Ants in the Summer Tuesday July 3, 2012
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“The ants are coming, the ants are coming!”

Ants can be very frustrating when they make their way into your home, or come in as uninvited guests to a family picnic but did you know that ants are beneficial to humans and also for the environment? Plus, from a philosophical view, we as humans would do well to learn from the habits of ants.

Argentine Ants Linepithema humile – Argentine Ants

Comradeship & Loyalty Among Ants

Ants take care of their own; if another ant has a fungus, the healthy ants will groom it until its better and by doing so, the healthy ants build up their own immune system against whatever ailed their sick friend. Ants are diligent workers, each performing a job without complaint, doing what must be done for benefit the colony; and ants share their provisions, none having more than the other.

Ants communicating with their antennae. What could they be saying?

Two Ants Kissing

Communication – Kisses Galore

Good communication is a necessary practice among ants to ensure the survival of the colony. Ants communicate through chemicals called pheromones. Have you ever noticed how ants will stop and “kiss” one another? What appears as a kiss is a form of communication, one or both of the ants gives the other a taste of the chemicals it has in its crop (a special `community´ organ separate from the ants´ stomach). This “kiss” tells the other ant the needs of the colony and what it should be doing. Another form of communication of ants is in leaving a trail of pheromones. For instance, if an ant is out foraging and finds the cookies that were left on the kitchen counter, she will leave a trail of pheromones on her way home for the other ants to follow and partake in the cookies too.

Leafcutter-ant - of all things - carrying a huge leaf

Leafcutter-ant

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.” —–Proverbs 6:6

Beneficial to Humans

Ants are beneficial to humans by keeping harmful insects at bay such as termites and agricultural pests. Medicinally, Army ants are still used in some parts of the world as sutures for wounds; by pressing the wound together and applying Army ants, the ants in defense mode, grab the edges of the wound in their mandibles (mouth parts) and lock the wound in place. The bodies of the ants are then cut off, leaving the heads and mandibles to act like stitches and keep the wound closed for healing!

Ant Drawing by Donna Walker

Drawing of an Ant

The Role of Ants in the Ecosystem

Ants have a unique relationship with nature. Besides recycling dead plants and animals back into the soil, they enrich the soil by loosening it and taking organic material underground. Ants will help protect other insects from predators. Take aphids for example, they have a mutually beneficial relationship with ants; when stroked by an ants´ antennae, an aphid produces a sweet honeydew liquid on which the ant will gorge. Ants often become “ranchers” of aphids, raising and protecting the aphids from predators, thereby keeping a consistent supply of honeydew on hand for the colony to enjoy.

Ant Receives Honeydew from Aphid

Ant collecting honeydew from aphids.

While ants are a nuisance around the house, some coming all the way from Argentina, and like anyone from “afar,” these ants love the weather here in California and so they too have made it their home. If you really wanted to live in a world without ants, you´d have to move to Greenland or Iceland, but then I imagine, they don´t have many picnics.

Two Ants Kissing on Tree

Two ants kissing on a sea of bark.

Article & Art by Donna Walker Permission obtained for the use of all photos.

Ants carrying thier larvae

Coming Soon:

“Journey to the Land of the Ants” “Ants in California and their Supercolonies.”

Ant References

Bhanoo, Sindya N. “Tending a Sick Comrade Has Benefits for Ants.” New York Times, 9 April 2012.

Online New World Encyclopedia

Holldobler, B., & Wilson, E., (1995). Journey to the Ants. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Farb, Peter, & Editors of Time Life Books, (1977). The Insects. Time-Life Books Inc., Alexandria, Virginia.

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