Small black ants (Michael)


Dear Ant Experts,

I read with interest your comments to Anna's invasion of ants.

I have had to control these ants from entering the house using diluted permethrin. Of course I have observed their behaviour after spraying. Those that were not killed gathered in clusters. I noticed that in the train line each ant touched the face of the other as they passed. Could you explain are they passing on some chemical or are they communicating somehow to join the cluster so an alternative safe route can be determined.

I would greatly appreciate your comments.

Michael


Hi Michael,

What you have been observing may be either one of two behaviors often seen in ants: 1. Mouth-to-mouth trophallaxis. Ants feed other colony members with this behavior. Food is often stored in the crop, the social stomach, and then regurgitated if it needs to be distributed among other colony members. 2. Chemical communication. Ants communicate with each other through chemical signals. These are perceived with their antennae. When seen under a microscope or magnifying glass, it almost looks like ants scan each other with their antennae. This might happen once ants consumed a toxic bait because they may smell different to their colony mates.

All the best,
Steffi Kautz and the AntAsk Team

Can I train ants? (Ryan)




Hello Antblog,

I am interested in conducting some experiments with ants and I had a few questions I'd like to ask before I get started and I thought your site would be a good place to start.


1) Can queens of different varieties be trained(forced) to co-exist in one colony if an abundance source of food is present?

2) What is the smartest breed of ants?

3) Could ants in an ant farm learn to farm aphids? How might I go about doing this?

4) Could ants survive on honey alone?

5) Could ants be trained to use little man made tools for things such as cutting or digging through rock?

6) Can ants smell and identify different metals such as iron, nickel, gold, etc.?

I understand these questions are very vague and I do not expect a direct answer for all of them, but any information is appreciated. I'd even like additional links I could go explore myself.
I am only a grade 12 student but I am very interested in ants. My ultimate goal is to create a super ant farm to test the capabilities of ants as well as teach them to advance as a species.

Hi Ryan,

I apologize in advance: this post is probably too long and too speculative. The answers to a few of your questions are simple: (6) I don't think so; (4) some ants can; (3) it's thought that this is not a learned behavior, but some ants do facultatively tend aphids; (1) no, unless they are social parasites (for more stuff on social parasites, click here, here, and here).

Questions #2 and #5 are pretty complicated, philosophically and biologically, so I'm going to spend most of the rest of this post talking about them.

But real quick, before I dive into a heady diatribe about the philosophy of psychometry: ants and honey:

Could ants survive on honey alone? Adult ants don't need very many nutrients, and can survive for at least a week or two (often more) on just sugar water or diluted honey. It is the egg-laying ability of the queen, and the growth of the larva that depends on more protein-rich food sources, like (depending on the ants) seeds or insects. Several groups of ants seem to have bacteria living in their guts that can help them make nitrogen (one of the important building blocks of life that we need to synthesize proteins), but I'm not sure if anyone has quantified how only raising these ants on carbohydrates influences how many eggs the queen can lay, and how fast the larvae can grow. For many ants, we don't know their exact dietary requirements, but by and large, the ants that are most likely to be able to get by on a sugar-water or honey-only diet are arboreal (spend most of their time in trees). Carpenter ants (genus Camponotus) and Acrobat ants (genus Crematogaster) are among the most likely candidates that you'd run into outside of the tropics. Similarly, with respect to your question (3), many of the same ants that are largely herbivorous will occasionally tend aphids or other related phloem-sucking insects. But I'm not aware of a learning component to this behavior: I think it's hard-wired.

Okay. Onwards and upwards.
You know, when I tell people that I study ants, I am often asked (by males especially) if I am working on weaponizing them or figuring out how to harness them for industry. Ants are, after all, famously industrious. There is even an ancient Greek/Indian/Russian legend about ants that mine gold (sort of). I read about it in the book "Shalimar the Clown" by Salman Rushdie (which is a great novel if you're interested in 20th century geopolitics, but doesn't have much useful information about ants).

