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Ants are one of the most successful groups of insects in the animal Kingdom:  and are of particular interest because they are a social insect and form highly organized colonies or nests, sometimes consisting of millions of individuals. Colonies of invasive ant species will sometimes work together and form supercolonies, spanning a very wide area of land. Ant colonies are sometimes described as superorganisms because they appear to operate as a single entity.


 


Ants have colonized almost every landmass on Earth and can constitute up to 15% of the total animal biomass of a tropical rainforest. As of 2006, there are 11,880 known ant species, most of which reside in hot climates.


They can sense with organs located on the antennae, which can detect pheromones and hydrocarbons on the outer layer of the body. The latter is highly important for the recognition of nestmates from non-nestmates. Also, they communicate with sound in the form of vibrations moving through the ground.

Most queens and male ants have wings, which they drop after the nuptial flight; however wingless queens and males can occur.

The life of an ant starts with an egg, and the sex, female or male, is determined by whether the egg is fertilized or not, respectively. Ants develop by metamorphosis, passing through larval and pupal stages before becoming adults.

A new worker spends the first few days of its adult life caring for the queen and young. After that it graduates to digging and other nest work, and then to foraging and defense of the nest. These changes are fairly abrupt and define what are called temporal castes. One theory of why this occurs is because foraging has a high death rate, so ants only participate in it when they are older and closer to death anyway.

Smelling antennae: Like other insects, ants smell with their antennae, which are long and thin. These are fairly mobile, having a distinct elbow joint after an elongated first segment, and since they come in pairs they provide information about direction as well as intensity. Pheromones are also exchanged as compounds mixed in with the food interchanged in trophallaxis, giving the ants information about one another's health and nutrition. Ants can also detect what task group (e.g. foraging or nest maintenance) other ants belong to. Of special note, the queen produces a special pheromone without which the workers will begin raising new queens.

Small but tough: Ants attack and defend themselves by biting, and in many species, stinging, in both cases sometimes injecting chemicals into the target.

Power walkers: Ants usually lose, or never develop, their wings. Therefore, unlike their wasp ancestors, most ants travel by walking. Some tend to develop literal paths, the tiny equivalent of deer paths, as well as creating unseen paths using chemical hints left for each other to smell.

Amazing cooperation: The more cooperative species of ants sometimes form chains to bridge gaps, underground, over water, or through spaces in arboreal paths.

Sometimes pests: Ants are useful for clearing out insect pests and aerating the soil. On the other hand, they can become annoyances when they invade homes, yards, gardens and fields. Carpenter ants damage wood by hollowing it out for nesting. Nests may be destroyed by tracing the ants' trails back to the nest, then pouring boiling water into it to kill the queen. (Killing individual ants is less than effective due to the secretion of pheromones mentioned above). Ordinary chalk can be used to keep ants at bay; drawing a line or circle around the protected area may prevent them from entering.

Some species, called killer ants, have a tendency to attack much larger animals during foraging or in defending their nests. Human attacks are rare, but the stings and bites can be quite painful and in large enough numbers can be disabling.

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 Kingdom: Animalia

 Phylum: Arthropoda

 Class: Insecta

 Order: Hymenoptera

 Suborder: Apocrita

 Superfamily: Vespoidea

 Family: Formicidae