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Published on March 24th, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie

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The Ant: Incredible Intelligence In Such A Tiny Creature

Unnoticed and unwatched, a small tiny creature slowly and steadily makes it way through an invisible road. However, it is not alone, it is joined by hundreds of similar creatures all busily making their way on some impenetrable and unknowable journey to an unimaginable world. The world of the ant.

Ants (Hymenoptera Formicidae) are one of the most abundant and complicated of all social animals, yet we barely acknowledge their presence as their lives and our own lives intersect on a daily basis.

They existed long before humans placed their feet on the Earth’s soil. They have embodied the true definition of working communism long before Karl Marx ever wrote ‘Das Kapital‘. They have used agriculture long before the Mesopotamians ever farmed the fertile crescent. And they have engineered marvellous habitats long before our most prized invention, the wheel, was ever created.

Red Bull Ant Photo By Peter Bertok

Amazing Abundance

One of the extraordinary aspects of ants and perhaps something that is well-known is their teeming abundance. Experts estimate that there are roughly one quadrillion ants on the planet or 100,000,000,000,000,000. There are in excess of 12,000 ant species that have been named by scientists.
However, this does not take into consideration the potential thousands of unnamed species that await classification.

Ultimate Communists

Ant species are quite varied in size and design. They are the ultimate communists, all the individuals serve the needs of the colony. It is this social order that is key to their thriving success. Once an ant is allocated a responsibility, there is no room for individuality and their given role is stringently adhered to. Ants operate on ruthless, collective efficiency.

Bull Ant Photo By JJ Harrison

True Masters Of Engineering And Architecture

Every ant colony is an architectural feat that displays ants’ engineering prowess. Every chamber and connecting corridor that leads to another vault is carefully and calculatedly executed. All the rooms are set at the correct depth and scale and all corridors are the paradigms of efficiency. Each tunnel is set at the optimum angle and is almost perfectly straight. This means that the worker ants expend the least amount of energy possible as they transport food and raw materials into the colony.

Perhaps even more mind-boggling is their air conditioning system. Ants construct their colonies in such a way as to funnel out poisonous carbon dioxide and bring in its place fresh, clean air.

The colony is incredibly organised and works in a hierarchy in that ants are born at the very bottom and work their way upwards somewhat like a pyramid. The colony themselves or ‘nests’ are sometimes up to ten feet deep and each room or chamber is devoted to separate functions.

Chemical Czars

Ants are completely chemically dependent. Every process within an ant colony is controlled by chemical reactions. From breeding to defending the colony from attack, every stage of an ant’s life revolves around agents called pheromones.

Weaver Ants Exchange Food Photo By Sean Hoyland

Chemicals also play a critical role in reproduction. Only the queen is potent and capable of reproducing. When mating is about to commence the queen will notify males that she is ready to mate by releasing pheromones. These pheromones drive the males crazy and the queen is quickly surrounded by an over-eager group of males.

Frenzied Feeders

Ants will feed off virtually anything. They have two stomachs, one which stores their own food, and another called a crop which stores food for the colony. Their robust bodies and amazing strength ensures that they can haul their prey long distances back to the nest.


Defensive Capabilities

Ants can be incredibly defensive, as no doubt some people will attest to. If one ant senses danger, or is threatened, it will release chemicals notifying other ants of the threat. Some ants have stinging cells, others even squirt acid to defend themselves against attack.

However, most use their powerful mandibles or jaws to fend off enemies. While some ants go to defend the colony, others sheppard larvae deep underground to more secure locations within the nest. One species of ant, Bruneian Camponotus, even explode their heads to protect the colony such is their loyalty.

Weaver Ant Photo By Sandilya Theuerkauf

Farming Ants

Some ants are actually farmers. There are in excess of 190 species of ant which grow fungi for food. They maintain the fungi by feeding it dead leaves, and ant dung which acts as fertiliser. Some species even go as far as smoking or fumigating it with bacteria to ward off parasites.

Even more curiously, other species of ants keep aphids as a source of food rather like maintaining livestock. In a symbiotic relationship, they supply the aphids with protection from predators in return for food in the form of honeydew.

Ant Obtaining Honeydew From An Aphid Photo by Jmalik

Remarkable Creatures

Ants are highly organised and remarkable creatures. The secret to their growth and survival cannot be ascertained by simply isolating and examining one individual ant. The entire microcosm of the colony must be taken into account. From this perspective a true appreciation of an extremely efficient and successful animal starts to emerge.

Perhaps the next time we encounter these creature we should pay closer attention and marvel at how successful and sophisticated these animals truly are.

Vital Statistics

  • Ants vary in size from 1mm (.04 inch) up to 25mm (1 inch).
  • They can weigh anything from 0.004 grams up to 100 grams (0.25 lbs) for a queen.
  • The average ant lives up to 90 days but queens can live for several years.
  • Ant habitats are found in nearly every part of the world bar the polar regions.


Further Reading

The Ants is an excellent, Pulitzer-prize winning book on ant life. What is also unusual about this book is that it is both comprehensible and incredibly thorough – quite a rare thing indeed. Lord of the Ants – NOVA is a fascinating DVD by acclaimed ant expert and scientist E.O. Wilson.

Amazon.co.uk
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access The Ants and Lord of the Ants – Nova.

Amazon.ca
For those who live in Canada, you can obtain The Ants and Lord of the Ants – Nova.

Amazon.de
For Germany: The Ants.

Amazon.fr
For France: The Ants.


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