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Today I left a spoon on my sink that accidentally still had some honey in it, and a while later I had a huge line of ants trailing in to get it. Before doing anything about it, I observed the ants' behavior and noticed there were two larger sized ants walking along, and they seemed to have some sort of a hunchback.
I killed one of them (sorry any lovers, but they were invading my kitchen) and noticed a whole bunch of ants swarmed around it's body immediately. I later, sprayed some venom to kill the ants off, and now that I come over later, I see more ants have swarmed aground the larger dead Ant, even over the poison.
My questions are, are these queen ants? If so, how come there were two, and just trailing along to get food like the others? I live in Portugal, of it helps any.
Thank you very much. Rest in peace, ants…
I'm sorry to say so, but I suppose you are not very familiar with ants?
I can't be completely sure since you have no picture, but the way you describe it, very possibly these 2 larger ants were 'soldiers'. Most ant colonies exist of 3 different types of ants. They are all sisters from each other, and daughters of 1 queen. A queen stays in the colony and her sole purpose is to lay eggs. She does this continuously (while she is fed by worker ants) and thus never leaves the nest. She stays there until she dies. The worker ants are 'workers', gathering food, expanding and repairing the nest when needed, taking care of the eggs and larvae. They are small and probably the type of ants you think of when someone is generally talking about ants.
The last class of ants are the 'soldiers'. Their task is to protect the colony agains intruders (an other ant colony, termites, other insects or animals,… ). They differ in size from the worker ants (differences can be small or very big, depending on the ant species). Soldiers are bigger than the worker ants, and have bigger mandibles (used to "bite" intruders) and thus bigger 'cheek muscles' to operate these mandibles. Possibly this is what you described as the 'hunchback'. Furthermore, ants use chemical signals to communicate with each other. They can lay a 'track' of these chemicals, for example, to show the way to a food source to other worker ants, which can then follow the track and help to bring the food back to the nest. Often the worker ants (gathering food) are accompanied by several soldier ants, to protect them from other insects (or animals,… ). These soldier ants also use chemicals to communicate. When attacked, they can release an alarm chemical that attracts other (soldier) ants, to come help them fight an intruder.
Most possibly, by using the poison you killed some ants, which results in the automatic release of the 'alarm signals', attracting even more ants… I hope this answers your question.
Not the queen. Once she has made her wedding flight and hatches a few eggs, she is never out and about again, unless the nest moves.
Some ants enslave other species of ants. This is what the "hunchbacks" sound like.
There are also worker ants assigned as morticians, so to speak. When you kill off a group of ants, they come out to gather the dead for a burial of sorts. This may explain the appearance of the new ants gathering around the dead.
What Does a Carpenter Ant Look Like
Carpenter ants belong to the genus Camponotus and are "polymorphic." This means that there are workers of varying sizes in the colony. There is usually only one wingless queen. Winged male and female carpenter ants appear after the colony is mature—usually after two years. Carpenter ant workers have black, dark brown, red and black, yellow or red coloration with sizes ranging from 3.4 to 13 mm. Black carpenter ants have uniform dark brown and black colors, while red and black carpenter ants have dark brown and black bodies with a red-brown thorax.
Several species of carpenter ants exist within the United States, so size and color are not always reliable identifying characteristics. Carpenter ants are distinguished from other species by the rounded profile of their thorax, the heart-shaped head and circle of hairs around the anus. (These identifying characteristics are best seen under magnification.)
Queen carpenter ants and reproductive males have forewings that are larger than their hind wings. These wings are transparent or light brown. The winged carpenter ants appear in the spring or fall. After the females are fertilized, they make a nest to start a colony.
Close-up of a Carpenter Ant Working
The eggs of carpenter ants are oval-shaped and cream colored. Carpenter ant larvae are legless. During the pupal stage, they transform into adult ants.
Free Pest Control Estimate. More Resources:
Larger Ant in trail - Biology
Scientific Name: Quiscalus quiscula
Common Name: Common Grackle
(Information for this species page was gathered in part by Mr. Scott Williams for Biology 220W in Spring 2009 at Penn State New Kensington)
The common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) is a large (twelve and a half inches long) blackbird with bright, yellow eyes, and a stout, black bill. Its head, neck, and breast feathers are glossy and iridescent with a green to blue-purple sheen. Female grackles are slightly smaller than males and are also slightly less iridescent. Immature grackles have dull, brown feathers and dark, brown eyes.
(Image: D. Sillman)
Common grackles are found all across the United States and southern Canada. They are one of the most abundant birds in North America, although census data has indicated that their population has declined in recent years. Their northern-most ranges are abandoned during the winter, but grackles do not extensively migrate. In their southern ranges individuals may remain in or near their breeding territories all year round.
Common grackles will eat almost any food that they can find. Insects and other invertebrates are preferred the year-round, but they will also consume small mammals (especially mice), fish, frogs, fruit, corn (right from the field both during planting and also from spillage after harvest), acorns, and seeds. They frequent backyard birdfeeders and through their aggressive behaviors drive other bird species away from the seed resource. I have also observed grackles eating Japanese beetles and gypsy moth caterpillars. During our last major gypsy moth outbreak in the 1990’s the grackles would pick the caterpillars off the trees in my side yard and take them to the nearby road to wipe them across the rough asphalt to remove the irritating spines before they ate them. They also feed on human refuse and are relentless foragers. Their interactions with humans in rural, suburban, and urban environments have increased their numbers and continental distribution over those that were seen in pre-European-settlement North America.
