The ubiquitous ant is an animal that can be found on all the continents with the exception of Antarctica in colonies ranging from a few dozen to a few million individuals. Generally, the smaller colonies are predatory species while the largest are farmers, growing fungus in underground compounds. Ants are highly social and communicate with each other concerning dangers, opportunities, and environmental changes. They can range in size from large queens measuring up to 4cm to small workers coming in at a miniscule 1-2mm. They are closely related to wasps and bees, but not to termites, despite often being mistaken for each other.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Anthropoda
Class - Insecta
Order - Hymenoptera
Suborder - Apocrita
Superfamily - Vespoidea
Family – Formicidae
Common names: Ant (thousands of common names exist, depending on the species)
Over 11,000 species of ant have been identified, with many scientists believing that there may be as many as 10,000 still to categorize. The vast majority of the individuals are females, with males existing only to mate and one known species has done away with males entirely and now consists solely of female clones of the queen. Ants are a large section of the invertebrates found on the planet, which themselves encompass about 96% of known animal life. They can be hunters, foragers, or even farmers and they have complex languages that consist of chemicals they excrete. Depending on how they are fed and if they are fertilized, the role an ant will play in their colony is decided while they are still in their larval stage.
Queens can lay either fertilized or unfertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs develop into females while the unfertilized eggs become male drones. Some fertilized eggs are given a special diet and they develop into queens, although recent studies show there may be a genetic difference in those eggs chosen. The few males who are created have short lifespans and exist only to breed.
Especially among the farming communities, cooperation is a necessity for survival. From caring for the young and general housekeeping duties, to foraging and defending the nest, every ant has a purpose. Ants show a strong protective instinct for the colony and will often give their own life in its defense. There are a few species of ant that will steal the larvae of other species to raise as captive workers.
Ants evolved during the Cretaceous period from a wasp-like insect and modern species number in the thousands, while individuals number in the trillions. Today, their closest relatives are sawflies, wasps, and bees.
In general, ant populations are healthy and are even considered a nuisance in some areas. The red wood ant, formica rufa, is red listed as near threatened.
"Caste determination in a polymorphic social insect: nutritional, social, and genetic factors" by C.R. Smith (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), K.E. Anderson (University of Arizona), C.V. Tillberg (Linfield College), J. Gadau (Arizona State University), and A.V. Suarez (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign). American Naturalist (2008) 172:497-507 DOI: 10.1086/590961
Ant Encounters: Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior (Primers in Complex Systems) by Deborah M. Gordon
Ant Ecology by Lori Lach, Catherine Parr, and Kirsti Abbott