the forest, and here also streams with cold and clean water appear. Water washes off a part of fallen foliage, and in natural deepenings the organic substances favorable to growth of grassy plants gather. A lot of water is absorbed in wood litter, and it is pleasant to some forest inhabitants. While lizards and large insects hide in tree crones and in cracks between stones, leafback toad flourishes. The inactive amphibian has quickened, when the first drops have hit in wood litter, and has got out from its shelter. The jets of rain druming on its back and sides are pleasant to it, and it only closes eyes slightly, if drops of rain hit on them. Taking a shower, the toad rises on all legs and freezes, being blissfully happy. When the rain will be over, it will simply bury itself back in wood litter.
Monstrous ants settled in kapo’s hole are protected from a rain well enough, but all the same thin stream of waters flows down the gallery and causes anxiety in ergates. But they have decision also for this case: a certain number of ants has simply crept out to the entrance and has created from their bodies something like a roof, having linked around of the entrance closely. Using such artful maneuver, they succeed to remove a part of rain water from the hole, and the another part, that nevertheless filters through their build, is quickly absorbed by ground and does not make any inconveniences to queen occupied exclusively with egg laying and constantly getting the care of large working individuals from its “retinue”.
As for wasps, distant relatives of ants, they don’t have to be afraid of rain, though they did not alter the traditions of their ancestors and build a nest of self-produced paper mass. The nest of Hawaiian mountain wasps resist to a moisture due to one trick which became possible for these insects due to life in “silver forests”. Insects have simply impregnated the nest shell with gratuitous material – wax gathered on plants, more often on palm trees. Therefore, raindrops simply roll down the nest roof like balls of mercury.
But fury of the rain ceases quickly, the sky is cleared, and again the sun causes foliage of trees to sparkle like a silver and dries up raindrops.
Some days passed. Monstrous ant foragers master new territory and lay a network of tracks leading to their temporary dwelling. From the first eggs laid at the new place larvae already hatched, and they demand more and more food every new day. Therefore, the requirement for food of the colony increases sharply, and ants become more aggressive.
On the trunk of acacia the small lizard creeps. It is Hawaiian whistling gecko, which ancestors also were introduced to the islands by people. In lowland rainforests of Hawaii its relatives of various species inhabit trees from roots up to the uppermost branches and differ in strict specialization in feeding and in choice of a residence. In mountain areas, for which significant daily temperature drops are characteristic, a variety of geckoes is much lower, and Hawaiian whistling gecko is one of the most widespread species. It is able to swarm up trees and stones well, but prefers not to get into tree crones, where representatives of competing species live. But it hides skillfully in leaf litter and on the stones and sites of bark covered with mosses. Skin outgrowths on sides help this lizard to mask the shadow, therefore, while gecko keeps an immovability, it is very difficult to notice it. Gecko is camouflaged so good, what even its eyes do not give out its presence due to a camouflage pattern on an iris of the eye.
Despite of the small size, this lizard is an adult male and owns a harem of several females living on this tree trunk and on the next big stone overgrown with moss and small ferns. Huge eyes enable it to see almost everything around of itself, not turning head. The immovability is a main protective reception of this small reptile. Only approach of an insect causes the predicted reaction: gecko rushes forward to catch it, swallows quickly and freezes again. But there is one thing in this world, which is guaranteed to force it to quicken: it is a presence of the contender. Like a certain Eastern tyrant, this gecko strictly protects borders of territory and inviolability of its females. But it is very simple to cause its aggression: it is enough to contender only to utter its call somewhere near the border of its possession.
The contender has appeared here some days ago. The next revision of borders of territories has resulted in lose by its neighbor of all females and a significant part of territory. Therefore, while before this event its voice was heard somewhere from apart, now male gecko hears it in menacing nearness from borders of its own territory. And in reply to its own signal this contender does not leave, but only continues its calls. The balance is broken, and now the slightest occasion may result in battle between two reptiles. The owner of territory feels confidence of its own forces, and its voice sounds harsh and threateningly.
When the contender started once again to call too close to borders of territory, male gecko has rushed downwards on tree trunk. Having overcome quickly some meters between tree trunk and mossy stone, he has got on the stone, has inflated his yellow throat and has uttered a series of abrupt whistles, declaring its rights for the territory. Somewhere nearby female belonging to his harem rustled among tiny ferns, and after her a head of the unfamiliar congener has appeared. More precisely, he was familiar, but more by its voice – it is a stranger male. He has also raised his head, has inflated throat and has whistled squeaky, challenging the owner of territory. It is an unprecedented impudence, and the owner of territory rushed to the impudent contender. He has bitted stranger’s side, and began to tear the stranger, as if a puppy, shaking head and twitching tail from excitation. At this moment, his voice sounded like a buzz. The contender has surrendered marvelously quickly – it seized moss by paws, has pulled out jerky its body from jaws of the owner of territory and has rushed away. And it was followed by fighting call of the owner of territory.
Being satisfied with the achieved result, Hawaiian whistling gecko male has gone to sun-warmed tree trunk, where he likes to spend time so much. Making the way from the stone to the tree he has felt a certain unfamiliar smell similar to smells of ants living in the forest, but more expressed. The small brain of the lizard will hardly help to realize, that it is a sign of great danger, and gecko male has continued its way bravely. On tree roots something gleamed, which have flashed in sunlight, but it has not frightened gecko and, on the contrary, has caused his curiosity. Gecko began to climb up the root, and at the same time one monstrous ant forager, searching for food, has met him. Gecko has rushed to it absolutely automatically – he had to eat insects of the same size, therefore the situation seemed to be very ordinary for him. But this insect differs from other ones: it is perfectly armed and ready to battle. Painful sting in jaw has stopped gecko male, and the severe pain has spread on half of head of the reptile. Gecko has shaken his head, hoping to get rid of pain, but it did not go away. He has gaped mouth, but the ant of huge size hung on his jaw, having seized it by mandibles. Gecko male has tried to shake an insect off, scraping his jaw against surface of the tree root. But the ant did not let him off, and the pain amplified only. Writhing in pain, gecko has fallen down on the ground and began to wriggle among fallen foliage, trying to shake this ant off. But the smell of blood has attracted some more insects, and soon the second sting has burnt gecko’s back, and the third ant has seized his leg. Movements of the reptile gradually become slower – ants win by means of their poison. At last, the gecko’s body went limp, and only tips of his fingers and toes pulled in spasms. And ants have begun to tear prey to pieces.
Probably, this event will change the entire life of gecko male applying to the territory, which has lost the lawful owner right now. This one can manage to have posterity, having coupled with all females living at this territory. But he needs to be more cautious – at least, while the colony of monstrous ants instills terror in inhabitants of this area.
Monstrous ant foragers creep at the territory in searches of food. They are always ready to attack small animals, and to repel an attack of the large enemy in case of need. Perhaps, only Hawaiian ant starlings are not afraid of them. These birds with dim plumage run in underbrush, sparkling their white beaks and “glasses”, and fearlessly plunder these ants, relying only on their own dexterity and rapidity of the response.
Female of fiery-winged pheasant searches for food, digging leaf litter with its claws and beak. She does not shine by the brightness of plumage characteristic for males of this species: the entire plumage of this bird is brown with thin cross ripples. When the bird freezes, she is very difficult for distinguishing against the background of forest vegetation. Only red featherless skin on its face and black cop on head decorate her.
It is useless for this bird to be too appreciable. Near to her small chicks, which may be heard easier, rather than seen, walk: it is enough for them to stand still, pressing themselves to the ground, and the predator can pass by, not having noticed them. While they are small, mother cares to keep them full. She searches for her posterity the softest insects, and she knows where they may be found. Pheasant hen throws foliage around by feet, and then digs the ground by sharp movements of beak. After several beak movements a small gallery has opened in the ground. Builders of this gallery, termites, represent tasty and nutritious food for chicks. Female has uttered some abrupt invocatory sounds, and from various sides chicks have run up to her. At this time at the edges of the destroyed gallery the first termites already have appeared – these are some tens ergates and the soldier with transparent body cover. Female has pecked up some insects, and chicks have obediently repeated everything she has shown. And termites have continued to creep outside, trying vainly to repair gallery. Until chicks have gorged on, work at the insects has not promoted even to a millimeter. Imitating their mother, chicks dug by their tiny feet the edge of the gallery and pecked insects creeping out. Termites at not as defenceless, as they may seem: they emit intensively an odorous substance, creating the whole cloud above the damaged gallery. But birds do not react to this smell and continue feeding. A bit later pheasant hen has stepped out from their nest, and the whole brood has obediently followed her.
Termites the pheasant hen has found belong to a species of shy termites. Like wasps and ants, they are descendants of the insects introduced by people and their presence has affected in great degree the evolution of wood plants at the islands, and also the mode of decomposition of woody debris.
Ergates of shy termite hastily restore the gallery - while it is damaged, danger can threaten a colony. These insects prefer to live and to feed under ground, and only some times per year winged individuals of both sexes swarm above the forest and fly away, giving rise to new colonies. An easy breeze in an underbrush quickly disperses a little cloud of protective smell formed of odorous secretions of insects. Pheasants have no ability to smell, but various insects distinguish them quite successfully. Some monstrous ant foragers have felt a smell of termites and have gone on investigation. Insects come nearer to the gallery of shy termite destroyed by pheasants, where ergates smear hastily a clay pulp on edges of the breach, trying to close it up as fast as they can. Termite ergates are blind and can orientate mainly by means of sense of smell. They have quickly distinguished a smell of danger, and termites of soldier caste with huge “big-nosed” heads came to help them immediately. Not seeing an enemy, insects move their antennae in air, gathering information on the environment. They clearly feel a smell of ants becoming more apparent. Some soldiers have left a breach and have got outside, keeping their legs against its edge, and the others simply began to keep closer to ergates engaged in repair of the gallery.
One monstrous ant forager has reached a breach leading down to the gallery of termites the first. It has felt smells of numerous insects emitted therefrom. Smells indicate that the termite colony is strong and numerous, but also specify its availability – pheasants have destroyed gallery on a significant extent, and termites cannot repair it in some minutes. One more smell is in the air, and it forces an ant to approach closer…
The wave of the strongest smell has literally covered the ants approached to the gallery of termites. Termites have emitted a special odorous substance, and now they wait for result. Their waiting appeared short: in one minute one ants began to walk in circles, staggering apparently and desperately moving its antennae. The second ant squirmed on the ground and only moved its tarsi tips. The others began to wander around of the breach, as if having forgot, where they hastened. Under the action of odorous substance of termites ants have lost orientation and have turned to an easy target. Termite soldiers have raised their “noses” and have simultaneously sprinkled from them a caustic liquid. It began to stiffen and to stretch like thinnest strings in air. This is an effective weapon – one ant had almost all legs stuck together, and it can limp only, pushing from the ground only by two free legs. Standing at the edge of the breach, it has not kept balance and has fallen down right in termite gallery. It will never see sun again: soldiers surrounded it at once, have fired with glue, and then dismembered. One more ant escaped the bombardment of termites. It was more lucky: on its legs only a little amount of glue has got, and it could break off the sticky string holding it on rotten leaf.
At a reasonable distance from a colony of monstrous ants life of animals moves, as usual, broken only by separate meetings with aggressive forager ants. Fiery-winged pheasant hen wanders in underbrush with her brood. Her chicks have already grown up, at them primary feathers on wings have grown, and on head and back contour feathers turned like tubules have begun to appear. Chicks can fly up and overcome short distances, but prefer to hide from enemies among plants, rising in air only in the exceptional case. Longitudinal-striped coloring of plumage helps them to mask, and pheasant chick nestled against the tree root or standing motionlessly among young growth becomes almost invisible to the enemy.
