10 neat things about ants

Manitoba Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS -

1. Ants in the gar­den.

While ants can keep some small in­sects un­der con­trol, they can also cause dam­age. For ex­am­ple, an ant hill un­der a favourite peren­nial can cause root dam­age or un­der­mine the plant. Oc­ca­sion­ally, ants can trans­mit plant dis­ease, in­clud­ing sooty mould. Although there is no one-size-fit­sall de­ter­rent when it comes to ants, ap­par­ently many do not like laven­der and tansy is a de­ter­rent. Rather than plant­ing tansy, though, be­cause it is very in­va­sive, you may wish to sim­ply strew its leaves around ar­eas that are trou­ble­some.

2. Movin’ on up.

Have you no­ticed how ant hills seem to crop up ev­ery­where in a wet year? The same thing hap­pens af­ter a very cold win­ter, when frost re­mains deep un­der­ground un­til sum­mer. You’d move up­stairs, too, if your base­ment was full of wa­ter or frozen. In­stead of try­ing to kill these bad weather sur­vivors, leave them alone and watch them go back un­der­ground when con­di­tions im­prove.

3. Fe­males’ work is never done.

In the so­cial struc­ture of ants, the most abun­dant group is the worker class. Smaller than the other ants, all of them are fe­male. Fly­ing ants tend to be male, ex­cept for the queen. She flies, mates and loses her wings. (What’s new, girls?) On the flip side, queens can live for years, while the fly­ing males have very short lives and their only func­tion is to mate with the queen. Another class of ants is the scout whose job it is to look for food. When a scout finds a source, it makes a bee­line for the colony with a sam­ple of the goods, leav­ing be­hind a pheromone trail for for­agers to fol­low and fetch the har­vest.

4. Stronger than fic­tion.

Ever see an ant carrying a load of some­thing many times its size? An ant can lift items that are 20 to 50 times its own weight. They also have very strong legs, which, if trans­ferred in ra­tio to hu­man pro­por­tions, would al­low us to run as fast as a race horse.

5. Work­ing for the birds.

A spray of formic acid is a strat­egy ants use to ward off trou­ble. Some birds put ants in their feath­ers so they will squirt formic acid to kill the bird’s par­a­sites. This is called “anting”.

6. Ants could take over the world.

There are about 1.5 mil­lion ants for every hu­man be­ing on earth. Con­sid­er­ing that the av­er­age ant has about 250,000 brain cells and it takes about 40,000 ants to amass the brain power of a per­son… well, you do the math.

7. Ants as farm­ers.

Just about ev­ery­one now knows that ants herd and milk cer­tain in­sects, such as aphids, to har­vest honey­dew. Some leaf hop­pers know this, too, and will there­fore leave their young to be raised by ants while the adults go off for more fun cre­at­ing another fam­ily.

8. Where’s the beef?

Ants eat much more than honey­dew. They need a bal­ance of pro­tein and car­bo­hy­drate, just like we do. A large part of their diet con­sists of small in­sects, dead or alive. Cana­dian ants favour scale and white­fly, am­ple rea­son to leave them alone un­less they are dam­ag­ing your plants in some way.

9. Ant talk.

Ants com­mu­ni­cate largely through chem­i­cal sig­nals, but other sig­nals can be de­liv­ered through touch and feel. Ants may stroke each other with their an­ten­nae. They also pro­duce chirp­ing sounds by rub­bing parts of their bodies. Re­cep­tion of this ac­tion is through hear­ing and sen­si­tiv­ity to vi­bra­tions. Ants also pro­duce some vis­ual sig­nals but sight is one of their weak­est senses.

10. U.S. bombers waged war on fire ants.

In the 1960s, the United States ac­tu­ally em­ployed Sec­ond World War planes to drop ant poi­son bombs on fire ant colonies. It ap­pears that while the strat­egy in­deed killed fire ants, it also killed na­tive species. The fire ant pop­u­la­tion, be­ing tough, re­cov­ered. The na­tive species did not. (When will they ever learn?)

10 Neat Things is a free weekly news­let­ter of in­ter­est­ing and quirky facts about your gar­den and na­ture. Sign up to­day - visit lo­cal­gar­dener.net.

If you've ever felt over­whelmed by ants, don't be sur­prised - there's 1.5 mil­lion ants for each one of us.

Ants are well known for their farm­ings ten­den­cies.

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