COLONIES AND SU­PER- COLONIES

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wood Ants -

Painstak­ing re­search in­volv­ing ge­net­ics and the mark­ing of thou­sands of worker ants has shown that wood ant colonies can have a sin­gle queen (monog­yny) or many queens (polyg­yny). A colony can also in­habit a sin­gle nest mound (mon­odomy) or mul­ti­ple, con­nected nest mounds (poly­domy) that form by ‘bud­ding’. In any given area, there might be a mix of th­ese so­cial struc­tures.

1 THE THATCH

This outer layer of the nest con­sists mostly of pine nee­dles and other veg­e­ta­tion ar­ranged in a spe­cific way to make the most of the sun’s warm­ing rays and to keep rain out.

2 NEST EN­TRANCES

There are sev­eral of th­ese all over the nest mound. They can be opened or closed to main­tain op­ti­mal tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity within the nest.

3 TREE STUMP

The foundress of the colony of­ten es­tab­lishes the nest in an old tree stump, which might al­ready be oc­cu­pied by another ant species and so has ready-made cham­bers and tun­nels. As this stump de­cays, it helps to keep the sur­round­ing nest mound warm.

4 QUEEN CHAM­BER

In the deep­est part of the nest re­sides the queen, at­tended by work­ers and lay­ing a stream of eggs. Deep down in the nest, she can live as long as 15–20 years.

5 HOT ROOM

Eggs from the queen are taken by work­ers to the top of the nest mound, where tem­per­a­tures can be higher, to has­ten their de­vel­op­ment.

6 BROOD CHAM­BER

Ma­ture eggs are taken from the hot room to brood cham­bers deeper in the nest, where their ev­ery need is at­tended to by an army of nurse-maids – their older sis­ters.

7 REFUSE CHAM­BER

Ants are scrupu­lously tidy. They have to be, be­cause con­di­tions in the nest are per­fect for harm­ful fungi and bac­te­ria. Waste, spent work­ers and dis­eased or dead eggs and lar­vae are all dumped here to be safely con­tained.

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