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Did you know...
...that despite having 5 eyes, most ants have pretty poor vision? They have two compound eyes, and three tiny ones on top of their head. The compound eyes help in motion detection, while the three tiny ones, called ocelli, help in determining the intensity and polarization of light. Very few ants have excellent vision, while some ants are blind. What a waste of eyes!

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Arthropoda
Class Insecta
Order Hymenoptera
Suborder Apocrita
Superfamily Vespoidea
Family Formicidae

It is believed that ants first appeared during the Cretaceous period and that they evolved from the wasps that were existing during the Jurassic period. A quick look at some of the more popular species of ants, and then onto some rather interesting facts about these fascinating creatures...

Some Popular Types of Ants

* Mouseover the images for names.

Forest AntCarpenter Ant
Green AntRed Ant
Horse AntBull Ant
Queen AntArmy Ant


Interesting Facts about Ants

Ants are extremely good at adapting to various climatic conditions as is evident by the fact that they are one of the longest surviving species. They have been around for the past 150 million years, and by the looks of it, seems like they are set for another 150 million!

Over 12000 known species of ants exist in the world. Experts conjecture that there are approximately 12000 species yet to be identified and named.

Smart Ant

Ants are very intelligent beings. It is usual for humans to train animals, but in case of ants, it has been noticed that older ants train the younger ants in whatever task they are supposed to do. The only instance when an animal has been known to train another of its own kind!

A few species of ants have "trap-jaws" which can only be described as "super jaws". These jaws can snap shut at tremendous speeds (records show 140mph!), in fact, the fasted amongst all animals. They use it as catapults, as well as to fling themselves in the backward direction.

Ants can run at amazing speeds. To give you an idea, if an ant was the size of a horse, it would be able to run as fast as a racehorse!

Larvae
Some ants are given the job of looking after the queen's eggs, and they do it diligently! Every morning these ants pick up the larvae and put them in the topmost chamber of the anthill to keep them warm, while every night they move them to the lowermost chamber so that they do not freeze!

When the queen bee flies off to start her own colony, she collects sperm from different males. She needs as many as 2 - 3 million sperms to start a new colony!

They are pretty colorful creatures. They appear in shades of green, red, and brown. Some species also exhibit blue and purple colors, while a few tropical ant species have a metallic shine.

Ants normally range from 2 to 7 mm in length. The carpenter ant is an exception to the rule, as it can stretch to 2 cm, or even an inch.

Adult ants are unable to swallow solid food. They depend on the juice they are able to squeeze out from pieces of food. This liquid food is also passed on to the larvae.

Bodyguard Ant

Some worker ants are given the responsibility of guarding the queen. They act as the queen's personal bodyguards.

One of the largest species of ant is the Giant Forest Ant (Camponotus gigas). The soldiers of this species grow as long as 28 - 30mm. Also, the ants of this species engage in ritual battles which can continue for months!

An ant's antenna is a multipurpose device. It can be used to touch things to know what they are, as well as to smell things!

So helpful are these creatures, that they eat for each other! Well, almost. They have two stomachs, one for themselves and the other to store food that they can share with other ants! They also have a tiny pocket in their mouths in which they can store food for other ants!

An ant has the largest brain amongst insects. It is said that the processing power of an ant's brain and a Macintosh II computer might be similar.

It is the sting of the ant that is painful rather than the bite. Most ants have slightly venomous stings. Fire ants are most feared, because they have extremely venomous stings which can cause severe itching.

Ants are mostly omnivorous, that is, they eat other insects, seeds, oils and bread.

Weightlifter Ant

An ant can lift about 20 times its own body weight. But that is an average estimate. Some ants can even carry loads 50 times their body weight!

The life span of ants increases according to the hierarchy. Since the fertile males are at the lowest rung (their only job being that of providing sperm to the queen), they live only for a few weeks. Worker ants are a little higher up, so they live for 2 - 3 years. Queen ants live the longest, with a lifespan of almost 25 - 30 years!

