Social Insect Order.
Ants belong to the order Hymenoptera, (Hymenoptera is derived from the Greek words "hymen" meaning membrane and "ptera" meaning wings) which includes all ants, bees and wasps. However, there are many of the bees and wasps that live out their entire lives as solitary insects, even though you will see bee and wasp nests that contain hundreds or thousands of individuals. In the ants though, there is no such case as a solitary being. Even in the case of parasitic queens that possess no workers of their own, they still need to be part of a group with some social structure.
Work in an ant nest is done on a kind of "shift system". Worker ants are required to carry out essential jobs within the nest 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,as long as the colony is active (e.g.-not hibernating). Now no human can work non-stop 24 / 7, so it is with worker ants; they need to rest up from time to time like we do. The way things work in the colony is like this! Some workers will spend their time working hard, while others rest or wander slowly through the nest doing nothing, until that is, when they find a job that requires either [a] more ants to finish the task, or [b] an uncompleted task left by a tired worker, who probably needed a well earned rest anyway!!
A worker ant will spend between 7-10 minutes an hour resting. She does not actually appear to sleep during her "rest periods", but stands quietly around casually waving her antennae at any of her passing sisters. Then, just as suddenly as she became inactive, she will charge off at high speed and go in search of a task to perform either in, or outside the nest. It is because of an ants ability to work as part of a socially structured society, that they do so well and have colonised so many areas throughout the world. We humans have tried to achieve this, but haven't found the perfect solution; yet !!!
With ants apparently having found the perfect solution to community living,this would seem to give them a kind of "one upmanship" over our attempts at social living in our own towns and cities. Could it be that ants have found the real answer to the meaning of life ???
Naming Ants Correctly.
So, how do you name ants correctly?
Well ants belong to the order of insects called Hymenoptera, which includes all ants, bees, hornets and wasps.
They are of the family called Formicidae, which is Latin for ants.
So therefore this is the order in which they are placed
Family: Is it really an ant (Family Formicidae)?
Caste: Is it a male reproductive, gyne (female reproductive) or worker (non-reproductive female)?
Subfamily: Myrmicine (To be precise, the correct terminology is Myrmicinae, which is a subfamily of ants. There are about 140 genera within this group.), Formicine, Ponerine, or Dolichoderine? Each of these consists of a word root, plus an ending indicating the grammatical gender, so Myrmic+a, Dolichoder+us, Myrmeci+a, etc.
- Subfamily names add the feminine, plural ending -idae to the root of the "type" genus name, thus Myrmicinae, Formicinae, Dolichoderinae, Ponerinae, Myrmeciinae, etc.
- The Latin or formal name of a subfamily is always capitalized, but the anglicized or common name version of these subfamily names is not capitalized, other than at the beginning of a sentence.
For future reference, all ants have been given a genus (plural = genera) name and a species name.
The genus always begins with a capital letter, e.g. Eciton, Formica, Lasius, Messor and so forth.
The species or sub-species name follows the genus and does not have capital letters; for example, F. fusca, L. flavus, L. niger, M. barbarus or M. rubra.
So when listing ants, please follow this easy guide and name them thus} Formica fusca, Lasius niger or Messor barbarus or whatever
Using the dictionary to make my point, the word Genus = A Taxonomic category ranking below a family, but above a species.
Species = kind, variety or type of.
Sub-species = A variant of a species, or a type of species containing major or minor differences. Such as we humans are divided into races of differing colour or speech, but we are all still the same species. So it may occur with insects where a species sub-divides into 2 or more distinctly different, yet closely related variants of the same species. An example of this is the ant Myrmica ruginodis which has 2 very distinct sub-species (Macrogyna and Microgyna), as they are still the same species, but with a noticeable difference in queen sizes.
Sub-species may in time evolve and develop into a completely new species which is recognized as such by scientists, or they may continue to remain as a sub-species of the original. Most ants do not have sub-species, and those that do are rarely referred to as such, as it is easier to class an ant by its genera and/or species name!
Ants are made up of 3 main sections}
 The Head.
This has 2 complex or compound, (containing many lenses) eyes. These have many small lenses looking like hundreds of miniature eyes called facets. On top of the head there are sometimes 3 simple eyes called the "Ocelli", which are not true eyes. Note that not all ants possess Ocelli, as they are used mainly as navigational aids by flying ants and therefore more often occur in males and female alates; and when they do occur in worker ants they usually only have 2 instead of 3, but in most ant species the workers lack them altogether, especially in those species which are virtually blind or have extremely poor eyesight. These "simple eyes" are not actually used for sight, but are more of a light sensor which track the path of the sun by using the ultra-violet rays, much the same way as a bee does to find its way back and forth to its hive; and these work also on cloudy days when the sun is hidden by cloud cover.
Then there are the antennae or "feelers." These are used for all other senses, i.e. smell, touch and communication. Some ant species are thought to 'talk' by using stridulation (rubbing their hind legs together like a cricket does), while others may emit an ultra high frequency sound which is well beyond the level human hearing was meant to pick up? Then comes the ants jaws, which consist of the powerful mandibles and the smaller mouth parts. Ants also have a tongue (the Labium), which is used to lap up liquids and may even possibly allow the ant to taste its food?
Look at the detail in this close up of a Myrmica rubra workers head, clearly showing the ants compound eye and mandibles, with her antennae where her nose (if she had one) should be; and not on top of her head as some people would imagine them to be. Antennae serve as organs of both touch and smell in ants.
Photo by kind permission of Brian Valentine.
Ants in a community of hundreds, thousands or even millions, have what I like to term as a "collective mind" (think of the Borg from the TV show Star Trek, and you'll catch my drift here). This "collective mind" means that their brains all think along the same line of thought in terms of doing things for the good of the colony, so that it will continue to thrive and prosper. However, ants can and do work perfectly well as individuals, and work things out fine by themselves using what limited brain capacity they have. A worker ant does not need to be told what job needs doing by some kind of 'boss' or super ant. Quite the contrary; it just goes off and does whatever is required of it at the time. So, ants may have a much smaller brain than we humans have; but then it just goes to show that, when it comes to so called "intelligent behaviour" , brain size isn't everything!
 The Thorax, or mid segment.
The thorax is further divided into 2 smaller segments, the Alitrunk and the Petiole. This area holds the 6 legs of an ant, and also the wings of male and female sexuals. Each leg has five joints, with the end one forming a flexible foot which has 2 curved claws. These can grip extremely well and even get a foot-hold on a smooth glass surface. Of the 3 pairs of legs, the forelegs have a comb, which is used for grooming and cleaning off unwanted dirt and other debris. The hind legs are the longest, and help the ant to lift and support heavy items, as ants can lift many times their own body weight. Ants also breathe through air tubes which open on either side of the thorax, also called the mesosoma. These are called spiracles.
 The Gaster, or abdomen.
This section, found at the rear end of the ant, holds the sting or acid sacs (poison glands). It also holds the ovaries where eggs are formed and male/female sexual organs. There is also an anus, where ants excrete faeces and other bodily waste material. Ants have 2 stomachs. (a) The Crop - where food is stored in a liquid state and can be regurgitated and fed to other ants, or larvae via the process known as trophollaxis. (b) The Mid Gut, or 2nd stomach, where an ant absorbs nutrients from food for its own personal use. As stated, the male and female genitalia are found in the gaster, although in worker ants these are very under-developed and do not function, therefore making them incomplete and incapable of mating or reproduction of the species!
Ant Brood Development.
There are no real hard and fast rules as to how quickly an ant egg develops into a larva, or a larva into a pupa!
Much really depends on the size of the colony, the particular species of ant; and the time of year and environmental surroundings.
Let's take your average British ant species/genus as an example;
Your "Joe Bloggs" of the ant world so to speak.
An ant egg is a creamy whitish round or oval speck laid mostly by a queen ant (although worker ants can, and do sometimes lay infertile eggs, known as "Trophic Eggs").
The egg is usually laid in spring around April or May, though they can be laid earlier if the internal nest temperatures are suitably high enough.
Most eggs laid at an optimum temperature will take between 10 and 17 days to hatch into a "J" shaped grub called a larva.