Mating and Reproduction
In early spring, common grackles begin the process of mating pair formation. Small groups made up of a single female and several males begin to make short flights around their territory. The males in these flights hold their tails in a “V-shaped” configuration (reportedly the only time that this tail conformation is observed). Over a period of one to six weeks the number of males in these flight groups declines until there is only one male left paired with the female. This couple will then copulate and fly off in search of a nest site.
Typically the female will select the nest site and then begin to build the nest without any assistance from the male. Grackles may nest in groups as large as two hundred pairs. Interestingly, a number of blackbird species may nest in the grackle’s colony. Nests are frequently, but not exclusively, located in conifers. The nest is a bulky, cup-shaped mass made up of sticks, plant stems, leaves, and grasses. It may be lined with mud, fine grass, or animal hair. Many nests are built, but almost half are abandoned during construction before any eggs are laid.
Females lay one to seven, light blue to gray, spotted eggs (four or five are the average). Eggs vary in size and color depending on the order that they are produced. Later eggs tend to be lighter in color and larger than earlier eggs. The two week incubation is carried out exclusively by the female. The male may remain with the female during this period, but approximately half of the males do not. Departed males may mate with other females but may also return to assist the female in feeding the nestlings and fledglings.
Nestlings fledge in twelve to fifteen days. Fledglings may be fed by parents for several more weeks. Male nestlings eat more than female nestlings since they have to grow to a larger size before fledging. During period of food shortages the parental birds will preferentially feed the female nestlings (often leading to male nestling starvation) in order to take advantage of their more efficient growth energetics.
Common grackles (like many other bird species) display a behavior called “anting.” Anting involves a bird lying down directly on or very close to an active ant nest. The ants, then, swarm over the bird and crawl and burrow in and among its feathers. This behavior is thought to stimulate the ants to secrete formic acid throughout the bird’s plumage. Formic acid is in turn thought to decrease the often heavy parasite load being carried by the bird. Grackles have also been observed to introduce choke cherries, marigold blossoms, lemons, limes, and walnut juice into their feathers possibly in attempts to rid themselves of parasites.
Groups of grackles foraging in a common feeding area frequently display dominance and aggression behaviors toward each other. One of these behaviors is the “bill-tilt.” Interacting birds tilt their heads upward and point their bills toward the sky. The more dominant the bird, the more upwardly tilted their heads!
In the winter, grackles form large flocks with other blackbird species (including red-wing blackbirds, cowbirds, and European starlings). These flocks can number over a million individual birds and are frequently observed rising, cloud-like from harvested agricultural fields or swarming the canopy of a forested site in which an abundance of late season fruit or seeds has been detected.
Grounded – Western Grasslands Ant Hill Location – Complete Marker at Western Grasslands Ant Hill
After completing Grounded‘s initial tutorial and reaching the end of the current story content, you’ll meet a robot named BURG.L who serves as your primary mission giver. He won’t give you any additional story missions until a new update is released, but he does give you daily missions that reward you with Raw Science upon completion. Raw Science is an important currency in Grounded that can help you unlock new items and crafting recipes, so it’s important to pick up missions from BURG.L whenever you can. Some of these missions tell you to complete a marker at a certain location, but there’s no way to see where the location is on your map unless you’ve already been there. One of these missions asks you to complete a marker at the Western Grasslands Ant Hill, which is actually easier to find than you might think.
Western Grasslands Ant Hill
The Western Grasslands Ant Hill is in the western section of the backyard. As the name suggests, it’s an ant hill, so you can just follow the ants that reside in the area to find it. It’s actually quite close to the Mysterious Machine and the game’s initial spawn location. Just head directly west from the Mysterious Machine and you’ll eventually come across the Western Grasslands Ant Hill. If you’re having trouble finding it, just head to the location shown on the map below.
The marker location is right in the center of the ant hill on a stick. Don’t about the regular ants. They won’t attack you unless you hurt them first. If you see a larger ant with giant mandibles though, keep your distance. Those are soldier ants, and they will attack on sight. Taking them down will reward you with some rare ant materials, but it may not be worth it to pick a fight with the ants right next to the ant hill. To complete the mission, walk to the highlighted location and construct a Trail Marker. You’ll need 1 Clover Leaf, 2 Plant Fiber, and 2 Sprigs to build it. After building the marker, you’ll be done with the mission.
Starting Your Ant Colony
So you’re ready to start an ant colony. Congratulations! You’re in for a fantastic ride! The following are the most commonly asked questions of inquiring ant keeping enthusiasts. For more detailed information on these and all other ant keeping topics, be sure to check out the AntsCanada Ultimate Ant Keeping Handbook E-Book™. Also, be sure to check out our new Global Ant Nursery Project™ to find out if any of our official GAN Farmers are offering live ant colonies with a queen for sale in your area.
What do I need? Do you have Starter Kits?
Yes, we have starter kits that not only make things simpler and easier for you, but also help you save. Check out our great “All You Need” Starter Kit Gear Packs at our shop. We have two primary types of “All You Need” starter kits to choose from depending on what formicarium type you prefer. They contain all the necessary gear needed for every exciting stage of ant keeping, starting from when you first catch a queen ant to the time you have a mature, working ant colony.
The ‘All You Need’ Hybrid Gear Pack includes, everything you need from test tubes to formicarium to outworld to all necessary accessories.
The ‘All You Need’ Omni Gear Pack also contains everything you need for ant keeping.
How do I start my Ant Colony?
