Ants of the Dorylus taxonomic genus, known as driver ants, safari ants or siafu, are natural enemies of termites and are used as a form of pest control by the Mofu people of Cameroon to keep their homes termite free. The Dorylus genus is part of a larger group of ants known as army ants, which travel and work together in large numbers to acquire food. According to the AntCat taxonomic catalog and bibliography, there are 61 valid species of Dorylus and 68 valid subspecies.
The Mofu, who live in the Mandara mountains on the border of Cameroon and Nigeria, refer to their prized Dorylus ants as “jaglavak,” which in their native language means “prince of insects.” A NOVA educational film, entitled Master of the Killer Ants, was released in 2007 to showcase the Mofu people’s use of the ants and overall relationship with the insects in their environment.
By harnessing the tools available to them in their environment, such as the jaglavak ant, the Mofu are able to live in harmony with nature. When destructive termites invade their homes, the seek out the Dorylus ants and bring them back to their dwellings. The ants naturally seek, destroy and eat the termites, then leave the human dwelling in search of other prey. The Mofu people of Northern Cameroon raise sorghum and livestock in the semi-arid Mandara mountains. The name “mufu” in their language means “people of the mountains,” or “people of the rock.”
The employment of driver ants by the Mofu of Cameroon to keep their homes free of termites is an example of how natural enemies can be used successfully in pest control. The use of natural enemies is a fundamental principle of biological pest control, which harnesses the natural behaviors of certain living organisms in order to manage the populations of others. Biological control can be used to manage plant diseases and weeds as well as insects, mites and other pests. Biological control is a fundamental component of integrated pest management (IPM), which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes as an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management designed to limit damage from pests by the most economical methods with the least possible impact on people and the environment.
IPM is an important concept in agriculture and environmental stewardship because it balances the needs of people with the tendencies of the natural world. IPM is an example of systems thinking that encourages identifying and considering alternative options and approaches to pest management that are designed to be cost-effective and has positive long-term outcomes.
The EPA is careful to explain that IPM is not a method of pest control but a system of pest management assessments, decisions and interventions. IPM involves setting the action threshold, or point at which action against the pest must be taken; identifying and monitoring pests so that the most appropriate action can be taken; prevention to keep the action threshold from being reached; and control, if and when the action threshold is met or exceeded. In IPM systems, broadcast applications of pesticides are considered to be the last resort.
An IPM approach can be used on a large scale in agriculture as well as on a smaller scale by the homeowner. For homeowners with pests to control the EPA recommends asking questions as a first step because learning about the pest that needs to be controlled can help identify solutions for prevention and balanced management.
The example set by the Mofu of Cameroon, by keeping their homes termite free through employing their natural enemies, ants, makes these rural mountain people role models for sustainability in a changing world. Learning about the pests that need to be controlled, and choosing a balanced approach to pest management, allows for humans and nature to coexist more peacefully.
By Lane Therrell