The larvae as previously mentioned are "J" shaped, completely motionless except for the odd movement of the head, which is located at the narrow end. Again they are generally white or cream coloured.
The larvae is given a high protein diet by the nurse ants (these are young workers who tend the brood, as older workers go out hunting for food and do general nest duties).
Larvae moult at least 4 times before going into the pupal stage, which can take from 4 to 7 weeks depending on the species and the internal nest conditions.
There are 2 different types of pupa.
The first is called the Bare or Naked pupa. This is found in ants such as Myrmica rubra, where the larva remains within its final skin moult and develops into what resembles a white looking ant inside a translucent skin or pupal sac!
This photo taken by my friend Shane shows the bare pupa of a Messor barbarus major worker.
The second kind of pupa spins a covering of papery like outer shell, called a Cocoon.
A good example of this is Lasius niger or Formica fusca.These ants larvae spin a cocoon similar to the silken cover spun by silkworms or the chrysalis formed by butterflies and moths.
The larva then transforms into the adult ant inside this paper like cover; but before becoming totally dormant, it excretes all of its waste products (urine and faeces) out of its gut.
This appears as a dark brown or blackish looking spot at one end of the cocoon sac.
If you see this, you'll always know which end of the cocoon is the head; and which is the gaster or abdomen.
British Ant Genera.
KEY TO GENERA.
A. PONERINAE} Only one species occurs in Britain, Ponera coarcta - a slow, timid ant with small colonies.
(1) Anergates- Queens black with a shallow trough on gaster,found in Tetramorium caespitum nests,has no workers of its own.
(2)Solenopsis- No spines on the rear of mesosoma[thorax], antennae has 10 segments, last 2 form a club.
(3)Formicoxenus- Antennae has 11 segments, tibial spurs on legs 2 and 3, found in Formica rufa nests.
(4)Sifolinia- Antennae has 12 segments, no tibial spurs, no workers; found in Myrmica nests.
(5)Strongylognathus- Sickle shaped jaws, found in nests of Tetramorium caespitum.
(6)Stenamma- First waist segment elongated, very small eyes.
(7)Myrmecina- First waist segment oblong with 2 tubercles on top.
(8)Tetramorium- Front of first thoracic segment squared dorsally, small black ants.
(9)Myrmica- Last 3 antennal segments shorter than the rest; small, reddish looking ants.
(10)Leptothorax- Last 3 antennal segments as long as the rest of the funiculus[antennae].
(1)Formica- Ocelli large, long legs, segments 2-5 of funiculus longer than the rest.
(2)Lasius- Ocelli very small, short legs, segments 2-5 of funiculus shorter than the rest.
D.DOLICHODERINAE.} Only one species found in Briain; Tapinoma erraticum. It has small, black, very agile workers who run around with their gaster raised.
British Ant Species
1)M. ruginodis- perhaps the most commonly seen "red ant." (2)M.rubra- again, a very easily found ant. (3)M.sulcinodis- a dark coloured ant found on moorlands. (4)M.lobicornis- dark brown in appearance. (5)M.scabrinodis- reddish brown, small with many queens. (6)M.sabuleti- has a ridge on the scape [rear part] of the antennae.
1)L.acervorum- a large species found all over Britain. (2)L.nylanderi- nests in wood, especially rotting tree stumps. (3)L.tuberum, L.interruptus and L.unifasciatus- all 3 species are so rare in the British Isles, you are unlikely to see them.
1)L.fuliginosus- shiny black with a heart-shaped head. (2)L.niger- little dull black ant, very common in gardens. (3)L.alienus- lives in open, sunny areas. (4)L.brunneus- large ants with the head and gaster darker than the thorax. (5)L.flavus- the so called "yellow meadow" ant, as it builds its nest mounds in open fields or heaths. (6)There are 3 other yellow species, which I will put together as they are very similar. Lasius mixtus, L. umbratus and L. rabaudi.