The best way to stock your ant colony is to farm your own colony from a single queen ant captured in your area during mating season. Capturing a newly mated queen ant is the first step, as she will be the seed that will perpetuate your colony for years. You can also attempt to collect an already mature wild colony but finding the queen can be difficult, and there is the possibility the whole colony might not be able to adapt to captivity well. In the world of ant keeping, farming your own colony from a single queen is the best method, and often times the most rewarding. Continue reading below for tips on catching a queen ant.
I have a child that needs ants for his/her new ant farm? I am a teacher and my students need ants for their new ant farm.
It is great to see parents and teachers supporting the child’s/children’s ant fascination. However, stocking an ant colony into a formicarium is a lengthy process, as the colony starts with just a queen, then in a couple months advances to just a small colony of a few workers, and then it takes about a year of focused care to get them to a mature colony of 100 or more ants. This usually may be more technical than a very young child or toddler to handle, not to mention an investment of a lot of time.
Here are some questions worth answering: Are you or your child/students prepared for this kind of long-term, technical ant care or are you willing to help culture the ants from just a few workers to many workers? As mentioned, the process does take about a year or more. Do you have that amount of time? If not, perhaps digging up a wild colony might be the better route, as you can have many workers right away and should your child’s interest for the ant farm decrease, you can simply release the ants. These are just some things to think about.
This young ant colony was raised from a single queen caught during nuptial flight and housed in a test tube setup. The species is Crematogaster cerasi.
How/Where/When can I capture my own queen ant? How can I identify if an ant is a queen ant?
Ants typically have specific periods of a few weeks within the year when mating occurs. These periods of breeding are called ‘Nuptial Flights’. All the ants you commonly see walking around above ground (the so called ‘ordinary worker ants’) are all barren females and do not mate during these Nuptial Flights or ever in their lives. The only ants involved in this mating event are young queen ants and male ants they are known as alates, and are born in the nest and wait around all year until it’s time for nuptial flight mating. The alates are special in that they are born with wings. Yes, wings! Have you ever seen those larger ants that look like ants with wings? They were ants after all, and not some kind of stiff hornet!
Here is how to distinguish a queen ant from other worker ants and male ants:
Every species of ant has its nuptial flight around specific times in the year. During the nuptial flight the young winged queens and males fly into the air, they mate while flying or upon landing (the queen will often mate with several males), and then finally drop to the ground a few hours later. The males die after mating breeding with the young queens during nuptial flight is their only purpose in the ant world. Mated females break off their wings and begin searching for a new location to begin their own colonies. Only a few species of ants will accept these now pregnant queens back to the nest, but generally most don’t, and the queens are off on their own in search of a suitable place to begin a nest, where each queen will eventually give birth to their first set of babies.
Queen ants ready to mate for their nuptial flight. Species: Carebara sp from Africa.
Your job is to try to find these queens that are either flying and mating during a nuptial flight or are in the midst of searching for a new nest location after their nuptial flight. These are the only opportunities for you to capture these newly gravid queens, because for the rest of their life afterwards they are underground.
We have a helpful video tutorial reviewing the ant Nuptial Flight schedules around the world. It will give you a general idea as to when you should look for queen ants in your area. The species listed in this video are the most common and easy-to-care for ant species in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia:
As for gravid queens that are wandering in search of a nest site after they’ve mated, you will be able to spot them by way of their larger size (so if you happen to see an ant scuttling about a few feet away that seems a little larger than usual, check her out!) and more importantly their two scars on their thorax where their wings used to be attached.
Carry a number of small bottles or containers with you, everyday no matter what! Where ever you go have them in a pocket or bag. Keep your eyes to the ground as much as possible to spot the queens. Stick to sidewalks as they are open and perfect for highlighting moving insects. When you’re indoors anywhere, check window sills. You may find them at the huge windows trying to get out of stores or shops after having accidentally flown in.
Try to be aware of all the insects around you. If something flies by, follow it with your eyes to see if it’s a queen (or even better a queen with a male or males mating with her) and try to see her better when she lands. If you’re good at picking up details, queen ants fly through the air more like lady beetles than they do flies, bees, or butterflies which are more agile and zig-zaggy fliers. After being more aware and informed on what to look for, you will find yourself running into queen ants more often than you ever thought possible. When you find them bottle them all up. Good luck!
Be sure to check out the AntsCanada Ultimate Ant Keeping Handbook available at our store for tips and information on collecting your own ant queens and colonies.
What if I don’t have the time to go queen ant hunting or am unable to find a queen ant anywhere?
Another option, if capturing your own queen ant proves challenging, is to adopt an ant colony collected and farmed from a queen in your area from our Global Ant Nursery Project™ (if available in your area). The Global Ant Nursery Project™ is a worldwide network of AntsCanada-recruited expert ant farmers (known as GAN Farmers) who raise and sell local ant colonies with a queen to people within their city/region. Check out our Global Ant Nursery Project™ now by clicking here.
A young Formica colony raised in a test tube
What do I do with her when I capture her? What is the next step?
You must place her into what is called a test tube setup where she can remain for a few weeks or months until her first set of workers arrive. Ant keepers usually house queen ants in test tubes because the test tube setup simulates a sort of underground chamber for a recently mated queen. It causes her to (hopefully) begin laying eggs to start her own colony. We highly recommend that you use AC-standard Test Tubes™ to get your queen ants started, as they are compatible with the variety of accessories that we offer at our shop that make this colony founding process easier for you. AC-standard Test Tubes™ come with our Hybrid Nests™ and our AC Gear Packs™ found at our shop.