In general, the major hurdle to training ants for any specific anthropocentric end is the way in which they actually get things done. Deborah Gordon has a really nice book about ant behavior called "Ant Encounters" that I highly recommend. One of the key aspects of ant behavior she does a really good job explaining (not least because she pioneered this research) is "emergence." Her research, and the research of other people who study social insects, is much of the inspiration towards work in "Swarm intelligence" in robotics and computer science. Basically, the problem-solving ability of the colony, or "intelligence" does not arise from the leadership or intelligence of a few ants, but emerges from the trial and error of many non-intelligent individuals. Thus, to train a swarm, you'd really need to understand how voting works in these true, blind democracies. Here are a few links you can check out if you want to learn more. Deb Gordon and Tom Seeley are some of the most eloquent speakers and important researchers on the biological side of swarm intelligence (read/listen/watch more here, here, and here).

The most compelling examples of humans modifying ant behavior are not the results of training, but of trickery. It's easy to get ants to walk where you want them to walk, think a given nestmate is dead, and become alarmed by isolating one of the pheromones they use to communicate, and applying it in the right way. However, I can't think of a way in which you could use pheromones to trick ants into picking up tools, or finding gold, unless you could splice the gene for pheromone production into a bacteria that preferentially grew and expressed that gene in the presence of that metal. This is not completely implausible, and as we learn more about the genomic architecture of ants, and the metabolic pathways involved in pheromone production, using a genetically-modified bacteria-ant system could potentially become economically viable (and probably less ecologically destructive than most current mining techniques). One could aerially spray genetically-modified bacteria over an area that already has high ant densities, using the bacteria to trick the ants into collecting soil particles with high concentrations of metal oxides. Then, a few months later, when the ants have collected the clumps of soil with the most metal oxides, one could find large ant colonies and spray another strain of genetically-modified bacteria directly into the nests, that would make the "dead ant" pheromone in the presence of high concentrations of the metal oxide. After a few days, one could go around collecting the midden piles at the surface of the nest, which would be enriched in the target metal oxide. This sort of strategy would probably work best in desert or grassland environments, where a few species of ants build conspicuous nest mounds, like Pogonomyrmex in the American Southwest. It's possible one might be able to do this chemically, without genetically modified organisms of some sort, but if there was a much simpler way of using ants to work for us, someone (especially in Greece, Russia, or India) probably would have figured it out.

Beyond pheromonal trickery, it is possible that we'll be able to eventually trick ants electrochemically, as you can "currently" (get it? like, electrical current?) do with cockroaches: https://backyardbrains.com/products/roboroach
It's possible that, by controlling one ant with electrical impulses, you could convince the rest of the colony to do your bidding. However, as Tom Seeley found with bees, nestmates might need to be convinces themselves of the validity of the scouts choice, in which case you'd need to coordinate quite a few ants to agree that, for example, a vein of gold is a food source. The trickery arguments above apply primarily to ants that often recruit to a food source; however, there are ants that primarily hunt alone.

As you may have figured out by now, your question "which ant is most intelligent?" depends on what kind of intelligence you're talking about. The types of ants most likely to exhibit high degrees of swarm intelligence are the ants that form the biggest colonies, and need to forage collectively. Leaf cutter ants (especially Atta and Acromyrmex) and army ants (especially Eciton and Dorylus) form colonies of hundreds of thousands of individuals in the wild, and many types of invasive ants (such as the Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta) form sprawling super-colonies that can cover acres in their introduced ranges. I'm not aware of a "swarm intelligence" test (but see Seeley's work on, for example, nest-finding abilities of honey bees in Maine), but the number of worker ants involved, the foraging range of the colony, and the complexity of the environment would all likely factor in. It would be interesting to compare how quickly swarms of different sizes and species could solve a maze, for example. I'm not aware of a study like this: perhaps you could set something up!

Observations of ants in the wild can allow one to make at least cursory qualitative statements about swarm intelligence in ants. The complexity and scale of leaf cutter ant nest architecture, the many tasks involved in maintaining a fungal monoculture, and the hazards of foraging in tropical savannas and forests leads me to suggest that the attines may exhibit the highest degrees of emergent, swarm intelligence, perhaps surpassed only by the fungus-growing termites of the African and Australian tropics. A foraging swath of army or driver ants (Eciton or Dorylus) may be collectively be processing millions of environmental signals per second: scent and vibrational cues about proximity of prey and colony members, light ant dark cues, etc., which is similarly impressive.