Pheasant chicks are already able to search for food, and their mother keeps up situation around mainly, trying to distinguish danger beforehand and to warn posterity about it. She is on the alert: mountain kapo digs wood litter nearby. This beast eats mainly seeds, but will never miss an opportunity to diversify its diet with food of animal origin. This rodent eats insects, lizards and their eggs, and also ravages bird nests appeared unattended. While incubating the clutch, pheasant hen drove away from its nest animals of this species for some times. This animal represents real danger for her chicks. While kapo is feeding far enough, pheasant hen simply observes of it, pecking insects from the ground passingly, or picking leaves of grasses. However, when the beast moved to her brood, pheasant hen uttered a loud and abrupt signal of danger. Having heard it, chicks have reacted instantly: they have rushed to the nearest shelters and have stood motionlessly. One chick has jumped into the hole between tree roots, another one has nestled against large piece of bark fallen off from tree, and some more pheasant chicks have hided from the view under fronds of fern. Appearing face to face with kapo, pheasant hen has fluffed up her plumage and began to seem almost twice more, than she was only one minute earlier. Her cop has risen and has opened, and naked face skin has reddened of blood inflow. Kapo sniffs at leaves, not paying attention to this display, and does not go out. Pheasant hen has continued to walk about in front of it, having fluffed up her feathers. She has lowered her wings up to the ground, having turned sideways to the rodent and exposing fiery-orange coloring of secondary feathers. But mountain kapo had not been impressed at all by it. And then the bird rushed on it. Crying loudly and clapping her wings, pheasant hen has attacked mountain kapo, striking the beast painfully by wings, claws and beak. Having attacked it, she has jumped back and has continued her displays, trying to drive kapo as far as possible from her hidden chicks. The sluggish beast has reared on hind legs, clicking its teeth. Pheasant hen would hardly begin to attack it now, but there are her chicks behind her, and she continues her displays, though it can be excessive.
While mother battles to the big and strong beast, chicks hide and patiently wait for a signal of standing down. They rely on masking, but such way of protection is good only against the large enemy which at least partly relies on sight sense in search of prey. For smaller predators guided by sense of smell such chicks represent an easy prey: it is enough only to appear in proper place in proper time.
Some events in this world are determined by simple coincidence of circumstances, and nobody is insured from various accidents, including fatal ones. Pheasant chick hidden after an alarm signal becomes an easy target for an ergate of monstrous ant. The insect has found out the chick hidden among leaves by its smell. The behavior of ant is driven by simple external stimuli, and the smell of pheasant chick acts as a signal for an attack. The chick has seen an ant approaching to it, but has continued to hide, because it has not heard the appropriate signal from mother. It obviously never met such ants and simply does not know what kind of danger they represent for small animals. The ant has quickly run up to the chick, has stung it and has injected poison into the wound. Having peeped of pain, the chick has jumped up and has run, but poison already began its action, therefore the chick has fallen down on the ground in some seconds. The ant has raised its head, has caught by its olfactory receptors a smell of prey and has simply followed it. To the moment when it has reached up the pheasant chick, it was already dead.
Pheasant hen managed to drive mountain kapo away from the hidden chicks. The beast simply was not expecting such vigor from the part of the bird, because usually fiery-winged pheasants fed peacefully side by side with it, not expressing any signs of aggression. It has gone away, snuffling lougly; on kapo’s muzzle a deep wound put by pheasant hen beak bleeds, and its shoulder is scratched by bird’s claws – it’s good that the wool has softened the force of impacts of bird’s legs. Seeing that a possible danger is over, pheasant hen began to cluck, and chicks rushed to her – almost all, except for one of them, which lays motionlessly now in wood litter.
The lucky ant began to butcher its prey. Its mandibles have easily cut through thin skin of dead chick, and then within several minutes it has literally cut out from the tiny carcass a piece of meat easy for dragging to the colony. This part of the forest is rather far from the colony; therefore ergates of monstrous ant rarely come here. Maybe, it will have to be engaged in butchering of this carcass alone. The only helper appeared here absolutely casually: having felt a smell of meat, another forager has run up to its relative laden with prey, has moved its antennae, remembering the smell, and only some minutes later it continued butchering a killed chick, not paying attention to flies which already began to gather, involved with a tasty smell. If these two ants will manage to deliver the burden to the colony, a whole group of ants may go to help them, and they will easily clear bones of the chick of meat. But the smell of meat is too attractive to numerous freeloaders, and the prey left unguarded may be obtained by any one which will manage to take hold of it and to frighten off other ones. And such creature appears very soon.
The dry paper rustle of quickly moving wings is heard, and the large body falls amain into the leaf litter near the pheasant chick carcass. Scattering rotten leaves, the creature rises on legs and folds on back accurately its long wings. It is a flat-legged sawleg, which does not refuse to have a feast for free. The insect walks on rotten leaves, extending front legs covered with pointed spikes from the inside. Of course, in elegance of hunting skills it concedes to mantids a lot, but its prey is basically larger and more sluggish, and sometimes it is a carrion at all, like now. Flat-legged sawleg literally covers by itself a corpse of pheasant chick, and flies are compelled to hover above the head of this giant insect, trying to snatch a pittance of its dinner. While ants have not returned, flat-legged sawleg is a boss here – due to its size and force of front legs it easily repulses enemies of its own weight category. And it seems, it simply does not notice flies. Sawleg quietly eats meat, cutting it with mandibles and fraying slices to a homogenous pulp. But it does not lose the control above the world around, which constantly reminds of itself: sawleg feels the slight smell of an ant emanating from the prey. It does not disturb the huge grasshopper for now, and the insect continues its feast. But approximately in 15 minutes it feels a smell of several ants at once, which all becomes clearer with each minute.
A forager ant, from which sting the chick died, has managed to deliver its burden to the colony, despite of marauding on the part of Hawaiian ant starlings settled in vicinities of the colony. Now it comes back along its own trace, leading the whole column of relatives. Ants are rallied by the uniform purpose and now represent a force to be reckoned with. Up to last moment sawleg did not recede and ate meat from chick carcass. It is sure in the forces and can easily cope with two or three ants. But now their number is greater, and they move right to it. The alarm of a giant grasshopper was given out only by movement of its antennae: they have risen and have begun to make circular movements in air, catching smells. When the smell has shown, that ants are very close, sawleg interrupted its feeding. It has risen on middle and back pairs of legs, raising forward legs upwards as a sign of threat, but ants are not going to recede –numerical superiority is at their side and the common problem forces them all to take action for solving it. Not waiting an ant sting, sawleg has abandoned the prey, turned around and in several long jumps has left a place of feast, having given ants the right to butcher prey by themselves. For the time while ants were absent, sawleg managed to eat a significant amount of meat, therefore now ants are compelled to chew cartilages and to gnaw bones. But this difficulty obviously does not frighten them. Ants have started to work and have quickly cleared bones of everything possible to be eaten. Only easy breeze in underbrush carries away down inedible for them.
Monstrous ants have quickly mastered the territory surrounding their temporary camp, and now are engaged in active gathering of food – while female lays eggs and larvae grow, they need a lot of food. Therefore forager ants are constantly occupied with work, except for those few hours when they substitute the relatives carrying out the work of gatekeepers in tunnels leading to the nest. Invisible ant tracks marked with smell run on trunks and branches of trees. Frequently monstrous ants use for search of food tracks of other ant species, reconnoitering and ravaging in passing the sources of food used by them. Some smell paths are quickly lost, but other ones leading to rich sources of food are used actively and renewed regularly. On them groups of foragers ready to attack any creature they have forces to kill always move. Sometimes in the world of small creatures real wars flash.
One monstrous ant forager surveys a branch of tree. On it near the basis the bush of epiphytic fern spread out its fronds, hiding behind a tree trunk from the hot midday sun. Having crossed it, the ant has continued its way along the branch. A certain small beetle has rushed away from it to the bottom side of branch, but such prey is too small for the colony – it will satisfy hunger of several ants for one hour only, and no more. The colony requires more considerable source of food. The forager ant stands up on tips of its legs and moves its antennae in air, trying to find out by smell something that lays outside of its field of sight. And now sense of smell does not deceive it: it has found out nest of Hawaiian mountain wasps. More precisely, it has located a source of numerous smells of insects, and the intensity of these smells almost does not vary over time, that specifies a constancy of this source. The ant has cautiously crept forward, and soon has almost reached the source of smell – it has reached the basis of the nest of Hawaiian mountain wasps attached to the bottom side of the branch. Probably, wasps have not noticed it, or have not found it as something dangerous. They are occupied with their habitual life – carry lumps of insect forcemeat to the nest, feeding their posterity, or stay on the roof and walls of nest, trying to find out in time the approach of the enemy, bird or Hawaiian hornet. A lonely ant, even of such large species as monstrous ant, would not begin to attack a wasp colony. Therefore wasps have allowed an ant to hide from their eyesight. They have no gift of prediction and consequently do not know that ants have one remarkable property: if it is necessary, they can raise a whole army easily and quickly, and then one ant turns to thousand oneы.
Marking its way with an individual smell, forager has crawled down the tree trunk. In this long and dangerous travel it was very lucky: it was not picked up by bird and was not eaten by gecko. It has reached the territory better known to its relatives soon: it began to find smell marks of other individuals, and then it has crossed some tracks of other ants. Feeling a smell of relatives, it began to put marks along its own path more actively. Soon other forager ants began to gather, attracted by its smell, and it has reached an entrance of the hole, accompanied by approximately ten relatives. In the gallery leading to the nest chamber successful forager has emitted a special “mobilization smell”, which has excited foragers and soldiers surrounded it. Within several minutes around of forager the group of resolutely behaving relatives ready to operate ad hoc has gathered. The group for an attack has gathered very quickly, and ants moved to the raid along the path marked by the forager.
Wasps have not paid attention to a lonely ant. Such meetings became usual enough in recent days – wasps frequently find out monstrous ants on flowers or on tree leaves. A lonely ant is no more dangerous to a working individual of Hawaiian mountain wasp than a wasp of any other species and of comparable size. In addition wasps are well armed, and it gives them the right to feed quietly, when lonely monstrous ant forager wanders near to them. In general, interests of wasps and ants almost do not cross: they live in too different worlds. However, sometimes even the worlds far from each other meet, and this meeting can turn to a great trouble.
Marks put by forager ant had not time to fade in air, and the group of monstrous ants mobilized to the war with wasps confidently rises up the tree trunk. The column of insects gleams their covers in rays of the sun penetrating through the tree crone, as if ants have metal armors. United they represent a terrible force, which is capable to overcome even the large enemy. They hardly imagine, what opponent they should combat with, but obey a chemical signal of mobilization – if such signal exists, it means, checking up the reason forced the relative to submit this signal is in interests of a colony.
At the way of ants a piece of tree bark has come to life and has begun to move. Whistling gecko hided on bark, being invisible to predatory birds and bats. Its masking is good for protection against any sharp-sighted flying predator, but now a different enemy searching for prey with the help of sense of smell approaches to it. Ants could easily find a gecko hidden on the bark, therefore it has risked to unmask itself for a certain time. Gecko has rushed aside from the way of the column of ants, has run to other side of tree trunk, has chosen lichen thickets suitable by size and has nestled against them to hide. If monstrous ants will attack it, gecko will have no chance to survive.
In some places smell path is interrupted: maybe, snails or lizards have erased some marks. But it detains army of ants only for a short time – having reached up the next break of path, insects crawl in sides and begin to move randomly in searches of new marks. When the continuation of the path is found, movement of ants goes on in almost the former order.
Approximately in two hours after the found by lonely forager of wasp nest in its vicinities a whole army of ants appeared. Insects have gathered on tree trunk at the basis of the branch. For some time they crept randomly on tree bark, and single scouts crawled almost to the basis of nest. But further their moving gradually became more organized: storm of wasp nest began. Having formed a chain, foragers at support of the soldiers have spread aside the nest. Working ants creep a uniform column, and on each side they are protected by soldier ants with large heads raised up threateningly. Their huge mandibles are gaped and ready to close in death grip on the enemy’s body. The column of ants comes closer to the nest, and some wasps guarded the nest roof have noticed the danger. After the alarm signal some more tens wasps appeared from the nest. They have advantage over ants: they are capable to attack from air. Wasps have immediately formed a defensive position: a part of militant inhabitants of the nest has formed a ring around the branch on approaches to the basis of nest, and some more tens wasps hover in air, flying above the column of ants. Despite of wasp defense, ants do not recede. Protected by soldiers, working individuals have come nearer to wasps protecting the way to the nest. Wasps rise on legs and buzz loudly, exposing their stings aside ants. Working ants have stopped, but at the same moment one soldier ant has seized the wasp attacked it. Wasp had writhed in its mandibles, but managed to escape with the minimal losses: it escaped only with torn wing and strong deterioration of flight ability. Wasps fly above the column of ants, attack and sting them. One soldier ant has grasped wasp’s abdomen and was killed by poisonous sting, but has not let the wasp off, having pierced through its abdomen by mandibles. Ergates rush on wasps that soldiers managed to catch, and tear them like dogs. In their mandibles strong heads and thorax segments crackle, legs break and wasp wings tear. Rearguard of the column has reached a battlefield, and battle has continued with renewed vigor. Ants have tried to break through wasp defense again – while soldiers and large foragers battle to nest defenders, some ergates move forward. Literally, at the edge of attack some soldier ants move, which in concurrent efforts finish with wasps appeared on their way. They grasp wasps, tear them to pieces and throw from the branch. Gradually the column of ants breaks through defense of wasps. While soldiers combat with wasps, foragers rush forward – they run on the surface of nest and try to reach an entrance. If they will win, they will get a great prize – numerous fat, helpless and nutritious larvae. But it is very uneasy to get this prize: wasps battle to death. Trying to sting ants, they meet gaping mandibles. Soldier ants seize wasps, destroying their heads, and dead bodies of wasps fall down, rotating in air. At the support of soldier ants foragers appear soon at the entrance.