It is easy to create a test tube setup. The test tube setup involves the lower half of the test tube being plugged with a cotton ball to trap water on one end of the test tube (see Video Tutorials). This trapped water provides the queen with water during the several week period when she begins to lay her eggs and the weeks proceeding as her colony starts to grow. Ant keepers urge people to store these test tubes away in the dark and to not look at her or pick up the test tube, for you may disturb her, and some say disturbing them too much may cause the queens to not lay eggs or to even eat their eggs! If the queen immediately begins to clean herself and stops pacing around when you first place her into the test tube it usually means she feels like she’s found a safe, suitable place to station herself and start her colony. If the cotton in the test tube gets moldy or the water portion dries out, you will need to move the queen and her brood into a new test tube setup (see Video Tutorials).
When is the nuptial flight of ants in _____ [city/state/province/country]?
There are simply so many ants and so many nuptial flight schedules. Our Ultimate Ant Keeping Handbook Ebook contains all nuptial flight schedules of some of the more commonly kept ant species as well as ‘Ant Care Sheet Listing by Species’ section which list of the nuptial flight schedules of some of the more popularly kept species.
I caught a queen and she hasn’t broken off her wings. Does that mean she hasn’t had a chance to mate and isn’t fertilized?
No, that’s a common misconception. If queen ants don’t break their wings off it does not mean they haven’t mated with a male(s). On the same token, if a queen has broken off her wings it also doesn’t guarantee that your queen has mated. We have had queens with wings give birth to workers (but the wings were removed eventually), and had queens that did break off their wings never lay eggs, so wing breakage isn’t a good indicator of previous mating. So, be sure to keep all the queen ants that you catch even if they have their wings on, as they will likely be broken off later or once the queen’s first workers arrive. You will find out if your queen has mated during the nuptial flight once the first pupa hatches into an adult worker ant. If a male alate (with wings) comes out of the pupa you know she hasn’t mated and unfortunately won’t be of any use to you if you’re looking to start an ant colony. Unfertilized queens also tend to have brood that seem to never develop or scattered eggs within the test tube setup that they seem to not care for.
So what are some signs that my queen has mated and is fertilized?
The only sign that is a definite tell-tale sign is if her abdomen (also known as her gaster) looks big and bloated, a condition called physogastrism, and this usually happens several days or weeks after mating. The eggs tend to turn her gaster into a balloon. If she doesn’t balloon, don’t lose hope, as she still may be fertilized. On the day that you capture a queen, another sign that your queen may have mated is if she frequently begins to clean the tip of her gaster. If she’s giving that area some extra attention, you know a male may have been there previously.
A queen with her first set of workers (nanitics). This species is Camponotus albosparsus
How long do I keep the queen in the test tube until I can transfer her into her formicarium?
Ant keepers usually wait until she has several worker ants before transferring her into a formicarium. This ensures that she has a starting team of worker ants to help ease the process of moving the young and queen as well as the settling in process. We recommend waiting until she has at least 10-20 workers. Some prefer to wait until the test tube is completely full of ants before introducing them to a formicarium.
During this period where the new queen raises her first set of young, do I need to feed her?
Many say it’s not necessary to, as she has energy stored in her back muscles which powered her wings during the nuptial flight. However, you can choose to feed her a drop of sugar water every few weeks to fatten her up. Use a toothpick to create a small enough drop of honey she won’t be able to drown in. Some even choose to feed their queens crushed insects, however there is a chance the queen will get stressed when the food is introduced to her which can be counterproductive. A stressed queen may hold off from egg-laying or eat her existing brood. If you do provide your queen solid food, be sure to remove the leftovers asap, as it can cause a mold outbreak and even poison the queen/colony from the fumes emitted during decay. The only exception to all of this just mentioned is when you have a queen of a species that is semi-claustral, meaning the queen needs to feed during the founding stage. If you’re unsure whether your ant species is a semi-claustral species, contact us and send us a photo.
Whether you have a queen of a fully-claustral or a semi-claustral species, what we also recommend is when a few workers start to appear, place the entire test tube into a larger container and the test tube can act as a temporary ant nest while your colony gets to 10-20 workers strong. You can place food in the container and the workers will venture out of their test tube to forage for food to eat. At this stage there is no need to provide them additional water because they can get water from their test tube.
If you’re using one of our AC-standard Test Tubes™ to house your new ant colony, feeding can be made easier by using our Test tube Portal™ found in our AC Gear Packs™ at our shop. You can provide your new ants with a miniature feeding area. Another thing you can do is attach a second AC-standard Test Tube™ full of sugar water to feed the workers. One AC Test tube Portal™ can accommodate up to 4 AC-standard Test Tubes™.
How do I move the colony to a new test tube if their test tube setup gets moldy?
You will need to do this by connecting two test tubes together. If you’re using one of our AC-standard Test Tubes™ to house your new ant colony, transferring can be made easier by using our Test tube Portal™ found in our AC Gear Packs™ at our shop. You simply connect the moldy test tube to the AC Test tube Portal™ then attach one or more clean test tube setups. The workers will eventually find the new clean test tubes and move on their own. We recommend that you allow the ants to transfer the brood and queen themselves, instead of using heat to force them out. As a general rule, most ant colonies will know when the mold will reach dangerous levels and will initiate the move to a clean test tube when it is the right time. One AC Test tube Portal™ can accommodate up to 4 AC-standard Test Tubes™.
