Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A brief introduction to Ants

Ants have been living on the Earth for more than 120 million years and can be found almost everywhere on Earth. There are roughly 20,000 different species of ants across the globe. Link to our website to learn about the individual species found in our area: Argentine Ants, Carpenter Ants, Crazy Ants, Odorous House Ants, Pavements Ants, and Pharaoh Ants:  Link to Ant Page (and individual species).
Ants build many different types of "homes" for their colonies. Many ants build simple little mounds out of dirt or sand. Other ants use small sticks mixed with dirt, sand or other materials to make a stronger mound that offers protection from rain. Western Harvester ants make a small mound on top, but then tunnel up to 15 feet straight down to hibernate during winter. Ant mounds consist of many chambers connected by tunnels. These chambers are used for nurseries, food storage, and harborage areas for the worker ants. Some ants live in wood like termites. Army ants don't make a home at all but travel in large groups searching for food.
Although frustrating when they get into your home, ants do help the environment. Being social insects, they live in large colonies or groups. Depending on the species, ant colonies can consist of millions of ants. Some queen ants can live for many years and have millions of offspring. There are three main types of ants in each species, the queen, the sterile female workers, and males. The male ants do not live long and only serve one purpose: to mate with future queen ants. The queen grows to adulthood, mates, and then spends the rest of her life laying eggs. A colony may have only one, or several queens, depending on the species. Ants go through four stages of development: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
Ant colonies also have soldier ants that protect the queen, defend the colony, gather or kill food, and attack enemy colonies in search for food and nesting space. If they defeat another ant colony, they take away eggs of the defeated ant colony. When the eggs hatch, the new ants become the "slave" ants for the colony. Some jobs of the colony include taking care of the eggs and babies, gathering food for the colony and building the anthills or mounds.
Ants consist of three main parts: the head, the trunk or middle section, and the rear or metasoma. All six legs are attached to the trunk. The head consists of the jaws, eyes, and antennae. The eyes of ants are made up of many lenses enabling them to see movement very well. The antennae are special organs of smell, touch, taste, and hearing. The metasoma contains the stomach and rectum. Many species of ants have poison sacks and/or stingers in the end of the metasoma for defense against predators.
Ants can lift over 20 times their body weight. Ants don’t have ears. Ants "hear" by feeling vibrations in the ground through their feet. When foraging, ants leave a pheromone trail so that they know where they’ve been. Queen ants have wings, which they shed when they start a new nest. Ants don’t have lungs. Oxygen enters through tiny holes all over the body and carbon dioxide leaves through these same holes. When the queen of the colony dies, the colony can only survive a few months. Queens are rarely replaced and the workers are not able to reproduce.

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