|The social insects have some of the most fascinating behaviors. Ants, termites, and some bees and wasps live in complex, highly organized colonies, with work divided among individuals with different specialties. Millions of individuals can belong to a single colony. The queens of these colonies are the only ones that lay eggs, and the workers are all offspring of the queens.|
|However, not all social insects have evolved such complex social organization. The simplest social relationship is that of a mother remaining with her offspring until they are mature, rather than laying her eggs in a suitable location and then leaving them on their own. This limited social behavior is found in several species of beetles and cockroaches.|
|Ants and termites have the strongest social behavior. Depending on the species, anywhere from under twenty to several million workers live together in these colonies, foraging for food, taking care of the queens and larva, constructing the nest, and defending the colony. There are usually several different groups ("castes") of workers, each specializing in a different activity. For example, some workers become larger and develop strong jaws, and these "soldiers" specialize in defending and protecting the rest of the colony.||
Top: A winged queen ant (Lasius pallitarsus) about to fly and eventually begin a new nest. Most of the thousands of young queens that fly every year are eaten by birds within a few days. Above: Two worker red wood ants (Formica obscuriventris). These ants are very important for controlling pests in temperate forests, as they eat huge numbers of other insects every day. Photos by Maya Walters.
|Each day, these enormous colonies of ants capture and consume thousands of other insects as prey. This makes them extremely important in controlling the populations of "pest" insects in a forest. Often when there is a severe outbreak of an insect that damages trees in a temperate forest, the areas around large red wood ant nests remain undamaged because the ants catch the harmful insects. In Europe, ants have actually been used for pest control, and their nests have been moved to areas where they will be needed most.|
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