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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

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

How Many Species of Ants are there?

There are more than 12,500 described species in the ant family that have been classified out of an estimated total of 22,000.  Ants are found everywhere in the world including areas that are temperate and tropical.  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

Wingless, sterile female workers primarily tend to forage, brood-tending, and provide defense in the ant colony.  The queen will be the fertile winged female, and after mating season may find her ground to set up her colony.  There are queens that start their new territory alone, in others, they leave with workers from the old nest.  The queen could also decide to stay with the existing colony or stay in the surrounding environment, depending on the species.  One thing is for sure; after mating, the males will die.

Once a queen has selected her colony area and mates, she will start laying eggs.  The eggs will change into white larvae, become pupae, and 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 starting out on their own, queens do not have the required food and resources are limited.  Leafcutter Ants (Atta) queens will lay individual eggs that are not fertile for food, and to keep from dying some young queens may have to eat their larvae, eggs, and pupae.

The larvae can be fed for several weeks all the way up to several months.   Sometimes the pupae are naked, or they may have a secreted substance on them from the larval stage.  When the ant has reached the final phase of the pupae stage, it becomes an adult and has reached its full size.

The adult workers will feed, clean and attend to the immature ants during the growth phase.  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 eating 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.

Driver ants and army ants build their nests by using the clustered bodies of workers hanging from a log or low branch, and there can be millions of workers hanging to create the nest.  The queen and her brood live within the cluster for nesting.  The nomadic period will start after the nesting phase, and the entire colony will move.  The queen and her offspring will be protected by the soldiers during the move.  The soldiers are enormous and will kill anything that gets in the way.  You will not see any living insects where the drive and army ants have passed.  Small animals, birds, lizards, and any other creature will be killed if it is in the path and can’t get away.  During the move, some ants can become parasites to other colonies temporarily or even permanently. An interesting fact, when Amazon ants have contact with other ants, they will make the ant broods serve as slaves for them after maturation.

What do Ants Eat?

Some ants may need particular food, but they are omnivorous, which means they will eat plants as food.  Leafcutter ants will grow fungus to feed on by bringing leaves and other organic materials to their nest.  They use the organic material to fertilize their fungus garden.  Harvester ants will harvest and store grass seeds they pick up from grass fields.  There are worker ants that specialize in cracking the seeds so the other ants can eat them.  Ants will also eat the fluid that is excreted by aphids.  Aphids are small sap-sucking insects, so the liquid is a sweet snack for ants.  Some ants will even keep the aphids in their nests and protect them, so they always have a food source nearby.

Honeypot ants are neat how they store food.  They will feed worker ants with vast amounts of honeydew, so the working becomes living food containers.  After overeating, their little bodies become so enlarged; they can’t move any longer.

Myrmecophiles inhabit some ant nests. Some Myrmecophiles consume waste materials in the nests, such as dead ants, dead larvae, or fungi growing in the nest. A few feeds on external secretions of ants and some are fed directly by their host ants. Some myrmecophiles feed on the stored food supplies of ants, and a few are predatory on ant eggs, larvae, pupae or even adults. Others benefit the ants by providing a food source for them. Many myrmecophilous relationships are obligate, meaning one or the other participant requires the connection for survival. Some associations are facultative, benefiting one or both participants but not being necessary to their survival. (Source)

Summary

This summary 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.  Coming soon, we’ll be offering fantastic ant-associated products and swag through our e-commerce and secure online merchant provider myvirtualmerchant.  So please revisit us soon as we continue to put together more information and fun facts about ants.