Situation becomes precarious. Wasps resist desperately: from the nest new defenders appear. Actually, almost whole population of the nest is mobilized to defense of their home. Only some youngest individuals and queen still stay inside. Now the balance of forces has changed: there is one wasp for each soldier ant, and other wasps attack foragers and have obvious numerical advantage. If the soldier ant seizes wasp, another wasp at once attacks an aggressor and makes a mortal sting while it cannot repulse. Other wasps try to dump working ants down or to seize their heads, avoiding mandibles, and make stings. Ants gradually lose, despite of their killing skills. Corpses of foragers soldier ants fall down one by one, and with them dead wasps fall, not let off bodies of enemies even after death. Ants are doomed: reinforcement will not arrive to them. Only casual individual foragers can reach here retracing an ant group. Aggressors cannot recede also – ways to escape are blocked by wasps. They can only battle to the last one, realizing blind instinctive programs of behavior.
Defeat of ants is inevitable – it is only a matter of time. On a surface of nest ants gather in groups and try to hold all-round defense against superior forces of winged defenders of the nest. They sell their lives expensively: even foragers battle as furiously as soldiers do. Every wasp flying above them meets the raised heads and gaped mandibles ready to catch, to hold and to dismember it. But without reinforcement ants are doomed. Wasps kill them one by one. Some ants manage to fight back to wasps and fall from nest walls, having grappled an enemy, and others simply get a sting and perish, not causing any harm to nest defenders. Groups of ants gradually decrease, and very soon last ant soldier was killed by poisonous sting and dumped down. Massacre of foragers is quick, and soon the surface of the nest appears clean of aggressors.
Wasps have won, and their colony returns to former life. Ants have put a great loss to them, but have failed to reach up to larvae and to kill wasp queen. Therefore, the restoration of wasp colony is only a matter of time. Now wasps survived in fight crawl on the surface of nest, clearing their wings and bodies after fight. At some of them one or two legs are torn off, someone began to fly worse because of the torn wing, but they are alive and still can benefit the colony. The working individual in any case lives not for long, and these wasps will be replaced eventually by other ones, which now undergo metamorphosis in comb cells. Some individuals with damaged wings creep into the nest – now up to the end of their short lives, they will protect an entrance to the nest. They may never rise in air again, but their stings did not stop being deadly from it. Other wasps, being a little bit luckier, fly one by one to search for food for larvae – it is impossible to interrupt the food supply of the colony, otherwise the posterity would be defective. Some more individuals fly to fan-leaved palm trees growing nearby. Their mission is as important, as a food supplying: they will scrape off wax from young leaves and will bring it to repair nest roof, which ants managed to damage in one place. If they will not make it, rains will gradually soak a material of their nest, and it will collapse.
No one ant has returned to the colony after the unsuccessful attack of wasp nest. Losses experienced by ant army are great, but they are easily restored until queen lays eggs. While the colony of monstrous ants does not move anywhere, it represents a true conveyor for manufacture of fearless and executive creatures not asking questions and not doubting in correctness of their actions. And for trouble-free work of this live conveyor stable food supply of growing larvae and solicitous care of them are necessary. Therefore foragers drag food to the colony from sundown to sunset despite of a constant robbery from the part of Hawaiian ant starlings and other birds. In the nest ergates create microclimate favorable for growth of larvae and feed them in regular way.
The forest in vicinities of a colony begins to change gradually, and larger animals involuntarily notice it, though, certainly, do not establish a relationship of cause and effect between these changes and activity of ants.
Cautiously stepping on leaf litter, kuamu steals in the forest. The predator searches for food, but recently it rarely succeeds to make it. Because of presence of monstrous ants many small animals have left this place or had been simply eaten, and now it should search for prey for a long time. The beast cautiously stirs fallen foliage and smells it. Usually it managed to catch at least a large insect or a lizard, and sometimes a rat or any other rodent. Now it is silently in underbrush: there are no lizards and rodents usually rustled in leaf litter. However, things are not so bad: kuamu has felt a smell of a certain creature hidden among leaves. Having made some steps toward that place, the beast has smelt a leaf litter and scraped it by paw a little. The foliage has moved and the adult leafback toad has crept out of its shelter. Kuamu is well familiar with these creatures: being inexperienced, it has seized such toad, and its poisonous slime burned predator’s mouth. It has cautiously sniffed at the toad and has made a step back when it has stood in protective pose, having risen on extended legs. The animal remembers what will follow it: the toad began to inflate itself, and then has raised all its legs at once and bent them on back, exposing the bright underside of the body. Thus it fell down on one side, but has continued to inflate itself, uttering from time to time a sound similar to grumble. Like all carnivores, kuamu distinguishes by no means all colors, but black spots on light background of toad’s stomach are well appreciable to it. Having sneezed, the beast has stepped back from the amphibian inflated like a ball, and plodded away.
Having seen, that danger passed, the toad began to let out air cautiously, uttering thin hissing. Having returned to the habitual size, it has buried itself in fallen leaves again, waiting for prey. As against to kuamu, leafback toad is ectothermic animal and endures famine much easier, but all the same, it has an effect: a toad ate of nothing for some recent days.
The significant part of kuamu’s territory is now under the “authority” of the colony of ants, and it at once has an effect for success of hunting of this animal. Kuamu seldom sees ground birds now. It can climb trees, but is too heavy to hunt fast and well-flying birds in tree crones. Famine has intensified feelings of the animal, and now the predator is ready to check any sign of presence of possible prey. Rustle of leaves on the background of loud voices of birds in tree crones has forced the animal to pick up its ears. In several fast and silent steps the beast has hided from view among ferns and has stand motionless. Spotty skin of the animal has enabled it to hide from eyes of birds, which can easily give out its presence by casual call.
The predator has tensed its muscles and has become all ears and eyes. It has clearly heard silent steps and rustling of dry leaves under legs of a certain animal. It has cautiously raised head above ferns and has looked in the direction of noise. Somewhere ahead, among fronds of ferns and tree trunks grey plumage has glimpsed and has flashed in sunlight, and then the bright red head with black crest has risen. There are no doubts: it is a desired prey, fiery-winged pheasant male. It seems, it suspects of nothing and feels like in safety: the pheasant wanders among ferns and digs out a leaf litter by feet and beak. The bird searches for insects, but search is obviously unsuccessful. After roads of the colony of monstrous ants in this part of the forest only the tiniest insects remained: they are not interesting to ants. The bird managed to find and to swallow some seeds of any acacia.
Kuamu has well masked: the pheasant is cautious, but now it obviously does not notice a spotty skin of the predator. Sliding literally on the belly, kuamu sneaks up to the bird. The pheasant continues to stir leaf litter in searches of food – it is too keen on it and does not notice a danger coming nearer to it. It managed to dig out a gallery of termites, and it began to peck hasty small insects creeping outside. At this time kuamu has almost silently crossed two more meters. Famine has forced the predator to mobilize all its efforts, and kuamu moves so cautiously, that almost does not touch fern fronds, among which it hides. And when pheasant was only about three meters far, the predator had strained like a spring, and has made a magnificent jump.
The pheasant has looked back at rustle of fern and has hardly noticed how the flexible predator’s body has shot upwards. The bird has cried and has rushed aside, but too late. One forepaw of the predator has pressed pheasant’s long tail to the ground, and the second one has assailed bird’s body. Kuamu has literally spread over the bird trying to escape and has bitten it to the basis of its neck. Bones have crackled slightly, and the pheasant’s body has shaken in spasms, scattering silvery down and dropping fiery feathers from wings. Above the shivering bird a hungry predator stands, and the wave of all weariness, that has accumulated during hunting, has gushed over it. Kuamu breaths deep, and its paws tremble slightly. If the hungry relative will appear right now, it would be very difficult for owner of the prey to defend it.
Kuamu has taken a pheasant carcass in mouth like a fox and has dragged its prey to the fern thickets, far away from stranger’s eyes. Having got in thickets, the animal started to tear its prey and to swallow greedy pieces of bloody meat, brushing away from time to time feathers sticking to its muzzle by paw. The feeling of satiety has come quickly enough, and after the satiety drowsiness has come. The beast has smelt air. It seems, there are no its congeners nearby, and it is possible not to worry for preservation of prey. Already falling asleep, kuamu had seen how above a tattered pheasant body two wasps with black thorax and white legs hover and hum. But they will hardly cause a considerable damage to its prey, therefore kuamu simply got comfortably, having curled up, and has fallen asleep.
Two working individuals of Hawaiian hornet became kuamu’s messmates. Wasps landed on pheasant remains and began to cut accurately pieces of meat from bones. In the colony they are waited by larvae which need to be fed, and such find seems to be very useful to them. Having rolled the harvested meat to accurate balls, Hawaiian hornets have flied up one by one, and have hidden from the view in tree crones. The flies gathered to the smell of meat disturb sleeping kuamu, creeping on beast’s nose and eyelids. Not interrupting its dream, the animal sniffs or shudders, forcing flies to fly up. Flies can not deprive a predator of its prey: they only lick meat fluid and blood.
Kuamu had turned asleep, its tail has twitched, and one forepaw has begun to move: beast obviously has a dream. But the beast’s awakening happened much earlier, than it would be desirable to it. When kuamu’s tail has twitched once again, burning pain shot through it – that’s why the beast has jumped up, blinking eyes and sniffing. The reason of kuamu’s anxiety is obvious: on its prey some monstrous ant foragers creep, and most likely, the beast has casually pressed one of them by tail in dream, having got a painful sting for it. Ants have gathered, involved by smell of meat and now creep on the rests of kuamu’s prey, scraping off the fibers of meat from bones.
Kuamu is not going to share fairly preyed meat with these insects. Grumbling beast has snapped ripped pheasant and has dragged it away. Having walked some meters away, it has dropped its prey among roots of large grevillea and lay down next to it. Soon in rays of the sun penetrating through tree crones the armour of monstrous ant forager has flashed again. Insects simply pursue it, following the odorous trail and easily reach its prey.
The beast had to search for a new rest place for itself. Having taken the rests of prey in teeth, kuamu has made a couple of long jumps, trying to break off chain of its footprints, and then has run aside the big stone sticking from the ground among trees. The top of stone is overgrown with moss and ferns, and kuamu likes very much to have a rest on such green carpet. In several jumps kuamu reached a top of the stone. After such physical exercises, the beast did not want to sleep any more, but had felt a severe hunger. Therefore, it has dug its teeth greedy into the half-eaten pheasant and feathers and down dispersed in all directions. Bird’s skull crunched, when kuamu has cracked it by teeth like a nut, getting bird’s brain. Approximately in half an hour kuamu’s teeth have left on pheasant’s bones only pitiful rests of edible meat. The rests are too poor for large animal to waste forces and time for them. Kuamu has dumped from the stone the picked pheasant’s backbone with the rests of skin and feathers, stretched among ferns and has fallen asleep again.
Ants have found the rests of kuamu’s prey: smell of meat and blood serves as a reliable guiding line for them. Even there is already nothing to profit there from kuamu’s point of view, ants find a lot of edible matter there. They scrape bones by mandibles and break skin and the rests of soft tissues. Already to the evening bird’s bones were completely cleared of everything possible to be eaten by ants. But for a colony as a whole it appeared only temporary abundance. A significant part of small animals in vicinities is already eaten, and soon difficult time can come for ant colony.