Basically everything listed in the paragraph about ants here (and the suspiciously similar list here) is a result of "swarm intelligence," and not at all related to the individual intelligence of any of the colony members. Personally, I don't think there is a clear winner between ants and termites in terms of the complexity that emerges from the swarm intelligence of their respective superorganisms. And I'm somewhat tempted to write a whole 'nuthur blog post on what is wrong with these two articles... perhaps some other time.

So far as individual, organism-level intelligence goes: again, I can only speculate. I am tempted to guess that the ants that have small colonies and have large workers that forage by themselves are most likely be more individually intelligent, because colony fitness will depend to a greater extent on the problem-solving ability of ants acting individually, rather than the emergence of intelligence from trial-and-error and blind democracy. Conversely, I would expect very small ants that live in very large colonies to be the least intelligent, individually, because, as a colony, they can rely on swarm intelligence to effect reproduction. In primates, the "social brain hypothesis" (also, see here) suggests that group size should be positively correlated with brain (neocortex) size. An assumption this hypothesis makes is that intelligence is necessary to maintain group cohesion through diplomacy, strategy, and individual recognition. In most social insects, group cohesion is pheromonally-mediated, so intelligence need not scale with group size. However, in some groups of ants and wasps, there is a shifting dominance hierarchy, which might mean individuals have to remember each other and behave according to past experiences. Elizabeth Tibbetts, to the astonishment of the behavioral and entomological communities, demonstrated face recognition in certain wasps with changing social hierarchies that are reinforced by in-fighting, rather than solitary wasps or eusocial wasps with hormonally-mediated social hierarchies. Thus, the ants that are most individually intelligent (e.g., the most train-able) may be ants that have shifting social hierarchies, and/or spend much of their time hunting by themselves. We're still learning more about the social lives of different species of ants: if you include species that haven't been described or discovered, there are probably more than 20,000 ant species in the world, and many of them have remarkably divergent ways of life. Several species I can think of which have to contend with a reality of changing dominance hierarchies (often due to unconventional reproductive strategies) throughout the lifetimes of individual workers, include ants in the genera Pristomyrmex, Platythyrea, Myrmecia, and Cerapachys. Myrmecia include some of the largest and most visually-oriented ants (two factors often correlated with increased brain size). They are also among the largest of ants, and very effective solitary hunters. So I would guess that some member of the genus Myrmecia might be the smartest ant, on an individual basis. Other strong contenders include ants that forage alone and use visual cues to navigate back to their nests, such as Gigantiops destructor, Cataglyphis, and Melophorus.

"Tandem running," a behavior in which one ant basically takes another ant by the hand and leads them to a food source (actually, they just tap each other's antennae pretty much the whole time) has been proposed as the first example of "teaching" in insects (by their definition, the "waggle dance" of bees is simply "broadcasting").
However, a critique of this article by some of the leading non-human intelligence researchers takes issue with this definition of learning, with implications for how intelligence might be defined (not to mention an implicit critique of the education system). Definitely check out the Lars Chittka's publications page for a veritable treasure trove of readings on insect intelligence.

Not to end on too preachy a note, but your statement "help them advance as a species" is problematic on two counts: (1) ants are a family, the Formicidae, which is comprised of more than 14,000 described species, and (2) "advance" has very strong teleological overtones. Teleology is an understandable (Nietzche was all about it, and would have been really happy with you for using that sort of reasoning). But it's not the way I think biology works. Saying you would like to domesticate ants, or modify them behaviorally or biologically so that they are more useful to humans is one thing, but the advancement of a species is an empty concept. Evolution is change, not change towards a goal.

To wrap it all up: swarm intelligence has many advantages at the colony level, but should not be confused with the individual intelligence of organisms. Without broad, cross-species comparisons of either kinds of intelligence, I can only speculate (perhaps beyond the limits of my own intelligence) about which ant is the smartest. Both types of intelligence would require different approaches to training or other types of behavioral manipulation. If there were an easy way to train ants for industry, someone would have probably figured it out by now. Emerging biotechnologies may make the use of ants (and/or ant cyborgs... cy-ants?) possible, but assembling little robots (equipped with both swarm and individual intelligence) from scratch might be prove to be easier, at least in the short run.

