As I toiled under the shade of the obliging oak and manzanita trees weeding invasive broom, I inadvertently disturbed a thriving, boiling ant colony. The earth beneath the leaf litter appeared to ramp up into hyper-mode with seemingly thousands of critters swarming, scurrying, and crawling on my boots, pants, and shirt! Needless to say, this, in turn caused me to go into my own hyper-mode as I unlaced my boots, flung my shirt aside and swatted the swarm making its way up and into my pants! I was grateful the alarmed ants didn’t bite, and that there are plenty of creatures for birds and other so-inclined wildlife to consume. As the frenzied ants were swarming, it seemed as though all 12,000 species in the world were intent on inhabiting my clothing.
According to ant expert Merav Vonshak, PhD, whose Zoom workshop on the topic of ants I took during the height of the stay-at-home phase of the pandemic, ants are considered to be some of the longest living insects, with some species reaching the grand old age of 30 years. Ants may be minuscule, but they are known for their strength in being able to hold up to fifty times their body weight, and also cooperate with one another by teaming up to move a larger object. Many ant species are omnivores, however some have preferences that include seeds, fruit or nectar only. If you find ants inhabiting your garden, they may be feasting on aphids. Harvester ants reside in grasslands, while the larger carpenter ants prefer rotten logs. Found in most habitats, you may spy on ants by searching under forest litter or under rocks. Ants are interesting critters. For example, they are equipped to use their built-in chemistry sets to lay down a trail for other ants to follow. Ants detect the chemical trail, according to ant expert E.O. Wilson by pheromones. When an ant lays down their scent, their tiny antennae wave first one antenna and then the other, hovering them over the vapor of the trail. Ants produce various kinds of pheromones such as alarm pheromones and attractant pheromones. There is also a death pheromone they can produce when they signal the need to remove a tiny corpse.
The ants in my yard were speedy as they bubbled out of the ground, however, they were not moving nearly as fast as their relatives the trap jaw ant, at 140 MPH! Ants are known to reside on all continents, with the exception of Antarctica. It seems that, with a continent so-named, ANT -arctica, that they should indeed inhabit that landform as well! The creature’s colonies are also called formicaries and according to National Geographic’s website, contain a queen or two and many worker ants who multi-task by creating a nest, search for food and babysit the young. Ant colonies can become quite large. The largest known colony is 3,700 miles wide; and this super colony of billions is found in Argentina.
Entomologist and ecologist Dr. Vonshak stated that ants are important components in most ecosystems and are fascinating arthropods with interesting and complex societies. Check out Dr. Vonshak’s YouTube video called Social Life of Ants for more information. Don’t let these tiny wonders of the world arouse fears of contamination or destruction. Instead, enjoy the patience these tiny creatures display in their underground ant worlds to ‘make their livings ’ and savor the characteristics these critters display.