Did you know
you could gather all of the ants on earth and weigh them, their
combined weight would equal the combined weight of all the worlds’
Ants have lived on Earth for over one million years.
They have been called one of the most successful groups of insects in
the animal kingdom. Ant colonies can have up to one million ants.
These colonies are very organized communities where every ant has a job and works
together. Ants are very social animals and are capable of
communicating with each other in many ways.
Without a voice or ears, ants
are capable of sending at least fifty messages through body
language and pheromones. Ants have been called “little
chemical factories” because they continuously produce chemicals
which serve as the ant’s language. Through pheromones, ants
organize the behavior of the members of their huge colonies.
They organize actions such as tending to the young, grooming the
queen, and marking their territory. They can communicate the
presence of danger and the location of food by the production of
A worker ant who finds
food will run back to the nest while touching the ground with its
abdomen. This produces a chemical scent trail. When it
reaches the nest, the excited ant will touch its fellow ants
with its antennae which causes them to follow the trail leading
to the food. After a while, a line of ants can be seen
marching between the nest and the food.
pheromones (chemicals produced by a living organism that
send messages to other members of the same species) to
identify nest mates from those in other colonies. Two ants
from the same colony, who meet, will touch or feed each other
and then go about their business. If the ants are not from
the same colony, one may run away or a fight may begin.
When an ant is in danger, a
pheromone is released that warns the others. Nearby ants
will come to help the ant in need.
Ants will tap and feel each
other out with their antennae. They will grasp, stroke,
and straddle each other to give certain messages.
Ants have three main parts of the
body: the head, thorax,
and the abdomen. Ants touch things with their two long, thin
antennae attached to their head. Ants use these to detect flavors,
sounds and odors. Ants also use their antennae to communicate with
On the other side of an ant’s mouth are special jaws
called mandibles which work like tongs or pinchers. Ants use their
mandibles to pick up pieces of food, to dig nests, and as weapons for
The thorax contains the three pairs of legs. Each
leg has two tiny legs on the end which helps the ant crawl upside down.
Ants have a very skinny waist which allows them to crawl through tiny
spaces in their nests.
Ants have two stomachs which are located in
their abdomen. The largest stomach is called the crop or
“community” stomach. This helps the ant share its food with
other ants in the colony. When a fellow ant is hungry, the
food-gathering ant will share its stored food with the hungry ant
through a process called trophallaxis (tro-fa-lax-es). The back of
the ants’ abdomen contains a poison sack. Many ants have
stingers which are used to defend themselves against predators.
Ants are found in every corner of the earth except for
the Artic and Antarctic. They
build many types of homes.
Most ants built simple mounds out of dirt or sand. These little
hills surround the entrances to the ants’ underground nests.
Harvester ants build hills that can be two feet tall and are hard
packed. In Africa, the hills formed by the nests of some ants can
grow to be over twenty feet tall! Beneath the ant hills are many
rooms and tunnel systems. Each room has its own special use with
one being reserved just for the queen. Other rooms serve as rooms
for the eggs, storerooms for food, or resting places for the working
Ant colonies need food in order to grow and be
successful. The goal of the foraging ant is to spend the least
amount of energy to deliver the greatest amount of food to the colony.
Ants eat a variety of foods. Depending on the time of the year, the
colony may need protein or carbohydrates. Most ants are
omnivorous. They eat anything from other insects to grass and
seeds. One species of ant grows a type of fungus in their nests
which is used as food for the colony. Other species eat a sweet
liquid, called honeydew, that is made by aphids. These ants have
been known to keep and protect the aphids inside their nests.
mate in one of two ways. The first type usually happens after
rainfall. Males and unfertilized queens suddenly take flight. This
swarm of flying ants rising off the ground is called nuptial flight.
The queen is fertilized in mid-air and then flies off where she breaks
off her wings and digs a hole in the ground which becomes her nest.
She lays her eggs and stays with them until they hatch. The second
type of mating occurs when the queen releases chemicals called
pheromones, which attract the male ants. This is called the
is a series of four complete changes in form every ant goes through.
These four stages are the egg, larvae, pupa, and finally adult. It
usually takes about three months for an ant to go through this process.
As a queen’s eggs grow, she takes care of them by licking them
constantly. In about twenty days, the young hatch from their eggs
and become worm-like grubs called larvae. The larvae do not take
care of themselves. They are fed through a process called
trophallaxis, where the queen regurgitates her food, and feeds it to the
larvae. It is during this stage that it is determined what role
the ants will serve in the colony when they are adults.
After a month, the larvae shed their skins and become pupa. In this
stage, the young do not eat. They lie on their backs with their
legs curled up. A cocoon forms around them and in twenty more
days, the young ants emerge as small, pale colored ants. They are
the first workers of a new colony and will darken with age.
Other Interesting Facts|
one million ants can live in one colony.
are about twenty-two thousand species of ants living on Earth today.
- One ant hill in Africa was measured to be
twenty-five feet tall.
How to Make an Ant Farm
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photograph of black ants is in the public domain because it is a
work of the United States federal Government. Photograph
from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page>.
Permission to use photographs
of ant mound and ants on board is granted under the terms of the GNU
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of leaf cutting ants has been (or is hereby) released into the public
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This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible,
the creator grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose,
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of the working ant from "Microsoft
Office Online" <http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/default.aspx?lc=en-us&cag=1>
February, 2006. Clip art available only to licensed users for non-commercial