Ants, Little but Mighty
What is an ant? Ants are insects, they have six legs
and each leg has three joints. Ants legs are very strong.
With its little legs it can lift twenty-five time its own body
weight. They have two stomachs. One stomach holds its
food, and the second holds food to be shared with other
ants. The out side of their body is covered with a hard
armor. This is called the exoskeleton. Ants have four
growing stages, the egg, larva, pupa, and the adult. There
are over 100,000 known species of ants. Each ant colony
has at least one or more queens.
The queens job is to lay eggs. How does she start her
colony? Well in the spring all the males and young winged
queens leave there nest and fly high in the air and mate.
The few ant queens that survive this marriage flight cast
off there wings and instinctively begin to look for a spot to
start a new ant colony.
After making a nest, the young queen ant seals off the
entrance and begins to lay eggs. Some of the first batch are
eaten by the queen for nourishment. When the surviving
eggs hatch they become like larvae. After a few weeks each
larva spins a cocoon around itself and pupates. In a few
more weeks, adult workers emerge. It is their job to hunt
for food and make the nest bigger.
More workers will develop and the colony gets very
organized. The new workers will completely take over as
caretakers of the eggs, larvae, and pupae. Now the queens
only duty is to lay more and more eggs, thousands of them
in her lifetime. Many wingless workers develop and help to
enlarge the nest into an intricate network of tunnels and
chambers that will eventually house thousands of ants.
When the colony becomes well established, the queen
begins to lay some eggs that develop into queens and
males. It takes a few years before a colony becomes large
enough to send out winged males and young queens to start
new colonies. The cycle will now begin all over again.
Ant nests come in all shapes and sizes. One tropical
species built a nest that extended forty feet below the
surface of the ground. Another species built a nets that
covered an area the size of a tennis court. Ants know the
best time to build a nest, thats after it rains. The damp soil
is easier to work with. Their are many chambers in an ants
nest. Some rooms are used to store the food. Some are
used for storage of ant eggs. There are rooms for tiered ants
to rest. There are even rooms for socializing! When its
cold, the ant colony moves down to the deepest rooms of
the nest where it is warmer. The reason we find ants under
stones is also for warmth. Stones become hot from the sun
and remain warm during the night. The warmth will radiate
down into the nest and keep the young and older ants warm.
Ants are social insects. Most insects have no family
life, but ants are different.
Ants have families and live in communities. They are
all related in the colony because the queen ant is the mom
to all of the ants.In the colony, every ant works for the
welfare of the whole community. Each ant has its
appointed work, and does it very well. Ants are everywhere
, they can be a big problem for people when they invade the
timber of a house , causing the wood to collapse. They
even nest between walls. When ants invade wooden beams
, they chew out extensive interconnecting chambers for
nests. All this chewing is what weakens the wood . When
people discover the ants chewing up their house, their is
only one way to get rid of them extermination!
The jaws of an ant are very powerful. Their powerful
jaws not only chew through wood but are also used to fight
off enemies. Ounce an ant gets a bite on its enemy, dont
expect it to let go, even if it is torn to pieces. Its jaws are
also used to grasp, carry, cut up food, and carry their
young. Ant jaws work differently from human jaws. The
ants jaws move from side to side. They actually have two
sets of jaws. The set that moves side to side are called
mandibles, the other set are called Marilee. These jaws
chew food into very small pieces. Pieces that the tongue
laps up and passes in to a pouch below the mouth opening
that contains contracting muscles. The muscles action
squeezes the liquid out of the pieces of food. Since ants
swallow mainly liquids, they spit out what is left of the
food.Ants cant use their jaws to talk but
they do communicate, and very well. One way they
communicate is by touching each other with their antennae.
They also communicate by producing chemicals called
pheromones. These chemicals can give off different kinds
of information. The taste or smell of a certain pheromone
can warn of danger, or mark a trail. Another way some ants
can communicate to one another is by sounds. The sounds
they make are like the sounds of a cricket or a katydid, only
not as loud. Also, sounds that communicate information
are made if one ant rubs its armor-like body against
another ant. Although the ant cant talk, it has great
There are about 100,000 species of ants. They are
usually black, brown, or rust color. There are some that are
yellow, some purple, some green, and some are even blue.
There are to many to write about them all, but here is some
information on a few ant species.
Amazon ants cant survive with out slaves. They
attack the nests of other ants and kidnap the pupae, then
wait for them to develop into adults. The slave ants accept
the amazon ants, the as their own, because they dont know
they were kidnapped as pupae. These slave ants will spend
their entire lives working for the amazon ants. The amazon
ant has a sickle shaped jaw, its excellent for fighting but it
is completely useless for taking care of themselves or their
own larvae. They must depend on their slaves to survive.
Harvester ants can be found almost everywhere in the
world. In the southwestern united states they build huge
nests. The mound above ground might be twenty to thirty
feet across and six feet or more in to the ground, with sixty
thousand to ninety thousand ants living inside. Harvester
ants collect and store seeds in their nest. They chew the
kernels into a soft pulp and feed it to the growing larvae.
The adult ant will not eat the pulp unless there is a drought,
and no other food sources are available. During rainy
times, the ants will not allow the seed to get damp. If they
did they would sprout or get moldy. When days are dry the
workers carry the seeds outside to dry them out in the sun,
then carry the seeds back into the storage area before
nightfall. They work hard to make sure their seeds dont
get moldy or grow sprouts.
The Leaf-Cutter ant always looks like its carrying a
little umbrella over its head. Its actually carrying circular
pieces of leaves. Using their scissor like jaws, they
completely strip trees and other plants of their foliage. They
then carry all the leaves back to their nest. The chambers of
the nest can be as big as a bushel basket. The leaf cutter
ants nest is very large. The leaves they bring back are not
eaten they are chewed into a thick pulp like material, which
soon sprouts fungus. The fungus is what the ants eat for
food. The ants tend to their gardens very carefully. If the
leaves are dry, the ants place them outside at night to
collect moisture. If they are wet, the ants place them out
side on a sunny day to dry. This all takes place before they
start chewing the leaves. The little ants also know how to
regulate the ventilation and temperature of the sponge like
mass of chewed leaves by arranging the mass properly in
When a queen starts working on a new nest, she
carries along a pellet of fungus in a pocket on her head.
She puts the pellet in the new nest and deposits special
secretions from her body on the pellet. When her first eggs
hatch, the new workers go out and find fragments of leaves.
They then bring the fragments back to the new nest. These
are the leaves that will eventually become the food source
for the nest, using the queens pellet as a starter.
The Bulldog ants are little bullies. They are a jumping,
stinging, giant ant. They are one of the most fierce ants
known to man. Just a shadow passing over their nest will
provoke them to rush out and find the enemy, jumping up
to a foot off the ground as they approach. They make it
very difficult to get away from them. Thirty stings from a
bulldog ant could kill a man. The only likable thing about
them is how loyal they are to the colony. At home in the
colony they are just a typical ant, their always working,
repairing, cleaning, exchanging, and gathering food. The
bulldog ant is a very aggressive ant, and a very loyal one.
Five more facts to think about the next time you see an
Ants are the longest living insects. Workers live
for one year and some species up to four or five years.
Queens will live as long as twenty years.
Ants are like sharks, they havent changed very
much physically in millions of years.
Ants will work together in small or large groups
to move extremely large objects. (team work)
When moved to a different climate or location,
the ant will adapt quickly.
Some ant species can survive under water for up
to fourteen days or longer in a state of suspended
The next time you see an ant, remember… They might
be little but they are extremely mighty.