Cornell Cooperative Extension

August 19, 2013

Ants fascinating to watch

I was sitting on my front porch a few days ago and noticed a dead insect on the ground in front of me.

I couldn’t tell what it was, as it seemed too large to be anything I would expect to be lying dead on the porch. As I looked more closely, I saw that the insect, itself, was about the size of a wasp. It looked larger because it was surrounded by ants. 

I watched as the ants gathered around the insect and slowly began to carry it away. It was a fascinating procedure to watch, and I could imagine them talking to each other. 

“On three. One, two …” 

“Hey Annie, you’re not pulling your weight.” 

“To the left, Alice, the left.” 

“You got the drumstick last time, Ariel. It’s Annette’s turn to have it.” 

They moved the dead insect more than 7 feet in less than 10 minutes. It was an impressive feat to observe.

Ants have an advanced social structure. A colony consists of one or more queens, some male ants and many sterile, wingless female ants. 

The queen and the males swarm in order to mate. The males die after mating, and the queen loses her wings and lays her eggs in the nest that has been constructed by the female worker ants. The queen determines which eggs will result in a male ant and which in a female by fertilizing some with the sperm she stored while mating. Only the fertilized eggs will produce female offspring.

The ant has four growing stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The female ants do all of the foraging and caretaking and protect the nest and the developing ants inside it. These worker ants may even move the eggs and larvae deeper into the nest if the nighttime temperatures are cold or closer to the surface of the nest if they are warm.

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