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About ants


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INTRODUCTION Ant, common name for members of a family of about 11,000 species of insects that live in highly organized societies called colonies. Ant colonies have elaborate social structures in which the various activities necessary for the feeding, shelter, and reproduction of the colony are divided among specially adapted individuals. Ants belong to an order of insects called the Hymenoptera, a group that also includes bees, wasps, and sawflies. Some species of wasps and bees resemble ants in that they live in colonies and are therefore said to be social, but ants are the only hymenopterans in which every species is social. Ants are distinguished from other hymenopterans in that they have bent, or

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elbowed, antennae and an indented abdomen that forms a narrow waist. Ant colonies range in size from a few members to many millions of members. Members of an ant colony typically fall into categories known as castes, each with a different role. The majority of colony members are female worker ants that are unable to mate. Worker ants do not have wings and perform most of the work of the colony, including searching for food, nursing young, and defending the colony against ants from other colonies. Queens are larger than worker ants and are the only females of the colony capable of mating. Queens are born with wings, which they break off after mating. They mate with winged male ants, later using the sperm from the mating to produce fertilized eggs, which hatch to produce more worker ants and a new generation of queens. Aside from mating with the queens, males play no social role in colony life and die soon after mating. Ants live on landmasses all over the world, except for the permanently frozen Arctic and Antarctic, the coldest mountaintops, and a few islands. They flourish in soil, rotting wood, leaf litter, dead trees, and living trees in such varied habitats as mountains, deserts, swamps, and human homes. Ants are most abundant in the tropical regions. In the rain forests of the Amazon, for instance, ants are so numerous that their total weight is about four times the weight of all the area’s mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined.

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Ants play crucial roles in the ecosystems in which they live. Many species dig underground nests that have numerous openings and tunnels. Air and water pass into the soil through these passageways, making oxygen and moisture available to the roots of plants. Seed-eating ants remove seeds from plants and transfer them to underground storage chambers within their nests. This activity disperses the seeds, so that some of them can sprout in areas that are distant from the parent plants. Ants of many species feed on other insects, which may be either living or dead. In this way, ants reduce the size of some other insect populations and recycle organic matter. In turn, ants are a source of food for other animals, such as spiders, other insects, woodpeckers, and blue jays; toads, salamanders, and turtles; and anteaters, armadillos, and aardvarks. A few ant species are considered pests because they sting, invade human houses and yards, or damage wooden buildings


WHAT KINDS OF JOBS DO ANTS DO? There are three kinds of ants in each colony: workers, queens, and males. Each kind of ant does a different job. Worker ants dig tunnels, raise young ants, collect food, and build and clean the nest. The job of the queen is to lay eggs. Male ants mate with queens. Males die a few weeks after mating. Most of the jobs in an ant colony are in the nest. Many species (kinds) of ants build their nests underground in soil. Some species of ants build mounds of soil on top of the ground. Other species use plants to make nests. Some ants nest in hollow plant parts or spaces between rocks. A few kinds of ants have no permanent nests.


WHAT DO ANTS LOOK LIKE? Ants are small insects. Like all insects, ants have six legs. The smallest ants are 0.03 inch (0.7 millimeter) long. They are hard to see! The biggest ants are almost 1‚ inches (3 centimeters) long. An ant’s body looks like it has a very thin waist. The narrow waist lets the ant bend when it goes around turns in underground tunnels. Male ants and young queen ants have wings. The workers of many species of ants have a stinger that they use to fight enemies. An ant has a mouth with three parts. The most important mouthparts are its jaws. Ants can move them from side to side. They use their jaws for digging, carrying things, collecting food, building nests, fighting, and cutting. Ants use their lower jaws for chewing. They use their tongues to suck up liquids. Adult ants can swallow only liquid foods. Some ants chew solid foods until the food turns into a liquid.


CAN ANTS SEE AND HEAR? Most ants have two compound eyes. Compound eyes have many parts called lenses that help insects see well. Other ants have three simple eyes, with one lens in each. Some ants that live underground are blind. Ants do not have ears. But they can feel sound vibrations. Some ants communicate by drumming on the ground. They also communicate by touching each other with their antennae. Tasting, smelling, and touching are how ants find out what is around them. They have two thin antennae on their heads that help them do this. Each antenna is shaped like a human arm bent at the elbow. Ants tap the antennae on the ground to find food. They can even move their antennae around to smell. An ant is always moving its antennae every which way. Ants “talk” to each other with smells, too. Ants give off smells to warn other ants of danger or to show them where to find food. Sometimes you can see long lines of ants. These ants are following a smell!


WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF ANTS ? There are about 11,000 species of ants. Ants live in most places of the world. Army ants live in forests in Central and South America. Huge swarms of army ants hunt for insects or spiders. Driver ants are army ants that live in Africa. Harvester ants live in deserts. They eat seeds. Aphid-tending ants keep aphids and other tiny insects the way that farmers keep cows. The ants “milk” the aphids for a liquid food called honeydew. Slave-maker ants kidnap the babies of other ant species. The babies grow up to be workers in the slave-makers’ colonies. Honeypot worker ants store honeydew and other food in their bodies. They get so big that they cannot walk! They feed the whole colony.


HOW DO ANTS REPRODUCE? After the queen mates with a male ant, she makes or finds a nest. She then lays eggs. The first group of eggs to hatch become worker ants. The queen’s only job after that is to lay more eggs. The worker ants take over the job of caring for the nest. Males come from some of the eggs, queens and more workers come from other eggs. When the egg hatches, a wormlike larva appears. It does nothing but eat and grow. When it gets big enough, it becomes a pupa. The pupa grows legs and antennae. It becomes an adult ant.


ANTS NEST Inside an ant nest, colony members perform their specialized tasks. The queen resides in the core of the nest, where she lays the eggs that are the colony’s sole source of new individuals. Specialized workers care for the queen and the developing young. Other ants bring seeds to the nest and expand the nest by excavating new chambers and tunnels.


DIFFERENT KINDS OF ANTS Trapjaw Ant Leafcutter Ant Army Ants Red Wood Ant


TRAPJAW ANT A highly specialized predator, the trapjaw ant stalks its prey with spring-loaded jaws. The trap is sprung when the ant detects prey with its antennae. Once the prey is grasped, the ant thrusts its abdomen forward and injects venom to further subdue the struggling quarry. This species, Acanthognathus teledectus, feeds exclusively on springtails, tiny soft-bodied insects. These ants live in hollow twigs in small colonies of 4 to 20 individuals. They inhabit the rain forests of Central America. Ants outnumber all other kinds of animals and play a critical role in ecology. They help control other species, distribute seeds, and serve as food for larger animals.


LEAFCUTTER ANT Leafcutter ants, which live in the southeastern United States and other tropical areas, cultivate a species of fungus in their nests that is used to feed the colony. They are called leafcutter ants because the workers cut off pieces of leaves and carry them back to the nest to fertilize the fungus gardens.


ARMY ANT Adult army ants carry their colony’s larvae with their mandibles while in transit to a new bivouac, or temporary residence. After the hungry larvae develop into pupae, the colony will remain stationary for about three weeks before moving on to a new residence.


RED WOOD ANT The red wood ant of Europe, Formica rufa, is an aggressive carnivore that hunts other insects. This species helps control forest pests such as caterpillars and beetles. The ants build their nest within a mound of twigs and pine needles. The structure may grow more than 1 meter (more than 3 feet) tall and may contain over a million inhabitants. The ants protect and 'milk' colonies of aphids. An ant gently strokes a feeding aphid with its antennae-the aphid responds by secreting a droplet of sweet honeydew, excess liquid from the aphid's sap feeding. Worker ants of this species are about 8 millimeters (about 0.3 inches) long.

Generalized Anatomy of an Ant : 

Generalized Anatomy of an Ant Three organ systems extend along the length of an ant’s body: an elongated, tubelike heart; a nerve cord that culminates in the brain; and a digestive system that includes both a stomach and a crop. The three different types of ants—queens, workers, and males—have body characteristics that reflect their distinct status. Queens are larger than other ants and are born with wings, but lose them after mating. Workers are small and wingless, and males are small but have wings.

Magnified Ant Head : 

Magnified Ant Head This magnified view of an ant head reveals the insect’s large, multifaceted eyes and its jointed antennae, which are characterized by their bent, or “elbowed” shape. David Burder /Tony Stone Images

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