Ant behavior: October 2010 Archives

Do you have any links for videos which show the structure of ant social behavior, like the launching attacks by army ants, or group foraging.

Many thanks
San Francisco


Great question! Here are some links to videos of ants. Most come from "Life in the Undergrowth":

Hope you enjoy the ant videos!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Dear AntAsk,
In mid May at about 6:00 in the evening in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, I was walking along the sidewalk and saw some small black ants swarming. I like to watch queens come out so I sat down to watch. I stayed about 45 minutes and I didn't see a single wing. What I did see was amazing. After a few minutes the ants started forming patterns. Two ants that were narrower than most would lock jaws. Then two normal ants would grab onto the heads of these two to form a plus sign or X. They would stay like that for 6-7 minutes then breakup. Sometimes 4 more of the normal ants would grab onto the abdomens of the 4 ants and form a plus sign of eight ants. In the time I was there there were always 15 to 30 of these symbols. I am not sure how many separate nests were participating. I left to get a camera and a collecting jar. When I came back the show was over. Is this common behavior? I have not seen it before.


Dear Dave,

That definitely sounds like an interesting behavior. If all of your ants were roughly the same size, dark brown/black, and on a sidewalk, chances are you're looking at Tetramorium caespitum, the so-called "pavement ant."

Most of the time when you see large groups of these ants congregating, they are fighting. These ants are often very aggressive to members of their own species, and neighboring colonies will often engage in territorial "wars." My guess is that the "plus signs" you observed were actually groups of ants biting on and attempting to subdue each other. Please see a fantastic photograph by Alex Wild of such a scene by clicking here. After such battles, it is not unusual to see wounded ants with the heads of their enemies still latched on to their legs or antennae.

I hope this helps!
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Hi there,
I have two questions:
1) If you were going to do an experiment on Argentine ants and wanted them to from a trail to a food source, what food would you use. (My son is doing a paper/ behavioral experiment on pheromone trails). We've placed banana and white sugar near a nest and after a day only a few ants were at the sugar. At this rate it will take forever to do the observations and experiment design!
2) There appears to be quite a few ants under a specific rock in our garden. Last week, I just happened to lift the rock and saw tons of Argentine ants swarming around carrying what looked like tiny white flakes of something in their mandibles. What was this? I went in the house to try and locate a video camera. It took me awhile to do so, and when I returned and lifted the rock, they were gone!

Thanks in advance for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi Joanne!

Thanks for contacting us at AntAsk! How exciting that your son is doing an experiment on ant behavior! Ants are so much fun to study! Concerning your first question: Many researchers use tuna to bait their ants. Of course, this can get kind of smelly, but since you already tried sugar and banana, you might want to try tuna. One other option could be jam. For my research I bait ants using a sugar solution (I work on ants that only feed on plant sap in nature, so they especially like sugar). You could try solving sugar and place little drops on little plastic pieces, if you don't like to tuna option. I suggest solving sugar in water in the ration 1:3 (e.g., one tea spoon of sugar and 3 tea spoons of water).

Concerning your second question: Ants often have their nest or part of their nest under rocks. So I guess that you saw the brood of the ant colony. The ant queen lays eggs, from these larvae hatch. The larvae grow, so they come in different sizes and eventually they pupate. So I guess you saw eggs, larvae and pupae. Once you lifted the rock, the ant workers tried to bring the brood to safety. This is why they were all gone when you came back.

Thumbnail image for gracilis2_brood.jpg

This image shows from left to right: a worker, a small larva, medium larva, large larva, a young pupa and an old pupa of the species Pseudomyrmex gracilis. Photo curtesy by Alex Wild.

Let us know how your son's experiments go and contact us if you have any further questions!

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

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