Some more days pass, and life of monstrous ants colony enters a new phase. A pupation of first larvae begins, and there new cares for the ergates staying in a colony. Pupae are covered with dense envelope having good endurance against carrying in mandibles of ergates, and now they bear them on well warmed up site of the ground near to an entrance every day. In this place sun rays penetrate through friable canopy of the “silver forest”, and pupae get additional warmth and a portion of ultra-violet rays. At these insects carrying out of pupae “for a walk” becomes an original ritual. When the sun is high enough in the sky to warm up a site of the ground approximately one meter far from an entrance of the shelter of ant colony, from the gallery soldiers appear. They form an insuperable barrier to other smaller animals, though the majority of such animals is already exterminated in vicinities of the colony. Nevertheless, they should protect the future generation of relatives from unexpectedness of various sorts. When soldiers stand in regular intervals at the area of future “kindergarten”, there comes the turn of working individuals. They take out pupae from the nest and put them in smooth layer on the heated up dry leaves. From time to time working individuals move pupae, following the movement of the sun, and clear them from dust and falling leaves carried by wind. If the large leaf of grevillea falls on the “kindergarten”, ergates quickly cut it to pieces and take away, leaving only the roughest veins. These “household toils” are foreign to soldier ants. They have only one duty – to protect relatives from enemies. Soldiers walk among pupae and working individuals striving around them, raising heads and displaying powerful mandibles to possible enemies. On the background of large black heads of soldiers large white mandibles capable to make painful wounds and to seize the enemy in death grip are well visible. Nevertheless, despite of such protection, ant pupae represent an attractive prey for some inhabitants of “silver forest”.
Ant pupae spread out on the ground represent something like a celebratory table from the point of view of some birds. Only ants protecting their posterity represent a serious obstacle for lovers of a gratuitous entertainment. The most dexterous and cautious hunters can treat themselves with pupae, not putting their lives at risk. One of them is Hawaiian ant starling. The pair of birds living in vicinities of the colony of ants tries to steal ant pupae every day. Due to their mobility, these fearless birds can prey pupae supervised by ants rather easily. The couple of ant starlings keeps the safe distance from soldiers protecting pupae, trying not to cause aggression at insects. Dark coloring of plumage and propensity to hide in shadow helps birds to disappear from ants. In addition, white coloring of beaks and “glasses” around of eyes helps birds to support visual contact with each other. They quickly run at the edge of the sun-covered area, trying not to run out once again on the lit up place. Birds observe of ants, trying to choose a proper moment for an attack. Male and female of ant starling understand one another literally by the slightest movements, and their attacks are always coordinated and successful.
Female observes of ants, twitching her tail. She sees how at one site of “kindergarten” the number of soldiers appeared less than usually. Male has noticed her readiness for an attack and has run up to her. He also began to twitch his tail – female’s excitation was inherited by him. He has looked in the same direction, trying to guess where female looks. When ant starling female fluttered up, male has followed her almost without a delay. The couple of birds rushed synchronously above ant “kindergarten” and landed for the split second among laying pupae. Each bird had picked up one pupa, and they flied up before soldiers ants could turn around and attack them. They landed far away the edge of “kindergarten”, outside of field of view of ants, and began pecking out their prey.
Eating its pupa, ant starling male has noticed the movement somewhere in the shadow under fern bush. He has raised his head, but the movement has interrupted as suddenly as it began. Male was not sure, whether he sees only sees a play of light and shadow among lacy fern fronds, or… the congener, which has crossed a border of the territory for the sake of easy prey. Not having noticed anything suspicious, male has continued pecking ant pupa. He has pulled out the rests of ant from an envelope and has swallowed them, and when he has raised head, he has seen, without any doubts now, how another obviously unfamiliar congener tries to plunder ant “kindergarten”. Ant starling female has also noticed a stranger. Birds fluttered up synchronously and attacked it together. The stranger obviously waited for an attack and was ready to it. It flied up almost vertically, avoiding an attack from the side, and then has literally fallen on the male and has seized his feathers by beak. Birds in fight have begun to roll like a ball on wood litter, chattering militantly, and female has run after fighting males chirring shrilly and jumping up from excitation.
Males combat with each other, having serious intentions: the territory, where monstrous ants have located, at once becomes very attractive for Hawaiian ant starlings, and the possession of such territory, even temporary, is a thing worth fighting. The stranger managed to pull out fair clump of feathers at the owner of the territory, but it has suffered also, having lost some feathers in tail. After several seconds of severe struggle males have fled apart, but then engaged a combat again. Female also does not wish to tolerate a stranger in the territory, therefore she joins a combat bravely and seizes feathers of the stranger. Owners of territory in common shake alien male, having seized its feathers by beaks, and let it off only after a sound signal which expresses its humility and falling at the mercy of winners. Birds let shabby relative off and it quickly hides from view in the distance. Both birds continue feeding on ant pupae.
Hawaiian ant starlings are not only birds which would like to diversify their diet with soft ant pupae. While they scuffled with the congener for territory, a couple of Hawaiian false crossbills – bright red male with black head and wings, and dimmer female – has fled down on the ground. They are not as quick as ant starlings are, and wait for the moment convenient for attack for longer time. Ant starlings do not pay attention to them – they are not related species, and they have nothing to share, though right now they are showing an interest to the same object. When ant starlings have attacked ant “kindergarten” once again, false crossbills have followed them. However, they lack the ballet grace during the movement on the ground: they have shorter legs and heavier bodies. Therefore, their success is casual in greater degree: while ants chase the couple of ant starlings, male succeeds to peck up one pupa. Female also managed to seize a pupa, but could make nothing more: one soldier ant has stung its leg and has managed to splash some poison into the wound. False crossbill female has loudly called and flied up, and male had flied up too, following her. Poison of monstrous ant burns severely a place of sting, and the stung bird feels weakness. Its only rescue is a fast metabolism, enabling to cope with this doze of poison. If ant managed to inject more poison into the wound, or the bird got two or three stings, it would die.
Despite of numerous colonies and dangerous poison, monstrous ant is not a king of local insects at all. The colony of ants is a real force, but there are enemies ants are afraid of, and against which they cannot protect effectively.
In the colony of monstrous ants the events take place, which in scales of a colony could become events of the state importance: from pupae the first individuals of new generation hatch, and they are not simple ergates or soldiers. These pupae weighed almost three times more than the others, and had been especially protected. Now from them individuals hatch, whose role is important in scales of not only a colony, but of a species in general: these are winged individuals, young kings and queens. There comes the time of ant flight, and these individuals represent a contribution of the colony to reproduction of the species. Winged individuals resemble a queen-foundress of their colony, but look much more graceful and have wings. During the first days of life they hang on walls and ceiling of the nest chamber, having spread wings and as if waiting for an invisible signal for the beginning of swarming. When body covers and wings have hardened enough, winged individuals began to move in the gallery to the exit, accompanied by soldiers and ergates. They are ready to get outside and wait only the sun to heat up air to make rate of metabolism of these large insects sufficient for successful courtship flight.
Winged ants fly up in air later in the morning. They resemble large black wasps though almost do not hum in flight – only slight paper rustle of wings is heard. The flight begins synchronously in different places of the forest, and above tree crones the winged individuals of ants appear, which emit a smell involving the congeners of an opposite sex. Males of this species are smaller than females, and also fly much faster.
Winged female has flied up above an entrance of the hole. She will not return here anymore – having flown quickly around the colony, it flies towards its future. If it will be lucky, it will have some safe and nourishing years of life under the protection of working individuals – its descendants. But for this purpose it is necessary for it to meet the male and to be fertilized. The female’s large size is a guarantee of “safety margin” for the period of the foundation of the colony: the female will come to raise the first generation of workers itself. The male’s role in breeding is much less: it only transfers genes, supporting a genetic variety inside the species. And its role in the foundation of a colony is insignificant at all, therefore it is much smaller compared to a female. But small males quickly fly and actively search for heavy winged females.
Winged female has flied up above trees, dispersing pheromone “wedding invitations” for males. She is ready to accept their court, and soon smaller winged males begin to gather, attracted by her smell trace. They surpass heavy female in speed, and soon one of them flies nearer to her and tries to fix on her body. For the male, it is an uneasy task, because female flies and other males follow him and try to push him off from the female and to take his place. But the male won the race for female seizes her large abdomen by all legs and begins pairing. The purpose of male’s courtship flight is achieved – he will transfer his genes to posterity. But for winged ant female the meeting with male is only the first item in the list of numerous tasks she should make for continuation of the bloodline. Perhaps, it is most easily feasible item.
Male’s life will finish soon: he has given all forces to search of female and now, right after pairings, he only needs to protect the female from encroachments of other males during the short time while she is capable to fertilization. But in air there are enemies much larger than males of his own kind.
Red-and-black-and-white lightning has flashed in sunlight, having directed to flying monstrous ant female. When flight of winged ants begins, numerous forest inhabitants try to take advantage of a situation and to hunt large, but rather safe females and males of this species. Birds and reptiles hunt them on trees, toads and sawlegs eat them on the ground, and in air they are chased by bats and… ruthless Hawaiian hornets, one of the most furious local wasp species.
Having flashed in the sun its bright coloring, Hawaiian hornet has rushed to winged monstrous ant female and has missed. Nevertheless, the chase is not finished yet: buzzing terribly, the wasp has fled after the ant female. Two loudly buzzing insects rush in tree crones – one of them is fleeing the chase, and the second one tries not to lose a track. Male still holds on ant female’s abdomen, being already a useless burden. Ant female flies through foliage, but the odorous trace in air gives out her presence, and the wasp inevitably flies closer. At last, the Hawaiian hornet has reduced a distance up to a minimum. The predator sees its prey precisely; wasp accelerates its flight, seizes its prey by legs and mandibles and makes a fast poisonous sting.
Everything that was intended for winged ant female had been taken up by the male. His tarsi have slipped off from female’s body, and she has rushed off forward, free from a superfluous load and… alive and completely unharmed. And the male has remained in tenacious legs of Hawaiian hornet, having turned only to the food for their larvae.
Hawaiian hornets are also social insects, and life of working individuals it is devoted only to one purpose – the maintenance of well-being of their colony. And the important task is a continuous supply of the colony with food. As against the ants mastered mainly a ground level of the forest, hornets search for food at all levels – from underbrush up to tree crones. If adult wasps can be satisfied with vegetative food, for larvae they gather exclusively a protein-rich food of animal origin. And pupae of monstrous ants represent a fine source of food for larvae in spite of the fact that they are protected by furious soldiers, and ergates are ready to protect the posterity with eagerness worthy of the soldiers.
Hornets have reconnoitered ant nest and “kindergarten” at the sun lit of the underbrush. Some individuals have flown above the colony, and then one hornet came apart from the group and attacked ants from above. Having flown above them, the hornet has picked a pupa and has carried it away. It has quickly flied up, and, of course, nobody could catch it anymore, but its attack has driven guards of “kindergarten” to the condition of alertness. A cloud of pheromone responsible for “mobilization” has instantly appeared in air. Therefore, when one more hornet has repeated maneuver, it was already waited by furious guardians of pupae. One soldier has rushed to the wasp and has seized it by mandibles, making a series of injections by sting growing on the tip of abdomen. In reply it had got some injections of hornet sting and both insects have fallen dead among pupae, still keeping death clench. One more hornet had been detained by working ant, which has seized its wing. The price of one second delay of insect is its own life: on hornet’s body mandibles of several soldiers clenched, and they have literally torn it to pieces.
The first attack failed, and ants managed to defend the posterity with the minimal losses. But one hornet managed to leave and carry a pupa away, and now the ant colony is in real danger. Following this hornet at once some individuals return to ant colony, and the attack renews. But forces are equal again: the smell of alarm has involved additional defenders to the “kindergarten”; therefore ant defense is much stronger now. Even ant starlings have preferred to recede and to switch to a robbery of separate foragers delivering food to the colony, because an attempt of stealing a pupa can have fatal consequences now. Hornets hover above “kindergarten”, sparkling their lacquer-red chitin in sunrays penetrating through tree foliage. As if water boils under them: silvery armors of the mass of ants arranged an organized repulse to robbers and evacuation of pupae shine there. Ergates drag pupae back to the nest, being protected by soldiers arranged the real live corridor for the rescue of posterity: the whole way from “kindergarten” up to an entrance to the shelter is protected by soldier ants, which stand in regular intervals at the territory and have raised heads up and have opened mandibles, threatening to hornets flying too low above them. The majority of working individuals moves inside borders of this protected corridor, and soldier ants stop attempts of hornets to attack ergates with their precious burden. But, when one ants separated from congeners and began to move along the edge of the protected area, hornet attack has followed instantly. Huge wasp has seized a pupa despite of resistance of the working ant, and has pulled it out from its mandibles before any of soldier ants could help. But it was the only success of attackers, for which they had to pay dearly: one winged robber was prostrate and dismembered by defenders of ant colony.