1)F.sanguinea- the "slave making" ant, once seen, never forgotten! Very much like the big red wood ants. (2)F.fusca and F.lemani- again I've put these 2 species together, as they are both large black ants, the latter common to northern Britain with a much hairier body than its southern cousin, while F. fusca is found mainly in southern areas of Britain.(3)F.transkaucasica- shiny black body, lives in wet areas of bog and heathland. (4)F.rufa, F.lugubris and F.aquilonia are the 3 main species of 'wood ants' likely to be seen in Britain. There are 2 others; F.exsecta and F.pratensis, but they are so rare you're unlikely to find them unless your an expert in the field of entomology/myrmecology. The only time I have seen F. exsecta was wandering around on the cliff paths of Bournemouth in Dorset, even then it was only found in the area known as "The Chines" although it may be found in other parts of Dorset along the coast and a few woodland locations. I have not heard of this wood ant species occuring outside of Dorset, though it could possibly be into Devon and perhaps the New Forest in Hampshire.
(5) Two ant species not mentioned on the above list due their rarity are, Formica cunicularis and Formica rufibarbis. Both look very much like the wood ant Formica rufa, but are not as large and make small hillock type nests in soil, usually in open grassy areas. F. cunicularis is smaller than F. rufibarbis, and although quite rare in Britain, is not on the endangered species list. Formica rufibarbis is however, fast approaching becoming extinct in mainland Britain. So much under threat is this particular ant species, that a special team of conservationists have been set up to save it. The loss of this native ant from the southern regions of the British Isles would be an ecological disaster, as nesting colonies of F. rufibarbis have dwindled to a pitiful few; and as I am always concerned about wildlife conservation, this is something that I would not like to see happen!
A plan is ongoing to reintroduce newly mated queens of this specie from European countries where it more common, back into certain secret wild locations in England, as this would at least help to replace some of the lost nesting colonies and maybe stop these ants from becoming extinct here.
Tapinoma erraticum is the only species of this genus found in the British Isles, and is confined mainly to the south of England.
This is an article taken from a recent edition of the Daily Mail newspaper, and it is well worth reading!
Global swarming: The super ants ready to invade your garden... 100 million at a time.
By Fiona Macrae - Science Correspondent.
Last updated at 9:55 AM on 03rd December, 2008.
It lives in super colonies of more than 100 million and thrives in the cold.
Its name is Lasius neglectus - and it is heading for Britain.
Harmless to humans and not very different to look at than our own garden ant, Lasius is nevertheless causing researchers great concern.
So massive are its colonies, covering acres of ground, that it can drive out native insects and other species simply by out-competing them for food.
Apparently preferring urban parks and gardens to rural areas, it also invades houses, attracted to the magnetic fields created by plug sockets and often causing power failures by eating through wiring.
Thought to have originated in Turkey, by 2000 it had taken up residence in 30 parts of Europe.
Now the flightless creature's huge colonies can be found in 108 locations in 15 countries, from Belgium to Uzbekistan.
Experts believe it is only a matter of time before the ant marches into Britain - that is, if it is not already here.
Researcher Dr Sylvia Cremer said: 'We assume they are going to spread even more or that they have spread already.
'They look like normal garden ants, but there are masses of them.'
Lasius neglectus colonies are made up of as many as 1,000 nests. Individual ants can move from nest to nest over areas that can stretch for miles, meaning the colony is essentially a single formidable unit.
Professor Jacobus Boomsma, one of those who discovered the species, said: 'When I saw this ant for the first time, I simply could not believe there could be so many garden ants in the same lawn.'
Lasius neglectus workers look very similar to L. niger, as seen in this picture.
Lasius neglectus can thrive in temperatures as low as - 5c, meaning it is perfectly adapted to the British weather.
Writing in the science journal PLoS ONE, the researchers said: 'Whereas most other pest ants require warm temperatures, Lasius neglectus can survive winters with extended frost periods, so that further dispersal into temperate climatic zones seems unavoidable.
'Invasive Lasius neglectus populations are a potential problem of global dimensions and a particular threat for man-made Eco-systems in the cold- temperate climate zones that have so far suffered very little from invasive ants.'
Established colonies are very difficult to eradicate, meaning the quicker they are spotted the better.
Apparently this species of Lasius had 1 super colony consisting of 112 million workers and 350 thousand queens.
The queens mate only once in their lifetime, and produce about 20 eggs per day.
Formic acid is also reputed to be useful to ease the pain of arthritis according to scientific research.