Not all ant colonies have to have a queen. Some colonies function without one, while some others have more than one queen. If the queens do not think they can co-exist peacefully, one queen will leave the colony along with a few worker ants to start her own colony.

A Tropical Leafcutter ant uses its sharp outer jaw to cut leaves and make them into pulp. The pulp is later used to make fungus gardens. These gardens are looked after and harvested for food. So just to burst our bubble, we humans did not invent farming. Ants did it way before us.

Army Ant in ActionConstruction Ants Working

Worker ants are further categorized into subsets based on the work they are allotted. Some are given the job of constructing the nest, some are given the responsibility of taking the rubbish from the nest and putting it into the rubbish dump, while some are supposed to teach the newer breed food gathering tactics.

Some ants (soldier ants) are given the task of guarding the nest, protecting it from predators, and warning the others about impending danger. These ants use the technique of vibrations to warn others. They will bang their heads against the walls of the nest, and the vibrations created because of the banging warn the others who are inside, about the approaching danger.

The soldier ants have modified heads to help them with their job. They can block the entrance to their colonies by putting their heads in them, and only allow their fellow worker ants to enter!

When a worker ant finds a source of food, it leaves a trail of scent to attract other ants in the colony to it. Since ants have poor vision, they rely heavily on this trail of scent to guide them to the food.

Leafcutter ants are threatened by a parasite which lays eggs in the crevices of their head. So what do they do when they go out? They carry smaller ants on their heads, whose only work is to fend off any attacks from this nasty parasite. Talk about looking out for each other!

Each colony of ants have their own unique smell. If an ant leaves it colony, it will lose the smell of that colony after a few days, and will be treated as an enemy if it returns after that. Any ant that does not have the smell of a colony will be treated as an enemy by that colony and attacked!

AnthillAnthill in KenyaAnt Nest

Leafcutter ants rank second only to humans, when it comes to forming intricate and huge societies. They can build 100m wide nests in a matter of a few years! And they live in societies containing 8 - 10 million individuals. The images above show anthills and an ant nest. You can see the size of the hills for yourself!

Random Trivia about Ants
Antarctica is the only continent which has no ants.

While some species of ants are totally blind, others have vision sharp enough to detect objects that are a meter away.

Queen ants are born with wings in most species. These queen ants grow up and leave to form their own colonies. That is the only time they will fly, as their wings fall off after their flight.

One species of ants, Mycocepurus smithii, is an all female species. That's right, they don't need no males!

Ants follow the barter system! They form deals with some specific plants and animals. The deal is that the plant or animal should provide food to the ants in return for protection. Ants protect the plants by fending off herbivores which feed on the plants, and destroy other parasitic plants which try to attach to the host plant. Same is the case with animals.

Ants are so organized, they have a "department" which takes care of their dead friends, and disposes their bodies, to keep their colony clean! This department consists of worker ants and is called the necrophory department.

Army ants from South America are nomadic in nature, with rare instances of settling in one place. Even these usually last a very short time. During these rare times they make a temporary nest, by simply holding each other close and tight!

According to statistics, there are about 1½ million ants per human on Earth! This is the reason that the total mass of all ants on Earth almost equals the total mass of humans on Earth!

Ants, as well as their larvae, are considered delicacies in many parts of the world, and they can be very expensive since they are so hard to catch! Roasted and toasted ants especially, are quite popular.

Slavery is practiced in a few species of ants! The Slave-Maker ant (Polyergus Rufescens) is so named because it raids the nest of other ants and steals their pupae. Once the pupae hatch, they are made to work as slaves within the colony.

Ants are famed for having the largest brain amongst insects. They sure utilize this advantage, since other than humans, such complex behavior is hardly observed in any species! Not just that, their complex behavior has inspired humans to apply their proficiencies in the study of biometrics, robotics, computers and in developing complex problem-solving algorithms. Way to go, ants!