Whew! Was that enough to get you started? :)
Best,
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Hello Experts,

I am wondering how the ants decide who will be the new queen when the old one needs to be replaced. I understand that the workers can feed some larvae a special diet so they will develop into queens, but how do they know which ones to do this with? Is it arbitrary?

Thanks,
Nora

Hi Nora,

Thanks so much for this great question! Usually, ant colonies have one queen that has mated with one male. The queen founds the colony and uses the sperm from that one male throughout her entire life. The queen produces fertilized eggs, which develop into females and unfertilized eggs that develop into males (this is called haplo-diploid sex determination). The workers of the colony feed the up-growing larvae and based on the diet, the female eggs either develop into workers or queens. The queens (and males) than usually fly off to mate and find new colonies. They do not stay in their maternal colony. That's the norm in most ant species. However, among the 14,500 described ant species, there are many exceptions to this "standard ant".

With that said, queen replacement is not the norm for ants. However, in honeybees, this it happens (which also have haplo-diploid sex determination). The norm in monogynous ants (ants with one queen in the colony), is for the queen to die, and then the colony then dies, not too long thereafter. Some colonies have multiple queens and likely, the once all queens die, the colony dies (after each individual worker has died).

However, there are also some cases, in which the queen gets replaced. This is the case in ants that can turn workers into queens after they have hatched from the pupation state. This is usually regulated by pheromones. Basically, one ant will produce pheromones that tell the others not to develop into queens. Ants also show behavior called "policing", which means that they eat the eggs produced by workers, but not the eggs produced by the queen.

Here is a link to a related post on the topic.

And here is the link to a great paper that goes more into detail on the subject, "The demise of the standard ant" by Jürgen Heinze.

Research has just started to explore the subject of how, in a "standard" monogyounous colony, workers decide which ants will develop into queens (to fly off and found a new colony) and which will develop into workers. It has to do with many factors, such as season (some ants only produces queens and males in certain seasons), food (the more food, the more reproductives), age of colony (usually only mature colonies produce sexuals).

Hope this helps,
Steffi Kautz, James Trager and the AntAsk Team

Hi AntAsk,

Just wanted to inquire as to why would ants suddenly die ? When I mean ants i mean almost all of the same type... somewhat of a kind of small fire ants... but they are dying everywhere, and to add to that there is another variety , which doesn't bite .. tends to swarm to sweet things, and they seem to be packing up.. as the whole kitchen wall was filled with them carrying the eggs and just still and they kinds disappeared, just wanted to know what could be the cause for this.. as I find the one particular type of ants just dying randomly everywhere in mass quite disturbing.

Looking forward to your response,
Rumesh


Hi Rumesh,

Thanks for your question! Would it be possible that the ants, which you observe dying, have been exposed to some type of poison or insecticide? It almost sounds like that. Alternatively, they might all be from the same batch of eggs and all have reached the end of their life span, which is often relatively short in ants (a couple of months or up to a year, usually). Based on your description that would be my best guess.

All the best,
Steffi Kautz and the AntAsk Team


Hi!

I came across your interesting website and I wanted to find out if there are any images available for what ant dung looks like.

Many thanks,

Cristina

Hi Cristina,

Thanks for your question! I have to admit, although I've spent a fair amount of time looking at ants, they're usually either dead or foraging: I've never caught one in the act, so this was a fun question for me to try to answer. Luckily, I have access to some other people with lots of ant experience, so I'm able to share their insights.

First, though, let's start with some terminology. When insects eliminate undigested waste, it's called "frass." This is a general term, that also (depending on who you ask) encompases other little particles and exudates that result from insect activities. For example, wood dust that results from carpenter ants gnawing through wood is sometimes considered "frass," even though the carpenter ants don't actually eat the wood - they just cut through it. Since your question is obviously directed towards elimination, we'll focus there.

