10 neat things about ants

Ontario 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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