If you don’t have an AC Test tube Portal™ you can try to simply tape a clean test tube setup to your current moldy one and allow the colony to move on their own. Only in extreme cases when it is absolutely necessary to move the queen and ant colony in their moldy test tube setup, should you consider using heat to force a move. Also, don’t forget to allow air to enter the test tube every now and then if you are taping test tubes together. Remember that some ant colonies are stubborn and will remain in their test tube setup as long as they can. Patience is important at this stage.
A little mold on the cotton of your test tube setup should not alarm you so much. When the mold grows to the point that you can no longer see white on the surface of the cotton in your test tube setup, that is when you know it is time to introduce the colony to a clean test tube setup.
How do I move the colony from their test tube into their new formicarium?
This process can happen immediately but it usually requires a few days, to weeks, to months. There are a few ways to do this. If you are using our AC-standard Test Tubes™ and are moving the colony into one of our Hybrid Nests™, you can simply attach the test tube with your ant colony directly to the formicarium. AC-standrard Test Tubes™ come with all of our Hybrid Nests™ and AC Gear Packs™ at our shop.
If not, another way to move ants from their test tube to the formicarium is to place the test tube directly into the outworld and lay the test tube opening close to the opening of the tube that leads to the formicarium. Shining a bright light into test tube from outside the formicarium and covering the nest area so that it is dark can help encourage the ants to move. If the species is a moisture-loving species you can attempt to moisten the nest area. Heating the test tube with a reptile heating cable also can encourage a move, but this can be a little dangerous for the ants if the test tube gets too hot too fast. Only a little amount of heat gradually applied is all that is needed to get them to move. The moving process from test tube to formicarium often requires patience, but in time the ants move out. When they make the move into the formicarium, there will be no more ants or young in the test tube at which point you can remove the test tube and begin rewarding your colony with some food!
How long does it take to farm a big ant colony from a single queen ant?
It depends on the species of ant and factors like warmth and temperature. Ant colonies that are fed well and are kept a few degrees above room temperature develop faster. A quality home is also crucial for the growth rate of a colony. The queen ant’s first worker ants, known as ‘nanitics’, usually arrive a few weeks after a queen is captured and stored, and it takes several months to a year for the colony to have a good number of worker ants. Some ants like those belonging to Camponotus take two months to get from from egg to worker.
Now that you know how to start your ant colony, feel free to read our helpful Ant Care section.
A Little Biology of Thatching Ants
I really just wanted to show off some cool ant videos, but I figured I should make an effort to do a little more than just slap up another YouTube video, so here's a quickie version of the biology of Thatching Ants. Hopefully, I'll get the time to beef this up later, though it's actually kind of hard to find much info on these critters. Like so many prominent species and aspects of Manitoba's ecosystems they're not that well studied here or elsewhere.
Thatching Ants, of the Genus, Formica, are large ants (for ants), about 4-8 mm in length. They are stocky ants (again, for ants) with large heads and powerful jaws. Most are bi-coloured, red and black, but some species are all black. It's usually the head end that is red. They are polymorphic that is, within one colony there may be workers of different size and shape.
The large mound created by the ants is more often noticed than the ants themselves. Thatching Ant mounds may be 1 or 2 meters across and half a meter high! The mound really only represents part of the entire nest structure. Much of the colony's home is a vast array of subterranean tunnels.
Thatching Ants derive their common name from their habit of creating large mounds which appear to be "thatched" as they have materials layered on top like a traditional European thatched roof. The scientific name of the Genus: Formica, derives from Latin and means, literally, "ant". (I didn't find out which of the many species I'd encountered so I can't expound of the species name at this point. See update below.)
Update: From an email I received from James Trager, Ph. D. Myrmecologist / Naturalist Shaw Nature Reserve, Gray Summit Missouri - "As for the species of thatching ants in your pictures, as far as I can tell without specimens for examination, you have Formica integroides." Thanks, James!
Formic acid obtained its name as it was first distilled from ants. Ants produce and exude formic acid as an anti-predator mechanism. Even a bear will quit digging up a nest after its had enough formic acid sprayed up its nose. (The flooring and counter-top material called "Formica" is a compound manufactured from "mica" and by chance ended up with the same name, but there is no relation.)
The formal classification of Thatching Ants goes like this, again only to Genus level:
A Thatching Ant colony is initiated by one mated queen. She finds a suitable location, digs some tunnels and lays eggs, then rears the first batch of young to maturity. These workers, all females, then begin to care for the queen as she focuses on egg-laying. And they take over the nest building and hauling food back for the colony. Colonies may persist for up to 20 years and can contain many thousands of individuals. In late summer Thatching Ant colonies produce their reproductive forms, the winged males and females (remember "flying ants"?). The females (new queens) and males (drones) fly away from the colony. They mate and shortly afterward the males will die, their role in the life cycle completed. The inseminated queens build new nests and start new colonies. (The ant pictured here is actually a Carpenter Ant (Camponotus novaeboracensis), that was mis-identified. Still cool ant pictures though. Thanks again to Dr. Trager for the ID.)
If this reminds you of the life cycle of bees and wasps, there's a reason for that. All three groups, ants, bees and wasps are closely related in the insect Order: Hymenoptera. Ants are pretty much just wingless wasps. They reveal their ancestry when their flying reproductive forms emerge.
Some colonies in some species may be polygynous (have more than one queen) and some colonies may have more than one main nest (be polydomous).
Role in Nature
While I normally hate to assign a "role" or "value" to any species in nature, sometimes it helps to tell people how valuable certain species can be, especially if it's a critter that people often malign or get bitten by. Ants, in general, get a bad rap for invading our homes and ruining picnics, but they are some of the most beneficial insects. They catch and eat huge quantities of other insect pests. They also scavenge, feeding on the remains of larger dead animals, helping to clean up the planet. Their burrowing, for nest construction, helps aerate soils and promotes water absorption into the landscape. Ants are one of the most important soil-building animals.