Humans have been around for about 3 million years, and are decended from ape like creatures. We may consider this a long time when we think about how long a year is, or a century; but it is a mere drop in the ocean of time when you think that planet Earth has been around for roughly 6 billion years, and there are planets, stars and galaxies in the universe which are much older than this.
What has this got to do with ants you may ask? Well, multiply the time humans have been on the Earth by 50, and you arrive at a figure of 150 million years. This is approximately the length of time ants have been on our planet. Not that ants started off as well organized colonies consisting of queens, workers and soldier castes of thousands or even millions of individual beings.
Ant that have long serrated jaws like this one below look much like their ancient Jurassic ancestors did over 100 million years ago. To think that ants very similar to our modern day Dinoponera ate the dead flesh of dinosaurs, just as ants scavenge the bodies of dead birds and mammals today. It is highly plausible that tiny ants such as these crawled beneath the toes of Tyrannosaurus Rex, or were stomped on by the heavy feet of Triceratops as they grazed in vast herds, and it is truly an amazing thought to dwell upon. Yet while the ants did not become the dominant species like we did, the fact remains that insects may well survive on Earth long after mankind, as they survived the total extinction of the dinosaurs, as it is believed that a meteor hit the planet and caused the equivalant of a nuclear winter which wiped out the poor old dinosaurs from the face of our entire planet; but the lowly ant lived on!
Back in the days when ants lived alongside dinosaurs, they were more or less wasp like and more than likely solitary insects who may have just lived in close contact with their neighbours. As time went on, ants began to work together and build nests which were close enough to become one large nest, much like we live in seperate houses; but they are built so as to form towns and cities.
As time progressed even further, some females became dominant over the ones who laid less eggs. The former became queen ants, while the latter turned into worker or soldier castes. Ants which looked the same in terms of species learned to recognize members of the colony by using pheromones, or a scent smell which identified them as belonging to a particular family. Ants don't call their family members by name like we do, but every colony knows its members just the same as we would know a family relative who was named Smith, Jones or Wood.
A Ponerine ant is much the same now as ants looked 100 million years ago.
Ants may have begun as wasp like insects, and some may have had wings while others did not; but from the primitive primeval insects that scurried beneath the feet of such creatures as Allosaurus, Triceratops or Velociraptor; ants have evolved into a complex range of societies, which almost rivals that of humans in terms of what they have become over millions of years. Perhaps it is a good thing that ants have not grown to our size and gone into space, for who knows where ants may have got to by now, as they did have a head start over humans of at least 147 million years; and that makes me wonder where we might find ourselves if humans are still around another 100 million years into the future?
Ants are the only other creatures on this planet, besides mankind of course, to wage war on their fellow beings. A war between ant colonies in the wild usually begins over a dispute for territory. It can occur between ants of the same species, or 2 different species; but all ant wars are more often than not a blood thirsty affair on a fairly large scale.
What starts a war between rival ant nests is that scouts come across enemy ants, and they either begin to fight immediately; or they locate the enemy nest and return with re-enforcements. Battle is most effective when fought above ground, usually in an area with minimal vegetation to hamper the proceedings. The rival workers/soldiers use all their strength and agility to fight. They bite with their strong mandibles, cutting off legs and feelers of the enemy ants. Also the sting is used to pierce any weakness in body armour; or if the ant has no sting, it will squirt jets of formic acid. Even if the enemy ants are of a larger species, the smaller ones are just as, if not more, aggressive in battle. Such battles can last hours, or even days; depending on the size of the armies and their ability to recruit more fighters.
The final outcome is that, if one colony is weakened and therefor defeated; it will move away to find a safer home and the victorious ants get a larger hunting area. If however, both colonies are of the same strength, then a final battle to the death is not possible; so the ants usually count their losses, call off the war and return home. This uneasy truce will last until a dispute over hunting territory erupts again, and then there will be bits of decapitated ants all over the place once more. Ants had chemical and biological weapons long before man had learned to swing a club and were probably fighting wars under the very noses of the dinosaurs even long before Tyrannosaurus Rex walked the Earth. This just goes to show what remarkable little creations of nature insects are.
