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Some Interesting Facts About Ants

There are 8800 known species of ants. Most species are located in the tropics. Ants are found in all regions of the world except for the polar regions and places with extremely high altitudes. Ants are such a successful species because their collective mastery of social organization allows flexibility in their approaches to survival.

An ant can lift 5 times its weight and drag an object 25 times its weight. An ant has two sets of jaws, one for holding things that it carries and one to chew food.

Ants contribute to the population control of their prey, recycling of plant material, aeration of soil, seed dispersal, and several other major ecological processes. Ants are "decomposers", i.e., they help the environment recycle matter from dead plants and animals. While different species of ants have different preferences in food, ants as a species are omnivores, i.e., they will eat both plants and animals.

Some ants are farmers. Ants living in the Southeastern United States and in tropical Central and South America cultivate a fungus in their nests. To feed the fungus, the ants cut sections of leaves and take them to the nest. (See Photograph of leaf cutter ants.) Honey Pot ants keep herds of aphids which they tend and stroke to encourage the aphids to emit "honey dew" a sweet liquid that the ants use for food. Ants will move the aphids into the ant hill during cold weather. Honey Pot ants store surplus honey dew in the bodies of other ants. The food is kept in a separate stomach and then regurgitated to another ant when needed. Some species of ants also keep scale insects and lycaenid butterfly larvae as domesticated animals. Red harvester ants (central United States and Mexico) frequent fields of grass, harvesting and storing the grass seeds.

Some ants engage in slavery. The Amazon ant carries out forays against other ants and brings back to the home nest some of the unconsumed brood to serve as slaves when they mature. These slave ants perform excavation, brood tending and other work of the Amazon colony. Another species of ant has a queen that permits herself to be dragged into the nest of another type of ant, then kills the queen. The host colony then cares for and hatches the eggs of the new queen.

Ants have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. What are commonly referred to as "ant eggs" are really the pupae. There are two types of ants in any nest: reproductive and nonreproductive. The queen and males constitute the reproductive class of ants. The non-reproductive ants include the female worker ants.

Army and driver ants make nests that consist of the clustered bodies of millions of workers hanging from the underside of a raised log or other surface. Enclosed in this mass are the queen and the brood.

If a line of ants taking food to its nest and returning for more is interrupted by the placement of an obstacle that breaks up the line, the ants will find the shortest way around the obstacle and reestablish the line of march. See How Ants Find the Shortest Route Around an Obstacle.

Each day colonies of army ants in the Amazon or driver ants in Africa organize a swarm raid. These raids have fronts that reach more than 45 ft in width. Advancing at a rate of about 12 inches a minute, these ants capture, tear, and carry back to their temporary nests any prey that cannot escape them. Their food consists primarily of other insects or spiders. At times, nestling birds, cornered snakes, or other small vertebrates are killed by stinging.

The biomass of the ants in the Amazon forest is estimated to be four times the biomass of all the vertebrate animals combined. Biomass means the total amount of living matter.

Ants do not have lungs, but rather tiny tubes that carry air to all portions of their bodies.

This web page published January 15, 2007.

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