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