The collective foraging behavior of a turtle ant colony allows it to collect ephemeral, patchy resources, including plant fluids such as nectar and sap from herbivory wounds, and bird and lizard feces. Ants travel in a circuit that consists of a series of trails from nest source to food source, with more than one trail from a given nest, and other sections of trail that lead from one nest to another. The resources used by C. goniodontus
require foraging behavior that allows them to maintain a steady flow of traffic at the food source, and to match the numbers of ants to the rate of flow of plant nectar or fluid in the phloem 
. The foraging circuit is extremely stable in the short term, from day to day. The allocation of individuals within the foraging circuit allows the colony to persist at food sources. Individual ants tend to stay on the same trail and not to complete the entire circuit, regardless of the presence of bait ( and ).
It appears that certain ants are allocated to collect a certain resource on a trail that can persist for many days. This trail fidelity makes the foraging circuit more resilient to changes in the fragile links in vegetation along which the ants travel, and to damage to their nests in dead wood. Damage in one trail does not necessarily impede foraging in another, because the ants on one trail can continue foraging while the ants on a damaged trail find a new trail. Such resilience in the face of disturbance may account for foraging circuits in other ant species. For example, the polydomous Argentine ant (Linepithema humile
) uses many nests linked by trails that pass by food sources 
Individual fidelity to a foraging trail or foraging site occurs in many ant species (e.g. 
), and is probably associated with long-lasting resources. Like the red wood ant that forages on very permanent trails to tend stable populations of aphids 
, C. goniodontus
foragers on one trail are unlikely to switch to another. By contrast, in harvester ants, which forage for seeds that are scattered by the wind so that patches are ephemeral 
, foragers easily switch trails when a food source appears in a new location 
Local interactions at nests, which function as the nodes that connect distinct trails, apparently regulate the intensity of foraging behavior. When a new food source appears on a foraging trail, more ants forage on other trails connected to the same nest (). However, ants marked on one trail did not use the other (). This means that foraging activity increased on the trail without bait because more ants were recruited from the nest. Further work is needed to discover how this is done. It is not clear whether recruitment includes any spatial information about the location of food sources. Foragers returning to a nest are often groomed extensively by ants waiting near the nest entrance, and this may provide some cue to the odor of the food sources visited by the returning foragers. The stimulation of activity on one trail due to a new food source on another trail suggests that resources, such as nectar, tend to be available simultaneously in different places in adjacent vegetation, and thus the discovery of a new resource on one trail is often associated with a similar discovery on another trail.
The persistence of trails, and the formation of new ones, allow colonies of C. goniodontus to collect resources that are patchy and persist for several days. Most of the resources collected were plant derived. Nectaries on buds or at the base of leaves, nectar in flowers, and phloem extracted on leaf wounds, may all be available for days at a time. From one day to the next, the colony uses the same path to visit the same resource, apparently feeding on the same sources until they are depleted or until the ants are forced to move because of interference by other species. Although forager fidelity to a given trail is high, there is also continual searching at least 3 junctions off the trail that allows the colony to find new resources within several hours. The modification of foraging trails leads to a continual shift, on the timescale of months, in the colony’s foraging circuit. From year to year, I found only 1 of 5 colonies within 30 m of their location the previous year. Further work is needed to investigate the foraging activity of this species in the dry season when most trees have lost their leaves.
New trails to baits were abandoned after the bait was removed. Further work is needed to determine how the decay of volatile trail pheromone and other interactions at the nest combine to stop the ants travelling to a food source when it is depleted.
Colonies probably modify existing trails to reach new nest sites as well as new food sources. Nest site limitation is an important ecological pressure for many species of Cephalotes
. Nest sites for C. goniodontus
are ephemeral, since they nest in dead branches that often break and fall to the ground.
Colony sizes are certainly in the hundreds of workers and may extend to thousands in the largest colonies. The ratio of marked to unmarked ants provides a rough estimate of colony size. In one observation of ants at colony 8 in 2010, 23 percent of the ants travelling past one site were marked ants of a given color, and there were no marked ants of the other color. Since 100 ants of that color were marked, this suggests that about 400 ants were travelling on that trail. On the other, longer trail, only 3 percent of the ants observed to travel on that trail were marked. Since 150 ants of that color were marked, the same reasoning would suggest that there were several thousand ants on the trail. In the largest colony observed in 2009, there were 10–30 ants travelling along each meter of trail, and the entire circuit measured extended at least 100 m in path length, leading to an estimate of 1000–3000 ants foraging with a larger overall colony size because some ants must remain inside of nests.
The consumption of plant fluids by ants may have an important impact on tropical dry forest communities 
. For example, C. goniodontus
collects plant sap from the edges of herbivory wounds. This suggests that the ants thus increase the cost to plants of herbivory, so that herbivory may indirectly promote ant populations. The use of nectar by ants that do not defend the plant may influence evolutionary pressure on mutualistic interactions 
. Cephalotes goniodontus
also collects caterpillar frass and lizard feces. This suggests that if their gut bacteria are similar to those of other Cephalotes
, the bacteria may be involved in recycling nitrogen from the urea and uric acid in animal waste, as well as upgrading the amino acids in plant sap.
This work is a first step in investigating how the foraging behavior of C. goniodontus determines its ecological role in the tropical dry forest. The collective foraging behavior used by C. goniodontus allows them to search for patchy and ephemeral resources through bifurcating pathways. Its resource use depends on how, over time, the foraging circuit changes in response to damage to the vegetation supporting the trail, the depletion of food sources, the discovery of new sources, and interference from other species.