Ants are so small and insignificant to our daily lives, and it is easy to write them off as mindless insects that ruin picnics and set up camp in your kitchen.
But looking closer, you’ll see these little guys building vast kingdoms, taking slaves, overthrowing colonies, farming, and cultivating food sources with a systematic organizational system that rivals human society and stands as the only other species to be as complex as our own.
For a species as small as ants are, it’s not only incredible, but also a bit frightening!
1) They have specific, specialized jobs
Ants work hard every day, doing their jobs with diligence, as if they were born to do them. Most of the time, they really are born to do a specific task, or are quickly trained to be. Training in this case means the ant larvae are given different amounts of food, and this physically transforms them to become specialized for their tasks.
Soldiers develop larger, shield like heads, and the ants that receive the most food become queens. What is more startling, however, is the absolute organization the ants are able to exact. While there is no clear leader or ant in charge of each group of workers, they are all able to dispatch their jobs without issue.
They are so innovative that scientists and researchers are studying ant societies to learn exactly how ants have come to have such a highly evolved, complex system of communication and societal organization.
2) Ants take over colonies with deceptive techniques
Much like enterprising countries, one colony will often overtake another by assassinating the subordinate colony’s queen. The invading queen touches the open wounds of the dead queen to cover herself in the old queen’s scent to fool the overthrown colony. The queen quickly takes over, populating the old colony with new ants, and any pupae from the old queen are taken as slaves, to do the lowly work of the new colony. It’s all a bit brutal and barbaric, but cleverly so.
3) They like their lawns perfectly groomed
Like a suburbanite meticulously mowing and weed-whacking on the weekends, and those compulsive weed pullers that can’t pass a dandelion without destroying it, the lemon tree ant in the Amazon don’t like any plant (literally, any plant) to encroach on their area and inject all plants except the lemon tree with their own herbicide. Colonies live in lemon trees, which are hollow and allow queens to establish a colony. Once a queen has done this in one tree, the ants go out and inject all other plants with formic acid, a common organic acid. The plants all die and all that is left is what is known as a “devil’s garden,” a desolate patch of earth devoid of life except the lemon tree and there is no evidence that any other animals kill plants in this way.
4) They have food processing plants
Humans have a penchant for taking raw materials and breaking them down into more palatable versions of foods we enjoy, and the leafcutter ant is much the same. You may have seen videos of these curious hardworking ants cutting huge pieces of leaves and carrying them back to their colonies, but the ants can’t actually eat the leaves as they are. These ants cultivate a specific type of fungus that breaks down the leaves into a form the ants can digest, acting as a colony-wide digestive system. This fungus is only found in these ant colonies, making their relationship one of tight mutualism, since the ants cannot exist without the fungus and vice versa.
5) They have their own cattle farms
It might be a far-fetched sounding thought, but some species of ants actually farm aphids and other sap-feeding insects. The ants take over a population of aphids, feeding from their “honeydew” excretions. The ants will heard the aphids to better feeding areas, shelter them, and protect them from predators. They even train the aphids to excrete their honeydew for better harvesting, and milk the aphids for the honeydew. Some aphids even learn to wait to be milked. While this may seem beneficial for both aphid and ant, the ants will clip the wings off aphids so they cannot escape, and research shows that they are able to “tranquilize” the aphids, making them move slowly and easier to control.
This post was written by Jenny Gagas who frequently writes about outdoor and pest control related subjects. Jenny is from Wisconsin and enjoys writing blog posts that helps people with their pest and outdoor challenges. She recommends DoMyOwnPestControl.com for professional ant control products.