Spinning tales about ants

Charlotte's Web


Carpenter ants often present problems for homeowners.

Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors. These black, brown or red creatures supposedly are as old as dinosaurs. 

Since they are social, ants can develop large colonies, possibly accommodating millions.  In Europe, the Argentine ant, native to South America, established the largest-known colony stretching 3,700 miles. Other super colonies are in California and Japan.  Researchers suggest these three colonies are genetically related, thus friendly when introduced — a global mega-colony.

Highly organized, a colony is founded and headed by one or multiple queens or none. Usually large, a queen lays eggs all her life. Some live 30 years. Most ants are females. Sterile wingless females (workers and soldiers) forage and build, maintain and protect the nest. Some survive a year. Alates are reproductives — winged males (drones) and females. At maturity, they swarm (nuptial flight). After mating, males die and some females survive to become queens, shed their wings and establish new colonies.

A nest (formicary) might descend 25 feet, with chambers connected by tunnels to hold food storage, nurseries  and resting places. Ants possibly move 50 tons of soil in 1 square mile per year. Thus they aerate, increase water flow, redistribute nutrients (including food and waste) and disperse seeds. 

Regrettably, trails of ants invade homes, seeking food or moisture. Outside species might prey upon insects, control agricultural pests and scavenge on decomposing organisms and nectar. Protected are such creatures as aphids, who secrete honeydew, a sweet liquid savored by ants in symbiosis.      

In Florida, troublesome ants include the ghost ant which might nest in walls. It immediately devours sweet food and even penetrates packaged food. Detection is challenging due to its small size and milky white antennae, legs and abdomen. Incredibly, transparency reveals the color of ingested food.

The sizable carpenter ant often nests in homes, tunneling wet and damaged wood. Supporting wood is weakened.  Sawdust is not eaten but left in small piles at the nest entrance.

The raspberry crazy ant (named after a pest expert) is spreading in Florida. It impaired electrical circuitry at the Houston Johnson Space Center. 

Two fire-ant species exist in Florida. Variable in size is the invasive and aggressive red imported fire ant (RIFA).  Blisters and anaphylaxis may result when it grips and bites, then injects a fire venom from its abdomen — repeatedly. When disturbed, alarm pheromones (chemicals) are released commanding collective stinging all at once.  

Mounds have no central opening and can each 18 inches high.  The nest below is entered by underground tunnels. During flooding, these ants form a raft with their bodies, protecting the queen in the middle. Yearly, in the United States, crop and livestock damage by RIFA costs millions. The native fire ant is less potent.


Did you know?

There are an estimated 1 million ants per human. 

Ants problem solve. 

Touching antennae provides communication. 

Some Amazonian queens clone themselves — thus creating all-female colonies. 

Ants carry exceedingly more than their weight — strong necks are advantageous.

Some swim and hold their breath underwater.

Forager ants store food in a second stomach to feed workers performing other duties.  

Some species bite and spray acid on wounds.

The bullet ant of Central and South America delivers the most painful sting of insects — similar to a bullet wound.

Realistically, ants keep the ecosystem in balance. More than earthworms, they improve the soil. Nevertheless, keep the aloe vera handy for bites and stings!