While on the ground surface war takes place, in underground shelter there are even more important, though less appreciable events, which will affect the further life of the colony. The queen’s reproductive cycle finishes, and soon the colony should leave this place. The female has already laid last eggs, and larvae hatched from them will pupate already during the resettlement to a new place. Most likely, because of lack of food and bad conditions of development they will turn to smaller ergates. Working ones surrounding the queen carefully clear her body of dust, and other ergates come cautiously to queen’s head and regurgitate portions of food. Queen should not suffer from famine even if the amount of food in nest vicinities is decreased.
Young ants hatch from pupae in safety under vaults of shelter. Pointed mandibles cut accurately an envelope of a cocoon from within. Usually young ant does not finish this process: clearing of a cocoon envelope demands a lot of efforts, and it still should get stronger. Therefore smallest ergates – “nurses” – are engaged in the help to young ants. They do not leave nest in searches of food, and instead of it permanently stay near larvae and pupae. They transfer pupae to sun-warmed place and scrape from them dust and spores of fungi which may appear dangerous to rising generation. And when young ant begins to cut a cocoon envelope from within, “nurse” ant hears this sound and begins to tear an envelope from outside, helping young ant to get out.
When in an envelope of cocoon an aperture of proper size is done, young ant leaves it. While its chitinous cover is not hardened, it moves very slowly. Forces of young ant are enough only to clinging to the wall of a hole and to wait while the chitinous cover will gradually harden. When it takes place, ants feel like much more confident: they creep in gallery, clean antennae and legs, and also demand food at other ants, touching their mandibles by palpi. Sometimes they make a mistake, blocking the way to the soldier ant, but more often the ants carrying semidigested food to the queen suffer from their importunate attention. In this case, the working individual simply keep away from them, or throw a young ant aside. Certainly, young individuals are fed, but what they receive is not enough for them: they succeed to get a full portion of food only casually. Having got stronger, young ants become high-grade members of the colony. Soldier ants begin to protect nest and relatives, and ergates go to their first travels to the Big World Outside. In spite of the fact that they see the world outside the shelter for the first time, young ergates at once go to the search of food. They simply follow the tracks laid by the foragers of the previous generation. And the hunter instinct will prompt them how to choose a prey according to their forces.
The population of a colony has increased, but, despite of occurrence of a plenty of foragers, the amount of food is not enough all the same. All small animals in vicinities of the colony of monstrous ants either have moved away, or had been eaten sooner or later. Now the prey of suitable size becomes only a random event – only few animals stay for a while in territory devastating by monstrous ant foragers. It seems the time of change of a residence comes. However, the colony is still kept in place by a plenty of pupae, from which new ants are still not hatched yet. Their hatching and the readiness for resettlement is a matter of few days. If any pupae will remain after that term, they can finish metamorphosis already during the resettlement.
Within next several days the mass exit of new generation of ants from cocoons takes place. Their covers harden gradually, and these ants start to move actively and join the daily life of the colony. In care of “nurses” only some tens larvae remain, but they are ready to pupate in the nearest future. When they become more transportable, it will be possible to move to any new place. But these larvae bear the mark of the general deterioration of life conditions in colony: they grew during the lack of food, therefore they failed to grow up to the maximal size. They can undergo metamorphosis, but they will never turn to terrible soldiers or frightening foragers with iron grip of mandibles – maybe, from them only small “nurses” may appear.
The new generation of foragers managed to reconnoiter not so many new feeding places. The forest site, where these ants have settled, has undergone an extensive devastation, and now even the queen of the colony feels shortage of food in spite of the fact that she demands for food actively, touching her antennae to heads of working individuals. The chemical signals emitted by her prepare a colony for a new campaign. All efforts of foragers and “nurses” are directed to protection and feeding of the last larvae, and chemical signals from the queen literally urge on their development, forcing larvae to accelerate their development and to form cocoons. Within two days chemical “order” of the queen appears executed, and “nurses” have only to care of smooth motionless cocoons.
For “silver forest” one more day began – not better and not worse than ones already past, and similar to all days to come in the foreseeable future. But for a colony of monstrous ants it has marked the next stage of existence of their colony – the resettlement to a new place. Chemical signals of the Great Foundress have detained all foragers and soldiers. When rays of the sun have warmed up the ground after the night cool, ants have got out of a hole, which was their house in recent days, and have covered the ground with a sparkling blanket of their bodies. The mass of insects has come in chaotic movement, when from the hole the most important member of the colony – the queen surrounded by several working individuals – has appeared. Her abdomen has become empty, and now for a certain time she can move itself until a new portion of eggs will begin to ripen. When she creeps, working ants move out from her way, and the largest soldiers surround her, having aggressively raised black heads with white mandibles. The colony organized gradually to the marching formation, and then begins movement. Ergates take pupae and young, still not completely hardened ants, and gather under protection of soldiers. From the side their behavior is similar to urgent evacuation, but everything is well organized. Now queen and posterity of the colony are in safety, and the column of monstrous ants sets into motion once again. Insects follow one track laid by foragers in searches of food. The emptied hole is left without regret. The colony will hardly return here for the second time.
Approximately in one hour the colony has left the lived-in and devastated area of the forest. Conditions along the route of the column has changed, and the whole colony has gradually felt it. When the avant guarde of ant army has intruded fern thickets, from their way small gecko has hastily run out, and somewhere in the side alarm calls of birds resounded. In addition the first forager ants began to return with prey, which is gradually distributed between all members of the colony. But insects and spiders represent only a light snack. Ants require more essential prey, which is enough for them all. But alarm calls of birds have scared away numerous forest inhabitants at the way of the insect column, and it is more difficult to ants to catch large prey.
Fallen leaves in the way of ant column have begun to move: among them the adult flat-legged sawleg is hidden. The predatory grasshopper hopes for the camouflage colouring and notices an approaching wave of ants too late. When it has begun to move and has crept out from its shelter, the advance party of monstrous ants has captured it. They have surrounded the sawleg, seizing its legs and wings and scraping by mandibles its thorax and head. Sawleg failed to shake them off – enemies have attacked it almost simultaneously and were too numerous to make it possible to finish with them one by one. The attack turned out well: the first ants have only detained the sawleg, and in few seconds the ant army has literally covered a huge predatory insect by a wave of their bodies. Sawleg tries to beat them off, but enemies are too numerous. Ants torment its soft abdomen and literally bite off all its legs at bases. Numerous mandibles stick into its body, and ants dismember the sawleg to pieces. The colony slows down the advance in the place of its death only a little: having torn off little pieces of meat, insects continue to move forward. About ten minutes is enough for the sawleg armor to be eaten out completely – last ants in a column get of almost nothing from this prey. They only can demand their share of food at already full relatives.
The colony continues the movement across the forest, directed by foragers. While all members of a colony are present, it operates harmoniously, like some kind of a superorganism. While queen is alive and healthy, the colony will function normally. Being a part of healthy and high-grade colony, ants represent a threat for the world of smaller creatures inhabiting “silver forests”. Nevertheless, their power is not absolute: there are large animals at Hawaii, which, unlike ants, are not descendants of the species introduced by people.
Young trees crackle and break under large three-toed feet covered with corneous plates and coarse warty skin. Long necks bend down to the ground, and thick red beaks with jagged corneous edges pick ruthlessly young plant shoots and pull out bunches of ferns from the ground. These are Hawaiian forest geese – dominant herbivorous vertebrates of this place, and they are grazing. They have lost ability to fly a long time ago, and instead of it have grown up to giant size. It helps them to protect themselves against enemies: only ruthless predatory bird kuahana can attack an adult bird, and adult kuamu steal young birds, appearing from night darkness. Otherwise, the adult Hawaiian forest goose has nothing to be afraid of.
Eating vegetative food, geese peck off numerous invertebrates they find casually. Snail shells crackle in their corneous “teeth”, and small insects appear in muscular stomachs of birds with the plucked leaves. Usually geese do not search for them purposely, as they are too big to hunt tiny insects. Also they are too large to pay attention to alarm calls of small birds: these ones may be frightened easily even by the owl, which does not represent any danger to these giant birds.
When some small lizards have run by birds, one forest goose has pecked up a reptile and has swallowed it entirely. But other lizards have not change the direction of their movement. After them under feet of geese some mice and rats with striped and spotty skins has run, though usually rodents try to stay away from these clumsy visitors of “silver forest”. Then monstrous ants, the originators of a panic among forest inhabitants, come on the scene. Like a stream, the column of insects creeps in the forest, gleaming their silvery covers in the sunlight. One forest goose has noticed the moving insects, has made some fast steps aside their column and has begun to peck off these insects hastily. Having seen it, some more birds have stopped to browse leaves and have joined it. Per few seconds ants have faced the enemy, against which they appeared absolutely powerless. Their mandibles slide on smooth corneous beaks of birds, and only few stings hit the target because of dense plumage on heads of these geese. Birds easily crush by beaks the militant insects, shaking their feathers sometimes, when ants get into their plumage. It is only a nuisance for them, and it does not stop the massacre of insects.
Geese could trample and peck up tens and hundreds soldiers and foragers, and it would mean almost nothing for a colony. But one goose with one movement of its beak has caused to the colony a damage that could not be worse: it has pecked up a queen despite of the ring of soldiers protecting her. When the queen is eaten, the colony has turned only to unorganized group of ants. Actually, ant army is dispersed, deprived of the main command. Foragers seek safety in flight from under feet of huge birds, soldiers try to defend desperately and raise mandibles towards heads of the enemies surrounding them. Nevertheless, there is no organizing force at ants now, and their resistance represents only idle and unorganized efforts – no more than realization of the instinctive behavioral program. Each second tens ants perish, pecked up by Hawaiian forest geese.
War stops as suddenly as began. Somewhere aside fiery-winged pheasant has flied up from the bush, clapping its wings loudly. Among dim colors of mosses, lichens and tree bark bright feathers in its wings blazed like a flame. Large herbivorous forest inhabitants know by experience, that it is a real alarm signal. The sound and bright colors have frightened huge geese away. They have got excited, have begun to guffaw disturbingly, have raised heads up and have begun to look around. Birds have stopped to peck ants and have gathered to a dense group, calling each other loudly and stamping legs on the ground. Nevertheless, it seems that the alarm appeared vain. Among bushes kuamu’s spotty skin has flashed somewhere in the distance, but this predator cannot harm the adult Hawaiian forest goose. Having found out no signs of danger, birds began to walk slowly deep into the forest, browsing in their way leaves and grass.
Ants gather, orientating by chemical signals of relatives. The previously uniform colony appeared broken to some separate groups, and soldiers, obeying an instinct, have surrounded groups of working individuals, among which there were even some ants managed to save the last pupae of the colony. Groups of ants join each other and unite gradually, being guided by means of sense of smell. Separate foragers return to the colony and drag the found insects. They have left a group shortly before the Hawaiian forest geese have arranged the destruction of ant army, and they were lucky to survive. Now the colony does not exist as single whole, because the uniting and directing force – the power of the queen realized via chemical signals – is gone. The colony still can exist for any time, but it is already on the road to inevitable fading. It has no future: without the queen the reproduction of the colony stops, therefore, when last ants will die, there will remain of nothing from a colony prospered even some days ago.
Nevertheless, genes, which individuals of this colony have, still exist. Far in the forest, under roots of centuries-old araucaria with silvery needles, monstrous ant female is hidden in a little hole and feeds several small larvae. They are her first-borns, the beginning of the future colony. The foundress of this colony has escaped after the attack of Hawaiian hornet, which has killed the male, whose posterity she raises. Her whole life is devoted now to her larvae. She feeds them on nutritious secretions of the glands located in her gullet; thus a destruction of flight muscles, which are not necessary now, takes place, and the stocks of the fat saved up in fat body resolve. These larvae develop very quickly and are doomed for short life. Soon they will pupate and will become the first ergates, from which the new colony will begin. They will feed queen and larvae, which will hatch from the following set of eggs. New ergates will provide an uninterrupted feeding of the colony, and among the posterity of the Foundress the first soldiers will appear. With any luck, in half-year the new army of six-legged soldiers will horrify all forest inhabitants, when they will marsh off in the forest.

