Ants are insects and like all insects have three body parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. Ants have six legs, which are covered with tiny hairs. These hairs are used to clean its two antennae. The antennae are used for touching and smelling. Ants' poorly developed eyes make these sensory organs all the more important. Myrmecologists contend that ants have a very elaborate communication system. For example, when ants locate food, they create a scent path with a chemical substance from the food to the nest, allowing other ants to travel from the nest and locate the food. Ants also touch each other's antennae to communicate. Ants live in colonies. Each colony consists of a queen, workers, soldiers, and male ants. Ants build many different types of homes. Many ants build simple mounds of dirt or sand. Other ants use small sticks mixed with dirt and sand, which makes a stronger mound that offers protection from rain. Ant mounds consist of many chambers connected by tunnels. Different chambers are used for nurseries, food storage, and resting places for the worker ants. Ants are found in almost all terrestrial habitats, with the exception of high altitudes and latitudes. Most ant species live in the soil, although some ants live in wood, like termites. Army ants do not make a home at all, but travel in large groups searching for food.
Physical Characteristics of Ants
Ant coloration can be black, earth-tone reds, pale tans, and basic browns. Ant larvae are white and grublike. They have no legs and do not move about much on their own. Their large, dark stomachs can generally be seen through their cuticles. Ant pupae look like white adult ants, with their legs and antennae pressed close to their bodies. In some species, larvae spin silk, and the pupal stage is inside a cocoon. Newly emerged adult ants are often paler than older ones. Without wings, a male can generally be distinguished from a worker by the larger size of his body, thorax, and abdomen. All workers are females. Ants do not have lungs. Oxygen enters through tiny holes all over the body and carbon dioxide leaves through the same holes. There are no blood vessels. The heart is a long tube that pumps colorless blood from the anterior to the posterior then back up to the head again.
The Life Cycle of Ants
Ants go through four stages of metamorphosis- egg, larva, pupa, and adult-which can take from six weeks to six months to complete. Eggs are almost microscopic in size. After weeks of feeding and molting, larva enter the pupal stage. Pupae resemble adult ants but do not move around or feed and are often encased in a silky cocoon, which is protected fiercely by the soldier ants. Adults require several days to attain complete maturity after emergence from the pupal stage. Male ants only serve one purpose, to mate with future queen ants. The queen grows to adulthood, mates, and then spends the rest of her life laying eggs. A variety of reptiles, amphibians, spiders, and other insects prey on ants. Bats and birds kill and eat the flying males and females. Some ant species are considered pests because they inhabit human territory or consume resources that humans need. Many species of ants have poison sacs and/or stingers in the end of the metasoma for defense against predators. Worldwide, however, ants are one of the most important predators of small invertebrates, including other insects. Ants are important dispersers of the seeds that they harvest. Ants turn over and aerate the soil as much as or more than earthworms.
Order: Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps)
Subfamilies: Myrmeciinae (bulldog ants), Ponerinae, Dorylinae (army ants), Cerapachinae, Leptanillinae, Myrmecinae, Pseudomyrmecinae, Dolichoderinae, Formicinae
Geographical location: All over the world
Habitat: All continents, but not at high altitudes and latitudes
Gestational period: Reproduction occurs during the summer
Life span: Queen ants live an average of three years, but some have lived as many as fifteen years; worker ants live an average of six months
Special anatomy: Complex eyes; many species have poison sacs and/or stingers in the end of the metasoma
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