Common or Garden?
No doubt many of you wonder just how ants come to have long names? Well like most other plant and animal life, ants are often given names from either the ancient Greek language, or more commonly Latin. You may consider such languages to be rather out-moded in this modern day and age; but often the species name can indicate where an insect is from, or what its colour may be. For example, Myrmica rubra. Myrmica is taken from the ancient Greek meaning "ant", while rubra gives you an idea of the colour. In the ant species Manica rubida, it almost speaks for itself. Think of a ruby for instance and you immediately think of red, hence rubra or rubida. Niger means black, so Lasius niger are black ants, although unless you have some rudimentary knowledge of those ancient languages, you may find it hard to understand what the scientific names for ants mean. Careful study of many Latin names will often give a clear picture about the plant or animal, although I have to admit my own knowledge of Latin is poor to say the least, as I for one never studied this at school and so this is where surfing the Internet web can be very useful.
When it come down to it, many insects have common names which give a good indication as to their form or colour. Take for example things like the Lace Wing, Violet Ground Beetle or Dung Beetle. Thus you have a picture of what I mean. Ants are given some very common, yet interesting names. Wood Ants, Army Ants, Leaf Cutters, Harvester Ants, Fire Ants or Pharoah's Ants, which originally came into Britain from Egypt of course; and you will see from these common names that you already have a mental picture in your head as to where some ants come from, or what type (genera/species) of ant variety they belong to. I think most of you get the picture by now!
Many new species are waiting to be discovered by entomologists working in virually unexplored areas, as even in places we think we've covered, new plants and animals are still being found. It is often the scientist who discovers a new species who gives it a name. So it is highly probable that Formica lemani was named after someone with the surname Leman, and Eciton burchelli named by a person named Burchell, as these men or women either discovered that particular ant species, or had it named after them at a later date; but if I were to say to you this ant is green, black, red or yellow, you would still have a fair idea of what I was describing, even without giving its correct name. This was true when I first started to keep and study ants. I had no idea then as a boy what the ant species I had collected were, so I simply referred to them as "Black Ants" or "Red Ants" until I eventually learned better.
So always narrow things down by degrees, and if I said I was looking at a largish black ant found under stones in Devon, then most of you would guess that I was talking about Formica fusca, even though you may not know it by its Latin name, wouldn't you?
As Nature Intended.
How many times have I watched movie films about ants? For example, "Them" or "Empire of the Ants". Could ants possibly grow to such huge proportions to make them as big as a dog, a man or an elephant say?
Of course the answer is NO, they simply could not. The plain fact of the matter is that any animal on Earth with an exo-skeleton, e.g. insects, cannot survive if they grow too big; although giant insects did live back in the early Cretaceous period of Earth's history, as then oxygen levels were higher, but their size is limited today. Dinosaurs grew to massive sizes, as do many whales and elephants, even some people grow to giant size; but the largest ants that I know of are Dorylus queens (African Driver Ants), Eciton queens (South American Army Ants) or Atta queens (Leaf Cutter Ants of tropical South America), and the latter only attains a size of approximately 7 centimetres; while her workers vary in size from 2-4 centimetres.
As many wood ant nests already achieve up to a metre in height and may reach 2 metres in diameter, imagine finding an ant hill as big as a mountain like Snowdon or even Everest in size? As a forest or meadow may easily have dozens of ant nests in it, a small island like Britain would soon disappear, buried by ant nests. We humans would become extinct in a very short space of time indeed. Be happy then that ants are only the size they actually are; but even despite their small size, they are a marvellous little creature and yet another miracle of creation, having been on this planet for around 200 million years, which is far longer than we have been. It is highly probable that ants, and other insect life, will be around long after we have died out as a species, as insects can tolerate far worse adverse conditions than we can, such as higher radiation from our sun. They find food where none seems available, and despite man's efforts at pest control, the insects survive in large numbers. So perhaps it is they, and not us when it says "And the Meek shall inherit the Earth", we can only watch them and wonder?
What makes ants different than us?
They are nowhere near as intelligent than we humans, or they would have been rulers of the Earth by now. So just what do ants, and many other social insect families have that makes them work better than we do?
