Apr 23, 2013

Ant Facts

Spring is here and the ants have come out. Worker ants are foraging for food, looking after the colony's young, and defending their home for unwanted intruders. One nest in South America has had up to 700,000 members.

Ants are clean insects. Some worker ants are given the job of taking the rubbish from the nest and putting it outside in a special rubbish dump. Each colony of ants has its own smell. In this way, intruders can be recognized.

Black Ants and Wood Ants have no sting, but they can squirt a spray of formic acid. Some birds put ants in their feathers because the ants squirt formic acid which gets rid of parasites.

The Slave-Maker Ant raids the nests of other ants and steals their pupae. When these new ants hatch,they work as slaves within the colony. Worker ants keep eggs and larvae in different groups according to ages.

Ants undergo complete metamorphosis from egg, to larva, to pupa, to adult. Each ant colony begins with, and centers around the queen, whose sole purpose is to reproduce. Although the queen may copulate with several males during her brief mating period, she never mates again. She stores sperm in an internal pouch, where sperm remain immobile until she opens a valve that allows them to enter her reproductive tract to fertilize the eggs.

The queen ant lives a significantly longer life than her workers. A queen of the species Lasius niger in Europe lived for 29 years in captivity. Queen ants lay the eggs that grow into worker ants. A leafcutter ant queen in South America lived for 14 years and bred over 150 million worker ants in her lifetime.

The queen controls the sex of her offspring. Fertilized eggs produce females, either wingless workers seldom capable of reproduction, or reproductive virgin queens, which are produced only when there are sufficient workers to allow for the expansion of the colony.

Unfertilized eggs develop into winged males who do no work, and exist solely to fertilize a virgin queen. The queen produces myriads of workers by secreting a chemical that retards wing growth and ovary development in the female larvae.

After mating, queen ants and male ants lose their wings. The queen scurries off in search of a site to start her new nest. If she survives, she digs a nest, lays eggs, and single-handedly raises her first brood that consists entirely of workers.