Ant

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.

Ant Scientific Classification

Animalia
Arthropoda
Insecta
Hymenoptera
Formicidae

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

Ant

Animalia
Arthropoda
Insecta
Hymenoptera
Formicidae

Types of Ants

List of Common Types of Ant Species

Entomologists 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 given below:

  • Acrobat ant
  • Argentine ant
  • Asian needle ant
  • Carpenter ant
  • Crazy ant
  • Dark rover ant
  • European fire ant
  • Field ant
  • Odorous house ant
  • Pavement ant
  • Pharaoh ant
  • Thief ant
  • Pavement ant
  • Red imported fire ant
  • Leaf-cutting ant
  • Sugar ant
  • Harvester ant
  • Black house ant
  • Little black ant
  • Red wood ant
  • Black garden ant
  • Driver ant
  • Atta
  • Bullet ant
  • Yellow meadow ant
  • Weaver ant
  • Electric ant
  • Meat ant
  • Saharan silver ant
  • Subterranean ant

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 shine.

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 surfaces.

Ant Legs

Wings: Only the reproductive ants, males, and queens possess wings, with the queens shedding their wings after their mating flight.

Distribution

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

Their 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.

Ant Habitat

How long do they live

Ant queens 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

Ants are 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.

Behavior

  • Ants use sounds, touch, and pheromones for communicating with each other. They use their long, thin antennae to recognize the smell.
  • They have different defense mechanisms, as some species attack by biting while others sting and inject chemicals like formic acid, piperidines, and alkaloids.
  • They 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.
  • Ants 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.
  • Some 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.
  • Foraging 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.
  • While most ants walk, some species such as Jerdon’s jumping ant can leap. Several arboreal ant species like the Cephalotes atratus are gliders that can return to the trunk when they fall from the top of the forest canopy.
  • Some 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.
Male Ant

Adaptations

  • The 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 touch.
  • Ants have a pair of mandibles that are strong enough to manipulate objects, carry food, and build nests. They use these powerful jaws for defense.
  • Worker ants of some species have egg-laying structures that are modified into stings used for overpowering prey and defending the nests.
  • Some 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 distance travelled.
  • They 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.
Ant Eggs

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.

Drones can 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.

During the 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.

The mating 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.

Female Ant

Life Cycle

Mated 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 stages.

Ant-FAQs

1. Do ants sleep?

Yes. Research 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 world?

More than 12,000 ant species exist today, with the total ant population exceeding 100 trillion.

3. How many legs do ants have?

Being an insect, ants have six legs.

4. How much can an ant lift?

Depending on the species, ants can carry anywhere between 20-5,000 times their body weight.

5. How much does an ant weigh?

The average weight of individual worker ants varies between 1 and 5 mg.

6. Do ants have brains?

Yes, they have very tiny brains. They have about 250,000 brain cells as compared to the billions in humans.

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 Insect

Interesting Facts

  • 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 Pheidole pallidula, 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.