For a start, how many of the inhabitants of our hamlets, villages, towns and cities pull together in unison for the greater good of the community?
Very few, as most people cannot get along with others for one reason or another.
Insects do not appear to have emotions, which we humans do. Things such as love, hate, anger, jealousy or greed seem not to play any important role in the insect world.
Mating male ants are not driven by love for their females, but more of a carnal lust instinct to simply pass on their genes via the process of copulation.
Yet ants make vast communities and all live in harmony within the same nesting family. An ant family consists of the mother(s) and the daughters, with the short lived sons; and a nesting colony may survive in the same place for many years. Not only that, but they only show hostility toward ants from a non-related family.
How many of us can say we never argue with our parents, siblings or children? Most of us do from time to time, no matter how much we love our family.
Ants and all other social insects have a strong bond within the family unit, which I like to call the 'Communal Intelligence'.
This means that each member of the colony works not as 1 single unit, but they form a super-organism made up of hundreds, thousands or even millions of individuals.
Insects such as cockroaches can also withstand enough radiation to kill a human one hundred times over, and yet they survive perfectly fine in this kind of environment.
I was asked by a member of Ant Hill World forum about whether I had underestimated the intelligence of ants, which was sent as a PM to me.
My answer to this question is as follows}
I think that as ants and other insects have been around for 100 times longer than we have, some kind of collective intelligence is at work; a bit like the way the Borg in the Star Trek series operate.
Ants may have very tiny brains when compared to the average human, but they still manage to work out some pretty complex things.
Yes they do remember where food sources are sited, although the pheromone trails help them to actually locate the food; but it is still an act of intelligence that motivates them to perform certain tasks.
Like I said, ants and other insect life can withstand much more lethal environmental conditions than we humans can. So they are far more adaptable and will still be around long after we have become extinct, as we probably will due to our stupidity of making this planet so polluted it will be unfit for human habitation.
In actual fact, an ant would need to be much larger, perhaps the size of a chimpanzee, for it to have the same number of brain cells as a human; and it would also require the same appendages (arms, hands and fingers etc) for it to be able to perform the same tasks as a human or even a chimp.
This is not to say that communal intelligence does not work well; it does, and very well too I might add. However, until insects develop ways of exterminating pest species such as humans from this planet, we remain the dominant life form; but only for now, as who knows what the future may bring?
So when next you read the parable "AND THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH", instead of the word "MEEK", perhaps you should substitute the word INSECTS instead.
What makes a male ant different?
We all know that the difference between a boy and a girl comes down to chromosomes, and this rule applies to most mammals, as having xx, yy and xy chromosomes determines what gender you become; but all human ovum need to be fertilized to produce either male or female offspring.
In the insect world however, particularly the social insects such as ants, bees and wasps; the gender caste is still determined by chromosomes and genetic profiles; but with one major difference.
That is, only females are produced from fertile eggs. Be it workers, soldiers or queens; they all come from eggs which have had a sperm cell successfully enter the egg.
When it comes to what selects certain caste in ants, it depends upon what time of year an egg was laid; and what type of food intake it received upon becoming a larva. As already stated, females only come from fertile eggs.
So what about male ants? A male ant looks very different from his female counterpart, even though both often have wings. He has straight antennae, unlike the female which has a joint often referred to as the elbow. He is also usually much smaller in most species, as this photo shows of Lasius flavus males compared to the winged females.
All unfertilized eggs produce males, and these are usually the very first eggs laid in the colony each year, often several weeks before any fertile eggs are laid by the queen. Toward the end of winter, just as the nest starts to feel a little warmer, the queen and sometimes her worker daughters, will lay eggs. Now the workers always lay unfertile eggs as they have never mated; but the queen indirectly chooses to lay eggs that will become male ants.
Either the colder temperature stops her from releasing sperm from her spermatheca (internal sperm sac), or she actually controls the factor herself; but either way she lays many unfertile eggs.
These will all become males.
As we all know; birds, fish and mammals must have fertile eggs containing both the parents sets of DNA to produce either male or female offspring. But as male ants are born from totally unfertilized eggs, it is a wonder that they exist at all.