Ants, in turn, are food for many other critters, including in some case very large critters, like bears. If you've ever walked in the woods and seen ant mounds with great holes in the middle, or the whole mound ripped apart, that's bear damage. Bears love the eggs and larvae that a large colony can produce. The ants move their eggs and larvae up into the raised warmer sections of their nest to speed development, which puts them at risk from marauding bears. (More than just pic-a-nic baskets are at risk from hungry bruins.)
In winter the ants in a colony go down deeper into the below-ground tunnels of the nest and remain below the frost-line until spring. Several species of small snakes and the young of larger snakes are known to use ant nests as over-wintering refuges, too. How they manage to co-exist with the ants all winter is not known.
I wasn't able to identify the species of Thatching Ants that I encounter near my Whiteshell cottage. Hopefully someone will prepare a good field guide to ants one day. A 1989 article in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Manitoba lists 52 different species of ants in Manitoba. Check it out for yourself: List of the Ants of Manitoba.
I've been chomped enough times by angry Thatching Ants that they now have my complete respect. I usually keep my distance from them, but on a couple of occasions now I've been unable to resist dropping my camera down onto an active nest. The video I've posted here is the result. Now, enjoy, I hope, "Swarming Ants".
Warning, this video has been assigned a high "EEEYUUW!" factor.
Some Extra Ant Stuff:
Not long after I first posted this article another ant-related opportunity arose, and it happened to involve another species of Thatching Ant, but this time, one that lived in my backyard in the city. My wife and I were having a drink in our yard one evening, it was mid-June. I happened to turn around and noticed a hoard of ants streaming out from under an old railroad tie we have as edging for our garden. It was an emerging swarm of flying ants, the winged "breeders" of the large colony of ants that were, unbeknownst to me, living in my yard. I initially thought they were another species of Thatching Ant (Formica sp.), but not one that builds above-ground mounds, but I've since learned they were Carpenter Ants (Camponotus novaeboracensis). The winged ants emerged, milled around and, after a few minutes, flew off rather clumsily. We saw some Sparrows grab a few from the ground and some were taken on the wing. But it seemed that a large part of the rest of the ant colony, the wingless workers, emerged and ran around rather frantically, too. It was quite the sight, and for once I had my camera close by so I grabbed some video. It was a good thing I had the camera handy, as within 15 minutes the event was over, the winged ants were gone and the rest of the colony dissappeared back down underground. It was another lesson in: keep your eyes open, nature is always around you, even in your back yard.
I hope you enjoy " Flying Ant Swarm":
- As a cell grows, its volume increases much more rapidly than its surface area. Since the surface of the cell is what allows the entry of oxygen, large cells cannot get as much oxygen as they would need to support themselves.
- As animals increase in size they require specialized organs that effectively increase the surface area available for exchange processes.
At 0.1 to 5.0 &mum in diameter, prokaryotic cells are significantly smaller than eukaryotic cells, which have diameters ranging from 10 to 100 &mum. The small size of prokaryotes allows ions and organic molecules that enter them to quickly diffuse to other parts of the cell. Similarly, any wastes produced within a prokaryotic cell can quickly diffuse out. This is not the case in eukaryotic cells, which have developed different structural adaptations to enhance intracellular transport.
Figure (PageIndex<1>): Relative Size of Atoms to Humans: This figure shows relative sizes on a logarithmic scale (recall that each unit of increase in a logarithmic scale represents a 10-fold increase in the quantity being measured).
In general, small size is necessary for all cells, whether prokaryotic or eukaryotic. Consider the area and volume of a typical cell. Not all cells are spherical in shape, but most tend to approximate a sphere. The formula for the surface area of a sphere is 4&pir 2 , while the formula for its volume is 4&pir 3 /3. As the radius of a cell increases, its surface area increases as the square of its radius, but its volume increases as the cube of its radius (much more rapidly).
Therefore, as a cell increases in size, its surface area-to-volume ratio decreases. This same principle would apply if the cell had the shape of a cube (below). If the cell grows too large, the plasma membrane will not have sufficient surface area to support the rate of diffusion required for the increased volume. In other words, as a cell grows, it becomes less efficient. One way to become more efficient is to divide another way is to develop organelles that perform specific tasks. These adaptations lead to the development of more sophisticated cells called eukaryotic cells.
Figure (PageIndex<1>): Surface Area to Volume Ratios: Notice that as a cell increases in size, its surface area-to-volume ratio decreases. When there is insufficient surface area to support a cell&rsquos increasing volume, a cell will either divide or die. The cell on the left has a volume of 1 mm3 and a surface area of 6 mm2, with a surface area-to-volume ratio of 6 to 1, whereas the cell on the right has a volume of 8 mm3 and a surface area of 24 mm2, with a surface area-to-volume ratio of 3 to 1.
Smaller single-celled organisms have a high surface area to volume ratio, which allows them to rely on oxygen and material diffusing into the cell (and wastes diffusing out) in order to survive. The higher the surface area to volume ratio they have, the more effective this process can be. Larger animals require specialized organs (lungs, kidneys, intestines, etc.) that effectively increase the surface area available for exchange processes, and a circulatory system to move material and heat energy between the surface and the core of the organism.
