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What is Myrmecology?

Myrmecology (Pronunciation: “mər-mə-ˈkä-lə-jē”) is defined as the scientific study of ants and is a branch of entomology.

Ants are amazing little creatures and are often studied to help answer questions on social system evolution due to their complex and high level of organization and social skills.

Conservation and biodiversity are also studied due to the diversity and prominence of ants in our various ecosystems.  And incredibly, organized ant colonies are also examined by networking engineers and biomimicry for their relevance in creating more efficient and sophisticated computer networking systems.

An Introduction to Ants

Ants live in organized colonies, and they are classified as social insects.  Ants are insects in the Formicidae family, which also includes bees and wasps as part of the order Hymenoptera.

How Many Species of Ants are there?

The ant family contains more than 12,500 described species that have been classified out of an estimated total of 22,000.  Ants can be found everywhere in the world including tropical and temperate areas.  Most of the described and unknown species are located in the rainforests, however, due to the destruction of those forests, most of them will probably never be categorized.  The only land mass lacking ants are Antartica and a possibly a few remote or inhospitable islands.

The Duties of the Queen and Workers

In a colony of ants you find wingless, sterile female workers primarily tend to forage, brood-tending, and defense.  The queen will be the fertilized winged female, and after mating season may find her own nest.  In some species the queens start their new colony alone, in others, they leave with workers from the old nest.  The queen may also stay with the colony or in the surrounding area, depending on the species.  One thing is for sure; males will die after mating.

Once a queen has selected her colony area and mates, she will start laying eggs.  The eggs will develop into white larvae, then pupae, and then turn into adults.  Commonly the pupae are incorrectly called ant eggs, but the real eggs are much smaller.

Sometimes the first worker ants are smaller than average; and this is because when queens are starting on their own, they do not have a lot of food and resources are limited.  Atta (Leafcutter Ants) queens will lay individual non-fertilized eggs for food, and some young queens may have to eat the eggs, larvae, and pupae to keep from dying.

The larvae are fed in a few weeks to several months.   Pupae can be naked or covered with a substance they secrete at the end of the larval stage. At the end of the pupae stage, the adults have reached their full size.

The adult workers will feed, clean and attend to the immature ants during their growth stage.  So when the first worker ants appear, the queen is in a safer position because the adult workers will start to forage, hunt for food, and tend the brood.  With protection and food under control, this leaves the queen with only one job, and that’s to continue laying eggs.  There can be thousands of fertile winged queens, but it’s prevalent for just a few to stay alive.  Many are eaten by birds, other insects or die of hunger.

Where do Ants Live?

You will find that most ants build a nest under the ground, but you can see them in trees or above the ground in mounds, and even in houses.

The nests of the army and driver ants are built out of the clustered bodies of millions of workers hanging down from a low branch or log. In this cluster, the queen and brood are enclosed. After this nesting phase, the nomadic period starts. Then the whole colony moves with the queen and brood protected by the enormous soldiers who kill everything that comes their way. In an area where the army or driver ants passed through you will not find any living insect left. Even young birds that are unable to fly, lizards and other small animals are killed if they cannot get away. Some ants are temporary or permanent parasites in colonies of other ant species. After forays against other ants, Amazon Ants bring back unconsumed brood to serve as slaves as soon as they have matured.

What do Ants Eat?

Some ants may need particular food, but they are omnivorous, which means they will eat plants as food.  Fungus-growing ants cut leaves and bring them home to their nest to fertilize the fungus gardens they build. This kind of fungus can only be found with the leafcutter ants. The Harvester Ants frequently visit grass fields to harvest and store the grass seeds. Specialized workers crack the seeds for the other ants to eat. Many ants eat the sweet fluid excreted by aphids. Some species keep and protect them – sometimes even in their nests.

Honeypot ants feed some workers used as living containers with enormous quantities of honeydew. Thus their bodies become so big that they cannot move anymore.

Some ant nests are inhabited by myrmecophiles. Myrmecophiles are parasitic or beneficial residents. Since ants practice trophallaxis, a form of reciprocal feeding that comes along with the exchange of chemical stimulation, many Myrmecophiles imitate the behavior and the chemical communication of ants to get be fed by trophallaxis.

Summary

This is just a small introduction to the world of Myrmecology and the study of ants to give you a taste of what’s to come.  So come back soon as we will be adding and sharing more great information about everything related to ants.  Hope to see you back soon!