Bestiary

Flat-legged sawleg (Platydecticus platypodus)
Order: Orthopters (Orthoptera)
Family: Awful grasshoppers (Horrodecticidae)

Habitat: “silver forests”, underbrush.
Predatory sawleg grasshoppers represent an original experiment of evolution at the islands of Pacific Ocean. In island ecosystems they occupy a niche of small ground-dwelling predators, eating insects, crabs and even small birds and rodents. Due to ability to fly sawlegs easily colonize islands of Pacific Ocean, and at some archipelagoes the whole complexes of the related species occupying various habitats are formed. At the Hawaii sawlegs have not formed large forms because of a competition to descendants of mammals introduced by people, but among them there are the forms remarkable in original shape. One of these species is flat-legged sawleg, resembling in its body shape a leaf insect (Phyllium) of human epoch.
Flat-legged sawleg is a ground-dwelling species of predatory sawlegs. It lives in the bottom level of the forest, among bushes and in leaf litter. This insect is up to 10 cm long with very flattened body, expanded thorax and flat shovel-like outgrowth on head, directed forward. Large eyes have kidney bean-like shape and are located at sides of this outgrowth: their edges are risen above its surface. Antennae are long and reach the back edge of wing. Mandibles are very large and strong.
Limbs have expanded segments with angular edges. Front pair of legs has large jags on the internal sides, and is elongated. Wings are well advanced and have thick veins. When the insect is waiting for prey, they cover its body like a raincoat. Body surface has numerous small tubercles, that gives to it a similarity to the texture of fallen leaves. In addition the body has light brown camouflage coloring with darker spots of irregular shape and light grey edge, and spots on wings. Contrasting with the general body coloring, internal surfaces of front legs have white coloring. When two insects of this species threaten each other, they rise on middle pair of legs and spread front legs in sides, displaying the size to the contender. The disturbed insect makes a high jump and opens wings. Flight is fast, but hard, straightforward and not long.
Due to the body shape and coloring this insect imitates perfectly a fallen and slightly rotten tree leaf. Flat-legged sawleg can keep an immovability for a long time, waiting for the appearing of prey. It overtakes prey in one jump, trying to land over it from above, to rake it under body by front legs and to kill with a mandible bite. Its prey includes insects and small ground-dwelling crabs, and small lizards. In addition, this insect eats carrion. Near to the rivers flat-legged sawleg frequently digs out holes of crabs and pulls from them the moulted animals with still soft armor.
Female differs from male in heavier constitution. Male involves her with resonant chirring, climbing to the bottom part of tree trunk or to a bush branch. In clutch there are about 200 eggs; during its life the female makes up to 7 clutches. Nymphs hunt small insects, among them cannibalism is usual. The development lasts for about 9 months, life expectancy of imago is about 6 months.

Shy termite (Xenocoptotermes modestus)
Order: Termites (Isoptera)
Family: Rhinotermitidae (Rhinotermitidae)

Habitat: Hawaii, mountain forests.

 

Picture by Lambert

In fauna of Hawaii of human epoch termites were an alien element – they have appeared at the islands only with people. At the islands these insects have found a fine place for life and have easily outlived human disappearance and global ecological crisis of the boundary of Holocene and Neocene. The ecosystem formed at Hawaiian Archipelago in natural way has disappeared under the impact of numerous alien kinds of various taxons, and termites have taken part in formation of new natural communities.
Shy termite is a descendant of one species of Coptotermes genus – most likely, of Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus), widespread on the Earth in human epoch. It is a small species of insects – length of ergate is about 5 mm, soldier – up to 8 mm, and queen – about 50 mm. The shape of these termites is very characteristic for group as a whole: they have transparent body with thin integument, and strongly chitinized head. Mandibles of ergates are very large, resembling by their shape a nipper: using such mandibles, it is more convenient to pinch off lumps of ground during the construction of nest and galleries. Soldiers differ in disproportionately large head with expressed “nose”, through which they splash to the enemy the chemical substance – glue stiffening in air with an unpleasant naphthalenic smell. This weapon is very effective against small enemies of these termites. In its head the soldier has large reservoir, which volume is enough to make 2-3 shots into the enemy.
Shy termites occupy dry habitats, therefore they almost do not appear on ground surface and hide from intensive sunlight under the ground. Dwelling of a colony is large underground nest reaching two meters in diameter and located at the depth of up to 1 meter. These termites have ability to undermine the stones hindering the building, therefore the bottom level of the nest is literally paved by stones which were in thickness of the ground before the nest construction. From outside the nest of this species may be noticed only because around of its borders grass is cut off. The nest itself represents a series of small dome-shaped constructions located in parallel to the ground surface and connected by numerous underground galleries. To fodder places galleries under ground surface stretch.
These termites eat vegetative food with the high contents of cellulose – grass, bamboo stalks and dead wood.
The colony numbers up to 4-5 million individuals controlled by chemical signals of the only queen. Life expectancy of the queen is over 10 years. If for any reasons it weakens or perishes, termites raise replacing queen which is impregnated by winged male, when creeps out on the ground surface. Impregnated female due to its smell freely returns to the nest, but the male with an unfamiliar smell is usually killed by soldiers. In rare cases male succeeds to penetrate into the nest and to turn to the full member of the colony.
First winged individuals appear in young colony only in 5 years after its foundation, but later flight takes place every year.

Monstrous ant (Horromyrma pestis)
Order: Hymenopters (Hymenoptera)
Family: Ants (Formicidae)

Habitat: Hawaii, mountains, light forests.

Picture by Biolog

Picture by Amplion, colorization by Ilia

Before the people occurrence at Hawaiian Islands many groups of animals, characteristic for continents, had been abscent there. One of such group were ants, which are numerous and various all over the world. They had an opportunity to settle at islands as a result of human economic activity, and due to the opportunities of adaptation they had successfully outlasted their “benefactor”. Many species of ants distinguished by various interesting features live in Neocene at Hawaii. And in conditions of island isolation among them the true monster, one of the most dangerous inhabitants of these islands – monstrous ant had appeared. It is the descendant of fire ant (Solenopsis heminata), introduced from North America. It has kept a migrating habit of life and has even more strengthened predatory behavior of the ancestor.
This insect is the largest species of ants of Neocene world: length of working individual is over 3 cm, and queen surpasses 5 cm lenght. Monstrous ant has silver-gray body with black cross strips on abdominal segments and black legs. At ants of “soldier” caste there are black head and contrasting with it large white mandibles, therefore “soldiers” are well distinguishing on the background of other ants of this species. “Queen” has black colouring and differs from workers in larger abdomen with very wide black cross strips. Its head is silvery and also has lighter shade, rather than at working individuals and “soldiers”. By size of thorax and head queen does not differ from working individuals.
Monstrous ant is heat-loving insect: it lives at sunny and well warmed up slopes of islands; also it does not like dampness and does not go down in marshlands and lowlands. Till the morning these insects are very languid, but become active and very dangerous in the afternoon.
It is one of the most dangerous predators of Hawaii. Monstrous ants attack any animals which could not escape from them for any reasons, including rather large vertebrates. This species does not lodge for a long time in any certain place, and leads vagrant life. In day time the colony of this ant moves in wood stretched to long columns, and for lodging for the night uses holes and others shelters. During the movement queen is protected by plenty of “soldiers” with hypertrophied mandibles, and the most part of a colony is made by workers keeping ahead and behind the queen. Once a week in abdomen of the female up to 200 small eggs develop, and the colony is compelled to stop movement till some time to hatch the next generation of ants. For cultivation of posterity the colony searches for suitable shelter – hole of any vertebrate (frequently thus the owner of hole or its posterity appears had eaten), in which working ants train vegetative rests. If in vicinities there are no holes, workers gather vegetative dust in heap and build of it a friable temporary nest. Having organized a settlement, the colony of ants stops in it approximately for three weeks. For this time the female lays eggs, and from them larvae hatch. Working ants in support of some “soldier” ants hunt small animals, devastating vicinities of nest to the moment of metamorphosis of young generation.
When all posterity undergoes a metamorphosis (within approximately three weeks), the colony abandons shelter and continues wandering in the forest. Only birds able to catch these insects not sitting on the ground represent the potential danger to monstrous ants. Frequently colonies of these insects are accompanied with large omnivorous birds which cause some damage to ant colony, and provide to themselves constant, though also dangerous food source.

Hawaiian mountain wasp (Vespula maunaloae)
Order: Hymenoptera (Hymenoptera)
Family: True wasps (Vespidae)

Habitat: Hawaii, mountain forests, the top border of tropical rainforests.

 

Picture by Lambert

In human epoch the fauna of Hawaii has undergone significant changes. Human activity has resulted in appearing at the islands of representatives of various groups of animals alien for island ecosystems. Among the colonists of historical epoch there were true wasps acclimatized at the islands and formed some species there. In due course of evolution some species of these insects appeared and mastered different habitats and leading different ways of life. All of them build paper nests of a various design on trees or on rocks.
Hawaiian mountain wasp is widespread mainly in “silver forests” of the islands. It prefers dry habitats and does not go down to humid forests of lowlands. This insect is adapted to life in conditions of intensive solar illumination and the expressed daily temperature drops.
This is an insect of typical wasp shape, only a little surpassing ancestral forms in size: length of working individual is about 25 mm, queen – up to 40 mm. Characteristic yellow-and-black pattern on the body is lost at this species; yellow color is replaced by silver-grey as the body of an insect is covered with set of light-reflecting hair. It enables to avoid pernicious influence of sunlight in high mountains. Along the middle line of the body on abdominal segments there are some black spots.
Warming function is assumed by wings of this insect: they are dark brown, almost black, and opaque. In the morning wasp creep out on the nest environment and spread wings, exposing them to the sunrays. Having warmed up, insects fly up and move to search for food.
Nest of this species is spherical, up to 20 cm in diameter. It is constructed of paper pulp prepared by wasps and is reinforced with long vegetative fibers, which working individuals stack on the nest roof. Life in “silver forests” gives wasps an opportunity to use one more building material – plant wax, with which they coat nest environment, making it water-repellent. The colony numbers up to 300 working individuals and one queen. Nest can exist during the life of several queens in succession: after courtship flight fertilized young queen can return to its native nest and kill old one to take its place. Usual life expectancy of the queen is about 4 years.

Hawaiian hornet (Vespula kanehekili)
Order: Hymenoptera (Hymenoptera)
Family: True wasps (Vespidae)

Habitat: Hawaii, forests of various types.

Picture by Alexey Tatarinov

Like other wasp species inhabiting Hawaii, Hawaiian hornet is a descendant of paper wasps of genus Vespula, introduced to archipelago in human epoch. As against the majority of wasp species of archipelago, this is a carnivorous species; its food includes any small animals, which this insect is able to prey, and the rests of prey of large predators. These wasps frequently gather, attracted by smell of meat, and clear bones of meat after feeding of predator from among vertebrates.
It is a large wasp species – length of working individual is about 40 mm, queen female is up to 55 mm long. The shape of these insects is characteristic for wasps with the amendment only for larger size, but coloring differs a lot: the top part of body is lacquer-red with black cross strips. Thorax and back part of head are covered with short black hair, the bases of wings are white, and tips are black. Legs contrast strictly with coloring of the body: they are almost entirely white, and only coxae are black.
Bright colouring of body of this insect is supported by very strong poison used mainly for hunting. Any invertebrate equal in size to this wasp perishes in some seconds after sting; at large vertebrates, one sting causes a strong pain and partial numbness of integuments around of the stung place. Twenty dozes of poison received during short time cause death of the vertebrate weighting about 100 kg. This heavy insect utters loud buzz in flight (hence the name: Kane-Hekili is a spirit of thunder in Hawaiian mythology).
Hawaiian hornet forms not numerous colonies numbering about one hundred working individuals and the only fertile queen. Nest of this species represents a spherical construction from paper mass and vegetative fibers arranged in tree trunk hollow or under the arch of cave – in the places protected from the rain. Choosing a place for nest, the foundress of a colony can attack birds nesting in hollows. Duration of existence of a colony may reach 10 years – while the queen is alive. At old queen wings are strongly obliterated and sometimes break off at edges.