Something about ants that many people don't realize is that as adults, they are unable to consume big chunks of food. Their jaws are often good at holding and/or cutting through objects, but not well-adapted for chewing food into pieces small enough to swallow. Some ants can eat pollen grains, but solids much bigger than that will not pass through the narrow constrictions at an ant's neck and waist. In a peculiar reversal of the "mamma bird" situation we've all seen on nature shows (and in real life, if you're lucky), adult ants must bring solid foods back to the nest, where the ant babies (larvae) eat it, and then vomit some of the chewed and partially digested food back into the mouths of the adults.

Because adult ants never eat solid foods, their frass tends to be a dark-colored liquid--at least as far as the ants that AntAsk Team members Corrie, James, and Steffi are familiar with are concerned. They (the ants, not the people) also excrete metabolic waste, analogous to urine, in the form of white urate crystals, which James describes as mixing together with the feces in various proportions: "sort of like coffee creamer."

The ant larvae, however, are a different story. They only eliminate waste once during their development, in the form of a dark, compacted mass (can I say "turd" on this blog?) shortly before pupation. This cuts down on diaper changes considerably. Interestingly, albeit disgustingly, sometimes adult ants eat this meconium (reported in Cerapachys biroi by Ravary and Jaisson 2002, and Cephalotes rohweri by Creighton and Nutting 1965). I apologize if you're reading this right before a meal.

As I wrap up this post, I realize I haven't actually pointed you in the direction of any real pictures. There are some pictures of meconia among Alex Wild's excellently curated collection of ant pictures, but I'm not aware of any pictures of an adult ant in the act of defecating. Refuse piles in subterranean ant nests, and below arboreal ant nests are more commonly photographed, but they often contain the bodies of dead workers and discarded prey parts, in addition to frass in the strict sense. So the best I can do is leave you with James' vivid image of a fine white powder mixing into a dark drop of liquid, like creamer into coffee. If I find a good picture of an ant in the act of "frass-ing", I'll let you know!

Hope this helps!
Best,
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

ps. if you're interested in other things that come out of ants, please see this previous post about ant pee:
http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/08/why-do-i-get-itchy-when-an-ant-crawls-on-my-skin-carrie-austria.html

We are living in Madagascar. It is winter so it is dry. There is a stream of ants that pass through our living room. They don't do any damage and don't seem to be carrying any food. They are more active at night and we see ants with big jaws come too. There are also winged ants which seem to be escorted by the other ants. Some ants move to the side of the stream of ants and stop moving. Are they sleeping?
I would be grateful if you could elucidate their behavior.

Thanks,
Sam

P megacephala.jpg


Dear Sam,

Thank you for your interested questions about the ants passing through your house! Judging from the photo you sent us they are probably an invasive species of the very diverse genus Pheidole. This species is called Pheidole megacephala - the African big-headed ant - because of the large heads of the soldier worker caste, or majors as they are usually called. The three workers in your photo are of the smaller worker caste - the minors - with smaller sized heads and you can recognize the species by a combination of several characters, which are essentially:

they have two very discreet looking worker castes, both with two constricted waist segments between their mid- and hind-sections, their antennae are 12-segmented with a 3-segmented club at the tip, most of their skin (exoskeleton) is smooth and shiny, their midsections, legs and antennae are usually of lighter color than their heads and hind-sections, and in their introduced range they often occur in large numbers with workers from different colonies of this species not fighting each other, which would be normal competitive behavior in other native ants.

Also of importance is the fact that these ants were found inside your house, which is often the case with species that were introduced from somewhere else through human activities. In Madagascar, and many other areas around the world, this kind of ants and other invasive species are quite common, but mostly in and around human-modified landscapes. The African big-head ant is considered a pest species, and has been shown to kill or displace a large proportion of native species communities.

As to your observations: ants are usually opportunistic foragers and coming into houses is a common occurrence, especially in tropical and sub-tropical areas and during the winter time, when resources outside may become scarce and hard to come by. The ones with the big jaws are the earlier mentioned major workers, which often fulfill different tasks than their smaller sisters (ant workers are all females), usually the transportation or chopping of larger food items into smaller pieces, which can then be more easily carried and fed to the larvae by the smaller worker individuals. The winged ants which were being escorted - and thus protected against possible predators - belong to the reproductive castes, either young queens or males or both, that were leaving the nest for mating with their respective counterparts from other colonies and in order to found new colonies.

