Monday, 13 July 2009

Amazing ants

If I had to chose just one animal in the world to study it would be ants. Ants are amazing insects, even those common old black ants you find in your garden or kitchen from time to time.

Ants are social insects and one of their most fascinating attributes, and possibly the secret of their success, is scent. When you see those little black highways of ants crossing the path, they are following scent trails left by other black ants. The scent trails allow them to forage for the equivalent of miles (for their size) and find their way back to the colony. When a particularly large food source is found a special scent message asking for help is left at the junction with the main trail. So if that solitary ant wandering around your kitchen comes across a food spillage, the chances are it will leave a scent marker to call up re-enforcements.

Ants are also farmers, not cattle but aphids. Black ants will even move aphids closer together to make it easier to defend them against invertebrate predators who like to eat aphids. I came across this particularly large congregation on the evening primrose in our front garden.

Black ants are also known to bring aphids into their nest in the winter placing them on the roots of plants and taking them, back outside in the spring. The reason ants like aphids so much is the that aphids feed on the sap of plants. The ants literally milk the aphids for the sugary honey dew they produce by stroking the aphids abdomen with their antennae.

Black ants make their nest underground, a series of chambers and tunnels.
I accidentally uncovered this chamber in the ant nest while gardening.

Inside where a large number of winged queens and winged males alongside the smaller wingless worker ants which are sterile females. The winged queens and males will take part in a mating flight, but not today, its too windy. They will wait for the right conditions when the air is warm, still and humid.
While a large number of the worker ants rushed about ready to repel any potential attack, the others quickly ushered the queens and males down the tunnels to safety.

No comments: