Ants are social insects. They have a well-defined role and live in colonies called anthills. Inspiring scientists, they are often compared to human society, in relation to their hierarchical distribution.
The particularities of ants
Anthills can contain a few dozen individuals to several hundred million. We then call them super-colonies. They are distinguished by their castes and their function. They are also capable of communicating with each other and able to solve sometimes very complex problems.
These small insects, varying in size between 0.75 and 52 mm, are cosmopolitan, meaning that they are found everywhere, with the exception of Antarctica and Greenland. They live mainly in tropical environments and overwhelmingly in South America. However, they represent less than 1% of the insect population on Earth.
Their social organization allows them to survive in all circumstances. In addition, they are able to adapt their diet according to the seasons.
Apart from the queen who has a pair of wings, most ants do not have them. Their mandibles point forward and their abdomen is more mobile than most other insects. The workers have a crop to collect the sweet nectars to regurgitate to the nurse workers who feed the queen.
The different types of ants
Today there are nearly 40,000 different species, but nature probably hides others in unexplored corners, since new species are discovered every year.
The largest ant is the fossil Titanomyrma gigantea, whose queen can measure up to 6 cm in length and 15 cm in wingspan. As for the workers, the largest is the Dinoponera quadriceps which measures 3 cm.
The life expectancy of ants is very low (a few weeks to 1 year at most) because of the dangers and their grueling tasks. However, queens live longer. The record is 28 years and 8 months in the laboratory.
We can name some well-known ants according to their specificities, such as:
weaver ants that build their nests in trees with leaves; leaf-cutter ants that consume a particular fungus; carpenter ants that make their nests in wood; harvester ants that collect seeds; etc. Ants cooperate with other species
Being fond of honeydew secreted by aphids, ants do not hesitate to protect them from predators. They proceed in much the same way with caterpillars, butterflies and lycaenidae. Ants also cooperate with passerines who enjoy “ant baths”, very useful for eliminating parasites from their plumage.
Thus, they have an important role in ecology since they keep parasites away from some trees, such as cherry trees. They are also seed sowers, pollinators, and protect some organisms that grow on plants, like the epiphyte. Belgium and Switzerland are two countries in which ants are protected species.