Increased volume can lead to biological problems. King Kong, the fictional giant gorilla, would have insufficient lung surface area to meet his oxygen needs, and could not survive. For small organisms with their high surface area to volume ratio, friction and fluid dynamics (wind, water flow) are relatively much more important, and gravity much less important, than for large animals.
However, increased surface area can cause problems as well. More contact with the environment through the surface of a cell or an organ (relative to its volume) increases loss of water and dissolved substances. High surface area to volume ratios also present problems of temperature control in unfavorable environments.
The secret to getting rid of ants permanently isn’t harsh chemicals – it’s bait and traps
Ants are a pesky menace that seem to always come back just as strong. With the fear of harmful chemicals, Jeanne Huber recommends a less harmful and messy alternative to keeping the insects away for good
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Dealing with ants can be incredibly frustrating. The individuals are tiny, but their communities are large, so getting rid of one wave of invaders doesn’t keep more from sneaking in. With many pests, it’s possible to get rid of an infestation by removing all food and water and closing off entries. But with ants, crumbs and smears suffice for food, and the entries can be the smallest of cracks. Sometimes they don’t even need a crack because they’ve already established a nest indoors, perhaps inside a wall or behind a cabinet.
It’s smart to start with fastidious housekeeping. Putting a tray under the cats’ bowls is a good step, and rinsing the bowls as soon as the cats finish eating helps, too. If that isn’t enough, though, you might need to resort to pesticides – but in a smart way.
Forget about using ant spray, which spreads pesticide in your home but hardly ever solves an ant problem. It just kills the ants visible at the moment, something you could also accomplish by wiping them away with a damp cloth and rinsing it out.
All types of ants live in colonies that consist of hundreds or even millions of individual ants, with one or more egg-laying queens. For permanent control, you need to get rid of the whole colony, including the queens and grubs that are growing into the next generation of worker ants. Slow-acting pesticides that ants don’t recognise as poison can do this. When the pesticide is mixed into sweet or fatty bait they like, foraging ants carry bits back to the nest and share it with their mates. It might take two weeks or longer, but eventually this can do in the whole colony.
You can buy slow-acting pesticide for ants in bait stations enclosed in plastic, a handy, mess-free solution. But gel formulations, which come in squeezable or syringe-type tubes, are even more effective, according to Michael Potter, a University of Kentucky entomologist who is often called in to advise pest-control companies. “Oftentimes the squeezable gel formulations are more versatile in that you can put out lots of small dabs of bait wherever ants are trailing (along cracks, edges, both horizontal and vertical surfaces, etc),” Potter says.
Though the same active ingredients are often found in both types of products, the gels are more likely to have sweet, sugary baits, which are often favoured by the types of ants found indoors, he says. Ants are finicky about what food they like, and they sometimes change their preferences. Luckily, there are numerous brands of both gel and plastic baits, and they use different flavours of bait. “If a certain type of ant won’t take your bait, you may need to try another,” Potter says.
Gels marketed to professionals, which homeowners can also buy online, are highly effective, he says. Products include Advion (£15.99, eBay) and Optigard (£33.52 for four tubes, eBay). Gels made by consumer-focused brands such as Combat and Raid are more widely available. Hardware stores, for example, sell Combat Max Ant Killing Gel (£6.28 for 27 gram, Amazon) and Raid Ant Gel (£49.90 for two 1.06oz packs, Amazon).
Around children or pets, it might be better to use the plastic bait stations, which are labelled as child-resistant. This type includes Terro Liquid Ant Baits (£11.85 for six, eBay) and Raid Ant Baits (£3.00, Ocado). Of course, you can use a combination: bait stations for where a child can reach and gel for more out-of-the-way areas.
Although the gels are designed so you can squeeze them into cracks, you can also use them in a way that keeps the material off floors and other surfaces. Set out short pieces of masking tape, sticky side down, and put a pea-size dab of pesticide on top. Do this where you’ve seen the ants feeding and by any ant trails you can find. Ants tend to follow edges, so look alongside baseboards, countertops, shelf boards and similar surfaces. To figure out which ant trails are headed back to a nest, put a dab of honey or jam on a piece of stiff paper next to where the ants congregate. Once they dine, they will head back to the nest.
Because the bait stations and gels are designed to attract ants, you may see more of them than you did before. Be patient – and do not resort to spraying, which will just warn other ants to stay away and search for food somewhere else in your house. You want the ants to love the bait you set out and take it home to share.
Study: Ants are “immune” to traffic jams
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Ants are notoriously much better than humans at organizing their collective traffic flow when foraging for food, but how they manage to do so isn't fully understood. Even in dense, crowded conditions, ant colonies still manage to maintain a smooth and efficient traffic flow, primarily by adjusting their behavior to adapt to changing circumstances, according to a new paper in the journal eLife.
Ants are a textbook example of collective behavior. A few ants spaced well apart behave like individual ants. But pack enough of them closely together, and they behave more like a single unit, exhibiting both solid and liquid properties. There has been a number of studies over the last decade or so involving the collective behavior of these fascinating insects.
For instance, in 2008, German scientists built a tiny ant motorway in the lab, complete with the equivalent of highway interchanges, so that ants could navigate between their nest and a sugary food source. Then the scientists monitored how the ants quickly found the shortest possible route between the two. You'd expect jams to form near interchanges, as they do on human highways. Instead, whenever a route started to clog, the ants returning to the nest blocked ants traveling in the opposite direction, forcing them to find an alternate route.