Drones among the social insects are truly a miracle, as one does tend to wonder just what force of nature, or power of the universe has created the humble male ant? He has afterall defied all the natural laws of creation by simply being born.
Chromosomes and genetics have a lot to answer for in this case, but it is still one of the great wonders of nature that an unfertile egg can produce a being that will father many thousands or millions of daughters, as his sperm will only produce more females remember, not sons.
Cool Ant Facts.
Want to know what our little insect friends known as ants are capable of doing? Well check out this list of ant facts
Ants belong to the order "Hymenoptera," and are said to be closely related to sphecid wasps. It is believed that ants first appeared during the Cretaceous period and that they had evolved from the wasps that had come out during the Jurassic period. Scientists have also estimated that ants have been living on the earth for more than a 100 million years.
More Facts About Ants
Ants are mostly found in hot climates.
Over 12,000 known species of ants exist in the world.
The average life span of a worker ant is 45 to 60 days, though some live up to a year or more.
The ant has very strong legs which help it to run very quickly.
Ants appear in shades of green, red, brown, yellow, blue or purple.
An ant is able to lift about 20 times its own body weight.
Adult ants are unable to swallow solid food. They depend on the juice they are able to squeeze out from pieces of food.
An ant uses its antenna for touch as well as smell.
An ant brain has about 250 000 brain cells. A human brain has 10,000 million so a colony of 40,000 ants has collectively the same size brain as a human.
Ants normally range from 2 to 7 mm in length. The carpenter ant is an exception to the rule, as it can stretch to 2 cm, or even an inch.
There is at least one queen in each ant colony.
An ant has two stomachs, in one stomach it stores food for itself and in the other it stores food that is to be shared with other ants.
An ant has the largest brain amongst insects. It is said that the processing power in an ant's brain and a Macintosh II computer might be similar.
Some ants are able to sleep seven hours a day.
Ants are mostly omnivorous, that is, they eat other insects, seeds, oils and bread.
Queen ants are provided with wings at birth, they lose these wings after they fly off to start new colonies.
Black ants and Wood ants do not have a sting, instead they are able to squirt a spray of formic acid.
A Tropical Leafcutter ant uses its sharp outer jaw to cut leaves and make them into pulp. The pulp is later used to make fungus gardens. These gardens are looked after and harvested for food.
Worker ants are given the responsibility of taking the rubbish from the nest and putting it into the rubbish dump.
When a worker ant finds a source of food, it leaves a trail of scent to attract other ants in the colony to it.
The Slave-Maker ant (Polyergus Rufescens) is so named because it raids the nest of other ants and steals their pupae. Once the pupae hatch, they are made to work as slaves within the colony.
Around 700,000 members can be found in the colony of the Army ants (Ecitron Burchelli).
African Driver Ants (Dorylus species) have the largest colony numbers of any ant species, reaching up to 20 million individuals. Some ants form super colonies which can even exceed this number where many related queens found nests which then join up with others, making them stretch for miles and reaching vast sizes. Such super-colonies can reach 100 million ants, which all work together and never go to war with neighbouring nests as they are related and give off the same colony scent.
Ants have travelled through time! Not in the same way as the Time Lord, DR.WHO; but in another way. Ants have an outer, or exo-skeleton, made from a substance called 'Chitin'. This is like the suit of armour worn by medieval knights, as you may have seen if you visit some castle or museum. The ants 'time travel' in a substance known as Amber (fossilized pine resin). The ant of course is long since dead, as it is at least 100 million years since it was trapped in the Amber. This gives us a really good idea of how little ants have changed down their long history on earth. As I have already stated; ants have been around much longer than we have. Humans live up to 100years; occasionally a bit more. Ants, on the other hand, only live a few months, or maybe 10-14years for a queen ant, even longer than this in some cases. In theory however, an ant colony that can replace its queens with new ones every few years, could theoretically survive a hundred, or even a thousand years. It could; but it is very doubtful that it would, as changes occur with the passing of time e.g. temperature, soil structure and food sources. Still; all in all, ants are a marvel of the wonders of creation. No wonder King Solomon told the lazy youths of his time,"Go to the ant thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise". This is something a lot of people today should think carefully about?