Leafback toad (Rhinella calloventris)
Order: Anurans (Anura)
Family: Toads (Bufonidae)

Habitat: mountain slopes of Big Island, Hawaii.
Cane toad (Bufo (Rhinella) marinus) was one of the most aggressive and harmful invaders of Hawaii. Due to the large size and poison, it had practically no enemies, and, being a zoophagous species, it ate various small animals, including endemic insects. This toad had easily sustained the epoch of global ecological crisis and its descendants from Hawaii show a remarkable diversity. They are especially numerous in rainforests of the islands, but also live in mountain dry forests.
Wood litter in “silver forests” of these islands is occupied by leafback toad adapted to drier mountain air, than related forms in humid lowland forests. Compared to ancestral species, it is rather small animal: total length of an adult individual is only about 10 cm.
Like its ancestor, this amphibian is a predator. Despite of the size, it is capable to attack small vertebrates: mice, chicks and young lizards. This amphibian waits for prey, having dug in litter: it also protects it from superfluous sunlight. This toad is poisonous, it has large parotids, and glands in skin secret poison of expressed irritating action. For self-defense leafback toad smears a secreted poison on skin.
Colouring of this animal corresponds to its way of life and features of physiology. The top side of body of this toad has a camouflage color – greyish-brown with wide irregular-shaped greyish “down-flows” on sides, making an impression of a dry leaf. On parotids, shoulders and hips there are dark brown “down-flows” imitating a shadow of this leaf. Above eyes two long triangular skin outgrowths tower, and behind them there are some shorter outgrowths. Due to such body shape this toad, partly buried in foliage, becomes absolutely imperceptible.
On the contrary, stomach and bottom side of all paws have very bright coloring: red or orange background, on which small rounded black spots are scattered. Being attacked by predator, leafback toad usually hides, but being disclosed and attacked, it inflates its belly and turns paws on back, making their bright underside appreciable. It strongly inflates lungs and air sacs connected to them, and then lets air out with loud hissing. Poison of this amphibian causes very strong irritation of mucous membranes, which inflame and hurt for a certain time.
Being the inhabitant of dry forests, this toad has ability to absorb rain water by skin and thus restores its stocks in an organism, having simply dug in wet foliage. But for breeding it migrates all the same to bogs and lakes in valleys. Leafback toad prefers to lay eggs in still water. Male is smaller and brighter than female. In courtship season at him callouses on fingers grow, and back colouring becomes greyish-white. He utters long courtship calls resembling a warble of small bird. When female accepts his courtship, male gets on her back and drives applicants away, uttering bitter warning signal.
Clutch numbers up to 70 thousand eggs; incubation lasts for about one week. Male protects eggs up to the hatching of tadpoles. Tadpoles eat algae films and later pass to sedentary animals. Among them cannibalism is a very usual phenomenon. Young toads stay in valleys near to water, but in due course of growth move to mountain areas. Sexual maturity comes at the age of 1 year, lifespan is about 15 years.

Hawaiian whistling gecko (Pacifigekko stridulator)
Order: Squamates (Squamata), suborder Lizards (Sauria)
Family: Geckos (Gekkonidae)

Habitat: mountain forests of Hawaii, dry habitats.
Reptiles did not belong to the number of native inhabitants of Hawaii – they have appeared in these places only in historical epoch, more often in casual way. Among them geckos show an especial variety – at the each island the complex of local endemic species of them differing in ecology and shape formed. At the islands representatives of numerous genus of dwarf Hawaiian geckos are especially widespread. They all are descendants of common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) introduced by people, and their prominent feature is small size of body – the general length including tail does not exceed 10 cm.
Hawaiian whistling gecko inhabits “silver forests” of the islands and prefers dry and insolated habitats. These lizards live on rocks and tree trunks, preferring to swarm up vertical surfaces. For them diurnal activity is characteristic. This reptile has the characteristic expanded fingers and toes enabling to be attached strongly even to smooth surface. Reptile’s head is rather large with big convex eyes. An iris of the eye is light grey with numerous brown spots. Body is flattened; along sides and on edges of lower jaw a line of small skin outgrowths lasts, assisting to mask on the background of bark or mossy stone. Tail is short with lines of large scales on lateral sides. Back and sides are colored beige with longitudinal rows of dark brown strokes; belly and throat are bright yellow.
It is a harem species: larger male keeps several females in its territory. He regularly surveys the territory, uttering abrupt squeaky whistles. Thus his throat is inflated like at frog. If another male interferes to the territory, the result is a sound “duel” passing to the fight. As a rule, females are more silent and only answer by silent squeak to male’s courtship.
Breeding takes place a year round. Up to 10 times per year female lays 1-2 eggs in shelter – under tree bark, among mosses or in dust in tree trunk hollow. In 7-8 weeks from the egg the young individual of greyish-green color with small outgrowths on sides hatches. Sexual maturity takes place at the age of 12-13 months, life expectancy reaches 10 years.

Fiery-winged pheasant (Paralophura pyroptera)
Order: Gallinaceous birds (Galliformes)
Family: Pheasants (Phasianidae)

Place обитания: Big Island (Hawaii), mountain woods.
Among gallinaceous birds only megapodes (Megapodidae family), widespread at the islands of Pacific Ocean in human epoch, were a natural component of island fauna. Directly or indirectly people became a reason of extinction of many of these kinds, but due to their activity chickens and pheasants introduced as poultry or as game birds have appeared at the islands. After human extinction, the significant part of populations of these birds has disappeared, but some ones persisted and evolved to new species of Neocene epoch. Some descendants of domestic chickens have turned to unusual animals in island conditions.
At Hawaii there are some species of pheasants being descendants of introduced kalij pheasants (Lophura leucomelanos). They prefer to live in light forests and in thickets of grassy plants in high mountain zone. One species of these birds is fiery-winged pheasant from mountain “silver forests”.
It is a ground-dwelling medium-sized bird, which looks large because of long tail. Weight of adult male is up to 500 g, female – of about 400 g. At this species sexual dimorphism is obviously expressed: male is larger compared to female, and its plumage has different coloration. At birds of both sexes skin on sides of head is naked and bright red; at males behind eyes there are some large warts filling with blood in courtship time. On each side of beak at these pheasants there are skin wattles – small and rounded at females, elongated and lengthening very much during the courtship ritual at males. On heads both at male and female there are erect feather cop of black color. Male’s plumage has silver-gray background coloring with bluish shade; feathers on breast and back have with thin cross ripples. Wings are black with blue metal shine. Secondary feathers both at male and at female have identical coloring – reddish-orange passing to yellow on tips of feathers. Such colouring is not visible when bird walks in underbrush, but is very appreciable, when fiery-winged pheasant flies up, flapping wings loudly. Combined with loud wing flapping of flying up bird these color spots serve as an alarm signal for forest inhabitants. In male’s tail there are 4 pairs of elongated feathers; among them the middle pair is the longest. The middle pair of tail feathers at male is about 130 cm long and up to 10 cm wide. Colouring of tail feathers is silvery-grey, but with clearly expressed black cross strokes.
At female background colouring of plumage is brown with black cross ripples; wings are chestnut-brown without ripples. Tail feathers are about 50 cm long.
Legs at birds of both sexes are dark grey, at males there are 2 pairs ща spurs on tarsometatarsus: the bottom pair is long, and top one is very short, only corneous tubercles at young males.
Birds of this kind search for food on the ground, pecking seeds of acacias and gum trees. Because of features of a diet meat of these pheasants gets a specific smell. In addition, birds eat ground-dwelling insects and other invertebrates.
Breeding season is not expressed, displaying males and female with broods may be seen at any time year. Male attracts female by displaying on specially arranged site of forest. Among trees male clears away the round “dance pavilion” surrounded with an embankment of fallen leaves, and utters lingering calls. When female appears nearby, male lifts the opened tail vertically and dances, having opened wings like a fan and finely shuddering with its whole body. At this time male stretches its cop, and skin outgrowths on its head swell. When female appears in “dance pavilion”, male prevents her to go out, uttering loud calls. After pairing female leaves lek, and male continues its display.
Clutch may number up to 8 eggs, hatching lasts about 19 days. Coloring of chicks is camouflaging – brown with two faltering longitudinal strips of grey color stretching from nape to tail. At the age of 4 days at chicks feathers on wings grow, and they become capable to fly up to the height up to 1 meter. At the age of 40 days juveniles become covered with juvenile plumage; at males it has lighter shade. At the age of 7 months the plumage is changed to dress characteristic for this species, and birds become capable to breeding. Life expectancy in nature is about 5 years.

 

Hawaiian ant starling (Formisturnus paraformicarius)
Order: Passerine birds (Passeriformes)
Family: Starlings (Sturnidae)

Habitat: Hawaii, forests of various types.

Picture by Alexey Tatarinov

Antthrushes (Formicariidae) represent one of the largest Holocene bird families in number of species. About 230 species belonging to this group of primitive passerine birds are to some extent connected to army ants inhabiting rainforests of South America. Antthrushes do not eat ants: they rob their columns, eating as insects carried by ants, and the animals escaping from ants. And though many species of antthrushes are able to search for food independently and very seldom follow the columns of army ants, some of them had developed a kind of specialization, receiving the most part of food due to these insects.
In Neocene the family of antthrushes still had not left the limits of New World. However in other parts of the world the “doubles” of these birds occupying a similar ecological niche had evolved. One of such species is the Hawaiian ant starling. This bird is the descendant of common myna (Acridotheres tristis) introduced to Hawaii by people.
Hawaiian ant starling is a small bird in comparison with its ancestor: it reaches only the size of great titmouse. Wings of ant starling are short and rounded, and legs are long and strong – this bird prefers to move on the ground, flying seldom and reluctantly. Colouring of these birds is not very bright: both genders are colored black with bluish shine. The bellyis colored lighter a little, rather then other parts of body and has dark grey shade; white border on feathers of back forms scaly pattern. Around of eyes of ant starling the site of white skin lack of feathers is located, bird’s beak also has white color; paws are black.
Like the most specialized forms of antthrushes, in food getting Hawaiian ant starlings depend on army ants. In Hawaii region it is monstrous ants (Horromyrma pestis), also the descendant of a species of animals, introduced to Hawaii by people. Hawaiian ant starlings follow their columns, pecking prey of ants which those ones carry to the colony.
In addition to prey of ants these birds can eat also their larvae, carried by worker individuals at the resettlement of colony. Also the small animals escaping from six-legged hunters become prey of ant starlings. Usually near one column the “line” of several tens of such birds is arranged; birds keep the distance not less than one meter from each other. “Infringers of distance” are punished by neighbours: they are banished with beak impacts. During the hunting birds are always on the alert: at careless movement ants may also attack them. This bird is capable also to search for food independently, but makes it only if nearby there is no ants going to hunting.
Hawaiian ant starlings do not keep at any certain territory, and wander after columns of monstrous ants in tropical forest.
In courtship season males call females with singing. This species of birds is very good imitator: in the song male of ant starling connects voices of songbirds and the sounds uttered by other animals, supplementing them with dry crash. Dry crash represents the usual sounds uttered by these birds.
Hawaiian ant starlings, being true representatives of the family, nest in hollows low above the ground where the female lays up to 5 eggs. Male and female incubate clutch together though the female gives much more time to it. Hatched nestlings are brought up till about 4 weeks and then leave nest and follow the female for any time. The period of clutch incubation and feeding of nestlings is only time in life of these birds when monstrous ants may become not allies, but enemies for them: these insects sometimes ravage nests of ant starlings.

