Ants can test the patience of most people with their persistent foraging, gathering and trailing up walls in Florida homes. However, even though we’re frustrated by common nuisance ants from the time we were children, a fascination for the industrious ant has inundated popular culture. Many cartoons depict ants in the throes of various non-stop activities, from carrying off an entire picnic, including the picnickers, to teaching lessons to a happy-go-lucky grasshopper in Disney’s 1934, Silly Symphony, to the adventures the Ant-man and the Wasp in Marvel’s summer 2018 film. From ant farms to Atom Ant to Adam Ant, we’re quite possibly obsessed with ant imagery and narratives because, well, let’s face it, ants are just interesting little pests.
Take, for example, these fascinating facts about ants:
Ants appeared on Earth when dinosaurs roamed the planet
According to archaeological data, humans showed up on Earth some two million years ago, evolved from their Australopithecine ancestors into Homo sapiens. Scientists estimate that ants showed up in the mid-Cretaceous period, some 110-130 million years ago. This means that ants survived dinosaurs, the Ice Age and a number of drastic changes on Earth, even the evolution of humans.
Ants are ubiquitous; they’re global
With the exception of Antarctica, the Arctic and a few isolated islands, ants can be found in all other parts of the globe. In fact, Argentine ants, common to South Florida, California, Japan and the Mediterranean have established supercolonies on six continents, in at least 15 countries in the last century. An aggressive invasive species, Argentine ants disrupt ecosystems by displacing other ant species that provided the food source for some native animals.
Ants outnumber humans one million to one
Currently, an estimated seven billion humans inhabit the Earth. That’s a lot of people but not when you consider that, according to current data, ten quadrillion ants share the planet with us.
“Ants are arguably the greatest success story in the history of terrestrial metazoa,” says entomologist, Ted Schultz, in a PNAS article. “On average, ants monopolize 15–20% of the terrestrial animal biomass, and in tropical regions where ants are especially abundant, they monopolize 25% or more.”
Ants can lift way more than they weigh
Ridiculously strong, ants can not only lift but can carry 10 to 50 times their own body weights, depending on the species. In an award-winning photo, the BBC shows an Asian weaver ant lifting 100 times its own weight. Reportedly, according to researchers at Arizona State University, ants’ incredible strength is due to their small size. Yes, ASU researchers found that “Because ants are so small, their muscles have a greater cross-sectional area (they are thicker) relative to their body size than in larger animals. This means they can produce more force pound-for-pound (or in the case of an ant, milligram-for-milligram).”
Ants don’t have lungs
Because ants can’t accommodate a respiratory system as complex as humans in their small bodies, ants rely on spiracles, a series of holes on the sides of their bodies to transport and distribute oxygen to most cells in their bodies. Movement helps oxygen circulate through the spiracles or tubes and helps release carbon dioxide as well. This revelation sheds new light on possibly why ants adhere strictly to their superior work ethic and beg the question; if ants stop moving, do they slowly expire?
Ants are listening but their ears aren’t like ours
While ants and other insects don’t sport ears on their heads like humans, canines, felines, and rodents, most insects rely on tympanal organs that act like eardrums. A discovermagazine.com article revealed that “Grasshoppers, crickets and locusts all have knee-ears that, at just a fraction of a millimeter long, are among the tiniest ears in the animal kingdom.” Ants use their knee-ears to interpret vibrations in their environment, as a directional tool, when foraging for food and to detect an alarm signal, when threatened.
Ants talk using chemical communication
Using pheromones to communicate, ants can send messages that alert other ants to vital information. Releasing hormones with specific messages such as where food is located or where danger lurks, ants receive messages by smelling released pheromones with their antennae and rapidly set to coordinate a response. However, a dark side to pheromone communications exists in crazy ants. Attracted to electrical circuitry, crazy ants often get electrocuted, sending out a battle signal to other crazy ants that charge to the rescue only to meet the same end as their fellow soldiers. Accumulations of crazy ant carcasses can short out electrical circuits.
Ants have two stomachs
Ants don’t carry everything by lifting, they use their extra stomachs to haul food. Through a process known as trophallaxis, some worker ants store liquid food in their “social stomachs,” that they share with other ants that stay in the nest and tend the queen and the young.
More interesting ant facts
Ants can swim by doing the ant-paddle. Ants and humans are the only creatures who farm; we farm plants, mammals, birds, and fish, while some ants farm aphids, protecting them from predators, as they enjoy the honeydew aphids secrete.
When your interest in ants gets too close for comfort, just call Hulett!