Ants are typically social, tiny insects of the family Formicidae, distinguished by their antennae and node-like slender waists. They live in organized colonies, which depending on the species, can comprise millions of ants. A colony typically has three kinds of ants: sterile female workers and soldiers, fertile males, and one or more queens.
List of Common Types of Ant Species
have classified over 12,000 species of ants, but it is estimated that about
22,000 species may exist today. Some of these commonly found ant species are
imported fire ant
Physical Description and Appearance
Size: Their size ranges between 0.75-52
mm (0.030-2.0 in). The largest ant species ever recorded is Titanomyrma giganteum, with the queen’s
length being 6 cm (2.4 in) and a wingspan stretching 15 cm (5.9 in).
Color: Most ant species have a red or
black color, but some are green while a few tropical ants may have a metallic
Head: Their head consists of several
sensory organs, including a pair of compound eyes, three ocelli or simple eyes,
two antennae, and two strong jaws (mandibles).
Exoskeleton: An external covering that protects
their body and provides a point of attachment for the muscles.
Mesosoma: The middle part of their body (the
thorax) to which the legs and wings are attached.
Metasoma: The rear part of their body
comprising the respiratory (trachea), excretory, and reproductive systems.
Legs: Attached to the thorax, their legs
have a hooked claw that helps them in holding on to things and climbing
Wings: Only the reproductive ants, males,
and queens possess wings, with the queens shedding their wings after their
Ants are distributed
throughout the world, and they occur on every continent except Antarctica. A
few islands like Iceland, Greenland, the Hawaiian Islands, and parts of
Polynesia do not have any native ant species.
What kinds of Habitats do They Live in
habitat varies depending on the species, as many ants live underground, while
some build mounds at ground level, and a few live in trees or wood structures.
How long do they live
are long-lived and have a lifespan of about 30 years. The female worker and
soldier ants, however, live for about 1-3 years while the males are even more
short-lived and could age up to a few weeks.
What do they eat
omnivorous insects and have a diverse diet that includes meats, seeds, fruits,
fungus, and sugary liquids such as nectar. Ants also prey on other insects like
some termite and ant species.
use sounds, touch, and pheromones for communicating with each other. They use
their long, thin antennae to recognize the smell.
have different defense mechanisms, as some species attack by biting while
others sting and inject chemicals like formic acid, piperidines, and alkaloids.
exhibit tandem running, a social learning behavior by which one knowledgeable
forager leads a naive ant from the nest to the newly discovered food source. The
follower gains knowledge from its leading tutor.
construct nests on trees, in the ground, inside hollow stems or logs, or under
stones by using soil and plant materials. They carefully select nest sites and
usually avoid places with dead ants because these sites might be infested with
pests or disease.
ant species, like the leafcutter ants, rely on a relationship of mutual benefit
(symbiosis) with microbes residing inside their abdomen. These microbes help
them in upgrading the nutritional value of the food collected and allowing them
to survive in places where there is nitrogen scarcity.
ants often travel distances of about 200 m (700 ft) from the nest, with scent
trails allowing them to navigate their way back in the dark.
most ants walk, some species such as Jerdon’s jumping ant can leap. Several
arboreal ant species like the Cephalotesatratus are gliders that can return
to the trunk when they fall from the top of the forest canopy.
ant species, like the Australian bulldog ant, do not have a well-developed
social behavior and each ant hunts alone. Other species, such as pavement ant,
are aggressive and expansionists that attack neighboring ant colonies to take
their eggs or larvae.
elbowed antennae or feelers are sensory organs in ants that help them not just
to detect vibrations, air currents, and chemicals but also to communicate through
have a pair of mandibles that are strong enough to manipulate objects, carry
food, and build nests. They use these powerful jaws for defense.
ants of some species have egg-laying structures that are modified into stings
used for overpowering prey and defending the nests.
ant species like the Sahara desert ant have an internal navigational system,
similar to a pedometer that helps them count the steps taken and measure the
also use the Sun’s position to measure directions and find the shortest path to
their nest. Their compound eyes have specialized polarization detectors for
detecting Sun’s polarized light and determining direction.
How do They Reproduce and Mate
In most ant
species, only the breeding females and the queen can mate, with the reproducing
female workers called ‘gamergates’. Females of several species reproduce
asexually through unfertilized eggs.
enter a foreign colony and mate with the queens. Once a drone is attacked by
the worker ants, it lets go of a mating pheromone. It will be allowed to breed
with the queen only if it is accepted as a mate. But if the drone is marked as
an intruder by male ants patrolling the nest, it gets killed by the workers.
breeding season, the winged males and females (alates) leave the nest in a mating
flight (nuptial flight). It usually occurs between the late spring and early
summer months when the weather is hot. After taking flight, the males search
for a common mating ground by using visual cues. They release a mating
pheromone that the females follow.
usually occurs on the ground, but a male can mount a female in the air. In some
species, a female mates with just one male while in others it may mate with ten
or more males.
females search for a suitable place to dig a new nest where their wings fall
off, and they start laying eggs. If fertilized, the eggs hatch to produce
diploid female workers while the unfertilized eggs produce drones. Ants undergo
complete metamorphosis, starting from the larva stage, then passing through the
pupal stage, and finally emerging as the adult. A larva is typically incapable
of moving and fed by workers using a process called trophallaxis, in which liquid
food is transferred from mouth to mouth or anus to mouth. Solid foods like
pieces of prey, seeds, and trophic eggs are given during the later larval
1. Do ants sleep?
has shown that ants have cyclic patterns of resting periods, each lasting
around 8 minutes. Queen ants usually fall into long, deep sleeps that last for
about 9 hours every day while workers take plenty of power naps to get rest and
sleep half as much as the queen.
2. How many ants are found in the
12,000 ant species exist today, with the total ant population exceeding 100
3. How many legs do ants have?
insect, ants have six legs.
4. How much can an ant lift?
the species, ants can carry anywhere between 20-5,000 times their body weight.
5. How much does an ant weigh?
weight of individual worker ants varies between 1 and 5 mg.
6. Do ants have brains?
have very tiny brains. They have about 250,000 brain cells as compared to the billions
7. Do ants have hearts?
They do not
have a proper heart but possess a pumping organ called dorsal aorta used for
pumping hemolymph (a circulating fluid equivalent of blood) towards their head.
8. Do ants feel pain?
Ants lack a
complex nervous system and do not feel pain. However, they can sense harm and
react to it.
Ant colonies are called superorganisms since the ants collectively work together as a single entity in supporting the entire colony.
Although they are active throughout the year in the tropics, they spend the winter in a state of inactivity (called hibernation) in colder regions.
Some species like the Mediterranean Pheidolepallidula, rub their gaster segments (abdominal portion) and mandibles to produce sounds for communicating with other species or fellow colony members.
Ant species like the weaver ants are utilized as a means of biological control for cultivating citrus plants in southern China.
Trap-jaw ants have mandibles, called trap-jaws, which shut faster than any oral appendages of other animals.
Several science-fiction novels like the Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, and Ant-Man, along with the movies such as Empire of the Ants and Them!, have included ants as one of the leading characters.