This species of birds was discovered by Simon, the forum member.

 

Hawaiian false crossbill (Araucaricola loxirostra)
Order: Passerine birds (Passeriformes)
Family: Weavers (Ploceidae)

Habitat: Hawaii, coniferous forests.

Picture by Simon

In human epoch house sparrow (Passer domesticus) had been one of the most successful synanthropic species. Due to human activity it had considerably expanded the area, having occupied America, Australia and the remote oceanic islands. In Neocene sparrows gave rise to a line of species showing adaptations to different conditions of life; among them also highly specialized forms had evolved. Among them there is, for example, palm hardbill (Pachyrhamphornis flavigaster) living at Hawaii. And its close relative and the neighbour is another descendant of sparrow, Hawaiian false crossbill.
False crossbill is an ecological analogue of true crossbills (Loxia) in ecosystems of Hawaii. Food of this bird is made of seeds of conifers, mainly araucarias of various species (ancestors of these trees had been introduced to islands by people). Besides these birds can eat large soft insects, for example, caterpillars and grubs. Adaptations to such way of life have made false crossbills externally similar to true crossbills: they show the phenomenon of convergence. In particular, beaks of these birds serving for getting of seeds from Araucaria cones resemble beaks of crossbills: the tips of upper and lower jaws cross at them. In size and body shape Hawaiian false crossbill resembles its ancestor, but is more adapted to life in trees.
For birds of this species the much expressed sexual dimorphism is characteristic. Males are colored bright red; this color is given to them with substances of carotenoid group contained in food. Primarily feathers are black; head is colored black with white “glasses” around of eyes. Male’s beak is black. Females are colored less brightly: primary colour of plumage is olive, primarily feathers and head are brown, and beak is grey. Young birds have colouring similar to female’s one.
Hawaiian false crossbills live in small flocks numbering up to 15 – 20 birds. These groups migrate in mountain coniferous forests of Hawaii, stopping in places where the food is more plentiful. Quite often these birds may be met at sea coasts of islands, especially in places, where narrow sea gulf penetrates deeply into land. Here they drink sea water and peck the salted sand, compensating the deficiency of mineral salts, connected to features of their diet.
False crossbills live in conditions of mountain tropical climate and have a constant source of a food; therefore seasonal prevalence in their nesting is not expressed. Male becomes the initiator of courtship behaviour. Being ready to breeding, it leaves common flock and occupies the certain nesting site. It displays himself to females, hanging headfirst on branches and cones of araucarias, and crying loudly. Voice of this bird sounds like long trill, ending as dry crash. If the female has become interested in male, birds are fed together for some time and do not leave the male’s territory.
Nests of these birds are arranged on branches of araucarias and represent the cups of small size plaited of plant fibres and down of large birds. The female takes main part in nest building. Male helps her, searching for building material, and only in twilight builds a certain part of nest. Usually in clutch there are about 5 eggs and the female hatches only. Male and female bring up nestlings with mixed food consisting of crushed araucaria seeds and soft insects. The share of insects in food of nestlings is eventually reduced. Beaks of false crossbill nestlings are straight, but as they grow, they get the shape characteristic for this species. At this time young birds gradually pass to food of adult birds, and the share of insects in their diet is reduced. Young birds become capable to nesting at the age of half-year.
Life expectancy of Hawaiian false crossbills does not exceed ten years. Araucaria seeds impregnate their bodies with essential oils, making birds partly inedible for local predators. Besides dead birds are not decomposed because of the same reason for a long time – usually they are eaten only by local ants.

This species of birds was discovered by Simon, the forum member.

Mountain kapo (Kapo macrodon)
Order: Rodents (Rodentia)
Family: Mice and rats (Muridae)

Habitat: Hawaiian Archipelago, Big Island, mountain areas.

Picture by Lambert

Rats were among the most widespread rodents of human epoch. Due to the people they could reach the remote islands of Pacific Ocean, where they never could appear in natural way. Their occurrence has changed a direction of evolution of plants and animals at the islands and has resulted in extinction of numerous species existed in those places earlier.
In Neocene rodents represent a natural component of island ecosystems which are absolutely not similar to ones formed at the islands before the human colonization. At Hawaiian Islands forest inhabitants are large kapo rodents, heavy-built descendants of rats introduced in human epoch. Kapo (Kapo hawaiiensis) lives in tropical rainforests, and in mountain “silver forests” there is a related species – mountain kapo. It differs from the relative from lowland habitats in larger size: adult mountain kapo weighs up to 6 kg at total body length about 50 cm. It has lighter coloring of wool – it is grey with the yellowish shade expressed more obviously on stomach. Ears and tail at mountain kapo are shorter compared to its relative, and wool is much denser – these are the consequences of dwelling in cooler mountain climate.
In its shape mountain kapo is similar to a hamster: it has massive jaws and teeth with a thick layer of enamel. It is connected to features of diet of mountain kapo: it eats firm seeds of palm trees and acacias. Animal gathers a plenty of seeds and arranges in the territory some “safes” to store the gathered food. Teeth of mountain kapo damage shells of seeds and thus promote their germination.
Shelter of mountain kapo is hole, which the animal digs out among bushes or under tree roots. Depth of a hole reaches 4 meters, and there is an emergency exit in it, serving also for ventilation. As against a related species from lowlands, the construction of hole at mountain kapo is not constant and depends on softness of ground and presence of stones. This animal prefers to make an entrance to the hole near a large stone to complicate digging out of its hole to the predator.
This animal leads a solitary way of life, inhabiting the certain territory and protecting its borders. Boundary sites are protected less strictly, and there animals living in the neighbourhood can feed in common. If the forage is plentiful, animals relate rather tolerant to each other, but at lack of food strong individuals attack weaker ones and expel them.
Seasonal prevalence in breeding is not expressed at mountain kapo. 2 times per year female gives rise up to 4 naked and blind cubs, which remain in the hole till about 5 weeks. At this time at them eyes open and wool grows. Grown up cubs leave their hole and keep nearby from an entrance, hiding in the hole in case of danger. At the age of 2 months they leave hole and accompany mother in search of food. Half year old young animals already lead independent life and bring posterity at the age of 8 months. Life expectancy is about 6 years.

Kuamu (Kuamu ferox)
Order: Carnivores (Carnivora)
Family: Viverrids (Viverridae)

Habitat: Hawaii, Big Island, mountain forests and light forests.

Picture by Alexey Tatarinov

Before human colonization of Hawaiian islands roles of predators and herbivores in ecosystem of islands were played by birds. After the human arrival at the islands various mammals have appeared, and it had resulted in irreversible changes in ecosystem and directions of its evolution after men. Introduced mammals have occupied a leading position in ecosystems, and only few species of birds could compete them. In Neocene at these islands large birds live: herbivorous Hawaiian forest geese (Moanser sylvestris) and kuahana (Machairopterus kuahana), a flightless feathery predator; but they share islands with numerous mammals, including carnivores. Mongooses – descendants of Javan mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) – are a dominant group of predatory mammals. Among them there are large analogues of felines, arboreal species similar to martens and small burrow-dwelling forms resembling least weasels and ermines. One of the most widespread predators in mountain forests of Big Island is kuamu – ground-dwelling and semi-arboreal predator weighing about 10 kg. It is an active predator capable to kill prey surpassing its own weight (hence the name after the killer demon from native mythology).
In its constitution kuamu resembles a large cat with long tail used for balance. It has a flexible neck, small graceful head with small and rounded ears, short muzzle and strong jaws capable to open wide. Carnassial teeth are considerably increased and peaked, with the expressed cutting edge. Claws are not retractable, sharp and slightly bent. Animal easily walks and runs on the ground and can swarm up stones and inclined tree trunks.
Colouring of wool is sandy-yellow with a dark strip from nape up to the tail tip, and large dark strokes on each side. Paws have black “stockings” up to elbows and knees. Above eyes there are two white spots. Male and female do not differ in colouring, but male is larger than female and weighs approximately 1 kg heavier.
Куаму is an universal predator and the largest predator in mountain forests. Its favorite tactics of hunting is an attack of prey from an ambush, more often from above – from a stone or a tree branch. At an attack kuamu tries to knock prey down by impact of its whole body and immobilize it by biting through a backbone. Less often this beast pursues its prey on ground, but is capable to run quickly only at the short distances. Usual prey of this animal includes large rodents, ground-dwelling birds and chicks of Hawaiian forest geese. At the lack of large prey kuamu can catch lizards and small rodents, and also insects.
This predator lives in pairs; male and female form family for some years and rear posterity together. Each pair in common controls a territory and marks its borders with musky secretions. In courtship season musky secretions of female get a specific ponging smell involving males. If any single male comes to the territory of pair, both animals usually banish it in common. At the territory of single female between males severe fights flare up, during which contenders tear strongly each other’s shoulders and forepaws.
A hollow tree trunk, a hole or a natural cave is used as a den. 2 times per year female gives rise to 4-5 cubs. Newborn cubs have dark wool, are blind and deaf. They begin to hear and to see by the end of 1-st week of life, and at monthly age at them background coloring of wool begins to brighten. At the age of 4 months young animals already follow parents during their hunts.
Sexual maturity comes at the second year of life, life expectancy is up to 25 years.

Herbary

Hawaiian bird acacia (Acacia argentea)
Order: Fabales (Fabales)
Family: Peas (Fabaceae)

Habitat: Hawaiian Archipelago, mountain tropical forests (“silver forests”) of Big Island.
In human epoch flora of Hawaii has undergone significant changes. Evolved for millions years in relative isolation from other parts of the world, Hawaiian native flora appeared unable to resist to mass introduction of alien exotic plants in human epoch. Because of it, and because of climatic changes of the boundary of Holocene and Neocene, the majority of species of local flora has died out without any descendants. The most part of Hawaiian flora of Neocene epoch is presented by descendants of alien kinds, which in due course of evolution have formed resistant multispecific natural communities.
For hillsides of Hawaiian islands the community of “silver forests” is very typical; it includes plants with the leaves covered with silvery pubescence for protection against the sunlight. The basis of such communities is made of various grevillea species (Grevillea), but the composition of such communities is rich at the level of plant genera and families. One member of these communities is the acacia with silvery leaves – Hawaiian bird acacia. It is an ornithophilic species of plants, which is pollinated by local nectar-eating honeybirds (Melisugornis spp.).
This plant is a tree up to 20 meters tall with wide crone. In the bottom part of trunk large additional roots develop and serve as a support. Roots frequently “envelop” stones by themselves that provides more reliable support to the tree. Bark on trunk and old branches is grayish, exfoliating as thin plates and rough to the touch.
Leaves of this species are complex, bipinnate, about half meter long including the leaf stalk. Simple leaflets have rounded shape, are smooth and silvery-green from above, and white and pubescent from below. Before a rain plant leaves fold and hang down.
Hawaiian bird acacia blossoms almost the year round, with a small break in the summer. During the flowering tree forms numerous hanging inflorescences up to one meter long. On each inflorescence racemes of tiny petalless flowers with long reddish pestles and numerous stamens of bright yellow color are located in verticils. Near an inflorescence there is a “perch” for a pollinator bird – a leafstalk with reduced lamina. Honeybirds and some other birds fed on inflorescences of this acacia perch on this support and frequently feed hanging on it upside down.
Fruit of Hawaiian bird acacia is a long thin legume (up to 60 cm long at thickness of about 1 cm). Ripen fruit is opened at drying up, sharply twisting its halves and scattering seeds to the distance up to 30 meters. The great role in distribution of this tree is played by local rodents willingly eating seeds of acacias. Seed shells are very dense, and they keep germinating capacity for a long time. Seeds, which shell is damaged (usually bitten by rodents), sprout faster.
The young tree differs strictly from adult plants. Its young shoots are supplied with prickles (modified bracts), and leaves are mostly reduced. Photosynthetic function is fulfilled by phyllodia – modified leafstalks. They are leathery, dense, rounded by shape; at the top of every phyllodium a pointed prickle – very reduced leaf – grows. Prickles are necessary for plant for protection against ground-dwelling herbivores. When the plant reaches approximately two-meter height, on it normally advanced leaves begin to appear gradually, and phyllodia become narrower and sooner turn to usual leafstalks. Tree begins to blossom for the first time at the age of 4 years; life expectancy is till 50 years.

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