10 neat things about ants
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?)
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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.