Finally, the ants that stood to the side of the trail were most likely not sleeping but possibly standing guard against other ants and predators. If you observe the ants along these trails for some time you can usually see a whole spectrum of different behaviors, as for example one ant feeding another with regurgitated food from her stomach, or some ants wandering off to explore another area of the house, looking for new food sources. You would see individuals communicating with and recognizing each other as sisters from the same colony by using their long, elbowed antennae moving forward and sideways from the front of their heads, which contain the olfactory receptors (their sense of smell). Some ants would be working in pairs or groups to transport larger food items back to their nest. And others - not bothered at all by our prejudices of the industrious, hard-working ant and maybe even some of those that you have observed 'sleeping' - would probably be just idling about.

Yes, in ants as in humans you can find very different characters: there is the dutiful type that always comes to work on time and never rests until everything is done and accounted for, and there are the sluggards and lazybones who are not very interested in working for the greater good of their society and oftentimes exploit the social system as good as they can.

Thank you for contacting us at Antblog!

Georg Fischer & the AntAsk Team


Do Ants have hearts?


I know ants don't have true hearts or bloodvessels but how do they push things around their bodies? Where is the "pump" located?

Thanks
Lynn

Dear Lynn,

Ant, like all other insects, do not have an arteries or vein system, but they do have an open circular system. Their blood is called haemolymph, it is almost colorless and it does contain only 10 % blood cells, most of its volume is plasma. This haemolymph is used for the transport of hormones, nutrients and metabolic products, but not for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

To enable the circulation of this haemolymph, ants have a very simple heart which is located at the abdomen of ants. Their hearth is like an arteria which is surrounded by some small muscles. When this heart contacts by these muscles (going from the back to the head), the haemolymph is pressed into the different body parts, a significant part is directed to the head of the ant. Insects may also increase their haemolymph circulation by pressing their abdominal parts.

For their oxygen supply, they have small openings called spiracles at each body segment which supply their body directly with fresh air. When the oxygen enters the body, it goes via tracheal trunks and the smaller tracheal tubes to the different body parts and organs. As this system works mostly by passive air exchange, the body size of insects is limited to the dimension we know, so huge monster insects know from certain movies could not exist as they simply could not breathe.

Thank you for contacting us at Antblog!

Dirk Mezger & the AntAsk Team

Today, my husband and I were walking out of our house in a small town in Ontario, Canada near our capital city, Ottawa.... And suddenly, our entire concrete patio out front was COVERED in these tiny golden colored ants, and many flying ants that weren't yet able to fly it seemed - the bigger flying/winged ones, looked more like black ants with wings. There were what looked like thousands, no exaggeration.... And neither of us had ever seen a single one before this. They were also covering a certain vine like plant on either side of our garden, but primarily, seemed to be on the concrete??

Very strange! Just curious if you may have any idea what these may be, why they'd suddenly be infesting my front patio, if they are a danger of any kind to us or our animals, and finally, how to avoid them!

Thank you very kindly,
Kristin


Hi Kristin,

We have contacted another expert, James Glasier. James is Antweb's curator for Ants of Alberta. Here is his response to your question:

"Hi Kristin,
From your description it sounds like you saw Lasius ants (sometimes called field or meadow ants, though common names vary) initiating their nuptial flight. Nuptial flights are when winged males and females of a colony fly up into the air, mate, and then found new colonies. Lasius queens are often a lot larger and can be a darker (often black or brown) compared to their worker caste, which are often light brown to amber in colour. Many Lasius species spend most of their time below ground, farming aphids and other insects on the roots of plants; milking them for a sugary substance called honeydew, which the ants eat. Often the only time you see them is when they are mistakenly dug up or are having their nuptial flight, so you were lucky to see and experience this event. Lasius ants present no danger to you or other animals; in fact they are an important food source this time of year for migrating birds and bats. Thank you for you question!
James Glasier, MSc, PhD Candidate UNSW in Invertebrate Ecology"

I hope this helps,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

Hello,

I briefly perused your blog and found it most interesting and informative. I have a question (similar to this one) regarding how ants deal with dead ants. Your answer is along the same lines of what I read in a published paper. I haven't had a chance to find it again. In that paper, the researchers cited the same reasons - nest hygiene. They further went on to state observations that ants will dispose of the dead at least 10" away from the nest entrance ('graveyard') and ignore dead ants outside the 'clean' perimeter.