Last year, physicist Daniel Goldman's lab at Georgia Tech studied how fire ants optimize their tunnel digging. Those tunnels are narrow, with barely enough room for two ants to pass, yet jams rarely happened. When an ant encounters a tunnel in which other ants are already working, it retreats to find another tunnel. It also helps that only a fraction of the colony is digging at any given time: 30% of them do 70% of the work.
For this latest study, scientists from the Research Center on Animal Cognition at the University of Toulouse and the University of Arizona conducted experiments with Argentine ants (Linepithema humile). They connected each ant colony to a food source via bridges. They used bridges of different widths (5mm, 10mm, and 20mm) with different colonies of varying sizes (between 400 to 25,600 individual ants), the better to control the density (i.e., the number of insects per unit of surface). Then the scientists monitored the ant traffic over the course of 170 experiments, recording flow rates (the number of ants covering a given distance per unit of time), the ants' speed, and the number of times ants collided.
The researchers found that the flow of traffic remained smooth and steady even when the bridges reached 80% capacity. (For comparison, with human pedestrians or drivers, traffic flow starts to slow down when capacity exceeds 40%.) The ants' secret? Ants self-regulate, adapting the "rules" as needed when things start to get crowded.
When density on the trail increases, ants seemed to be able to assess crowding locally and adjusted their speed accordingly to avoid any interruption of traffic flow. Moreover, ants restrained themselves from entering a crowded path and ensured that the capacity of the bridge [the maximum value of the flow allowed by the bridge width] was never exceeded.
Of course, ants are not subject to the same constraints, like those pesky traffic rules requiring drivers to stop at a red light, even if there are no other cars in sight. "Traffic jams are ubiquitous in human society where individuals are pursuing their own personal objectives," the authors wrote. "In contrast, ants share a common goal: the survival of the colony, thus they are expected to act cooperatively to optimize food return."
The better they can regulate traffic along a foraging route, the more efficiently they can bring food back to the nest. That's one reason why just widening highways doesn't reduce human traffic congestion—there's an inherent conflict of interest between what benefits us personally and what benefits us collectively, so the result is 30% longer commute times, per another 2008 study. (The authors dubbed it the "Price of Anarchy.") Shutting down a few select streets—akin to blocking oncoming ants—is more effective, since it forces drivers to act like the ants and find alternate optimal routes.
The mechanism by which the ants accomplish this remains elusive, but we can still learn useful principles by studying how they collectively coordinate. A colony is basically a large system of interacting particles and, thus, of interest to researchers working in molecular biology, statistical physics, and telecommunications, among other fields. The lessons learned may also one day make it possible to program fleets of autonomous vehicles to coordinate their movements as effectively as the ants.
Giant anteaters have a long, distinctive snout with a 2-foot-long tongue and no teeth. They may have diminished senses of hearing and sight, but they have a highly developed sense of smell.
These anteaters are distinctively patterned in various shades of brown with wide, black stripes that run from their upper front legs toward their spine. Their front legs are white, and they have a bushy tail. They have no undercoats to provide warmth instead they have bristly, short hair on their shoulders and longer hair on their legs and tail, which resembles the texture of a horse's mane.
Giant anteaters protect their sharp front claws by tucking them into their palms and walking on their front knuckles. Their back feet and claws are more similar to bears (they only knuckle walk with their front feet). They walk in a slow, shuffling gait but when necessary can gallop at over 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour). They can also climb and swim.
The largest of the four anteater species, giant anteaters reach 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 meters) in length, including both nose and tail. They weigh between 60 and 100 pounds (27 and 45 kilograms). However, it is nearly impossible to differentiate the adult male from the female using external anatomy alone.
Giant anteaters are found throughout Central and South America except for Guatemala, Uruguay and El Salvador, where they are considered to be extinct. They live in wetlands, grasslands and tropical forests.
Giant anteaters will avoid threats if possible. If they need to defend themselves, they will rear up, steadying themselves with their large tails, and use their powerful claws. Adult giant anteaters are rarely vocal. If the young do vocalize, it is a high-pitched, shrill grunt.
Research has found that giant anteaters can identify the particular species of ant or termite by smell before they rip apart the prey's nest. When feeding, sticky saliva coats the tongue. The 2-foot-long tongue is attached to the sternum and can flick in and out up to 150 times per minute.
Anteaters feed almost exclusively on ants and termites, whose nests they rip open with their powerful forelimbs and claws, and then ingest with their sticky tongue. They only consume about 140 insects from each mound during a single feeding. They rarely drink, but instead receive their water from the foods they eat or possibly moisture left on plants after rain.
Giant anteaters are typically solitary, except during the mating season or when a mother is caring for her young. They do not make permanent nests or resting spots and likely wander throughout their ranges. Their ranges are about 1 square mile (1.61 square kilometers) for adult males and about 1.5 square miles (2.4 square kilometers) for adult females.
Giant anteaters reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years of age. Gestation lasts about 180 days (six months). They give birth to a single young and suckle the offspring from a pair of mammary glands located on the chest.
After birth, the young anteater climbs onto the mother's back where it stays for up to a year. As it matures, it becomes independent. A young anteater usually nurses for six months and leaves its mother by age 2.
Giant anteater lifestyles appear to depend on the human population density around them. The more populated the area, the more likely the anteaters will be nocturnal in less populated areas, anteaters are diurnal.
Lifespan in the wild is unknown. However, they can live up to 26 years in human care.
The species is widespread geographically, but there have been many recorded population extirpations, especially in Central America and the southern parts of its range. More research must be done to estimate the total population loss across its range.
Habitat loss in combination with giant anteaters' dietary specificity, low reproductive rates and large body size are significant factors in its decline.