I've had several invasions in our kitchen and have observed contradicting evidence. The closest a nest can be is several feet away if not more (definitely not 10"). After I have killed ants in the kitchen (a diluted solution of Dawn dish soap works well), more ants came which I killed. During the few minutes/hours I was able to sleep the ants carried away the dead. More ants came which I killed, and more dead were carried away. This went back and forth for about a week, but then one day, they had managed to remove all the dead ants and the invasion stopped. It appears the repeated incursions were to retrieve the dead ants versus scouting/invading.

I have observed this behavior at least three other times spaced out weeks to months apart. From my observations, the theory that removal of the dead is for nest hygiene does not apply. This is more reminiscent of 'no soldier left behind'.

I would very much welcome your thoughts on this. If I find the article I mentioned, I will send you the citation. There may have even been one or two more articles but my memory fails me.

Than you for your time and attention.
Gary


Hi Gary,

Thanks for contacting us and describing what you have been observing! This is indeed very interesting. There are more than 14,000 ant species and they are not all the same. However, from all the ants that I have observed, I have never seen that ants eat their dead nest mates. In your particular case I do even more believe that the ants were not after their nest mates for food as you used detergent to kill them. I don't believe ants would eat detergent. If eating is not an option, I would again suggest that they bring them to a grave yard. Maybe they considered your kitchen as part of their territory and wanted to keep it clean. Let me know if you (or anyone else) have any other ideas why the ants were removing the dead bodies. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team


Hi AntAsk,

Your hypothesis that the ants consider the kitchen part of their territory is very intriguing and quite possible if ants do extend their territory in such a manner. I do know that there are very large nests around, and probaby under, the house. I have also observed this behavior of retrieving the dead outside as well. One night there are hundreds of dead ants (killed with Raid) and the next day they were all gone. This happened several times also. Wind, rain, etc is not a factor and I'm not aware of any other insects that would carry away or eat ants. And I know there are no anteaters around here lol (I'm a UC Irvine alumni and our mascot is Peter the anteater!).

Thanks!
Gary


Hi Gary,

Thanks for getting back to us! This is quite an interesting observation and not having observed this behavior myself, it is challenging to come up with additional ideas. I find it particularly striking that the ants do not avoid other ants that had been sprayed with Raid.

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team



Ants and water


Hi AntBlog,

Do ants need water in their nests? And, if so, how do they get it there? I assume individual ants need water - the commonly held belief that ants come in kitchens for water - is that true?

Thanks,
Natasha


Hi Natasha,

Thanks for contacting us at AntBlog.

As any organisms ants do indeed need water. Their need for water is higher when humidity is low, for example in desert regions or during hot and dry summer months. Individual workers will take up water and then transport it to their nest. Ants have a crop, a so-called "social stomach". They can use this stomach to store food and liquids and then regurgitate it when they need to share it. This is a very common mechanism by which ants feed the brood of the colony. Sometimes food is also shared among workers, different adult members of the colony. This "mouth-to-mouth feeding" is called trophallaxis.

To answer the second part of your question, during very dry weeks ants may indeed come into a kitchen because they are attracted by water. More commonly though ants come into kitchens because food is left out and they are attracted by food. Often, ants are attracted to sweet foods, which are left out. We have a general post on how to get rid of ants in your house here.

I hope this helps,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team



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Recent Assets

  • Small Red Ants 1.jpg
  • Small Red Ants 2.jpg
  • flyingants1.jpg
  • flyingants3.jpg
  • AntMoatHB-Feeder.jpg
  • IMG_0021.JPG
  • IMG_0027.JPG
  • IMG_0035.JPG
  • image(1).jpeg
  • P megacephala.jpg