Ant behavior: January 2011 Archives

Dear Askantweb,

There is a group of fire ants congregating on a mound. Please see the attached pictures. They are tightly clinging to themselves like balls of ants. I haven't seen this behavior before and found it quite unusual. When I took the picture it was a warm day after it snowed a couple of days before. The ground was a little wet. Please explain why this happening and provide assistance in order to know what to do, should I spray or use some other type of insecticide to keep them from spreading. I live in East Tennessee and they are new to the area. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated, Thank You. Taylor, Philadelphia, TN



Dear Taylor,

This is an unusual behavior! So much so that we contacted a fire ant expert, Josh King, to help with this post. Here is what he had to say:

"This sort of "clumping" behavior is most commonly seen during flooding when the colony is forced out of their nest by rising ground water. As flooding is not an issue here (it seems), and there is a conspicuous lack of a distinct mound, I suspect that the ants are doing something they normally do on warm days after cold weather - they are moving up to the surface to warm up. The lack of a mound may explain why they are clumping, as they normally gather in high densities in the mound to thermoregulate, but in this case there is no structure, so they are clumping upon one another, which may also increase warming a bit. Sorry my answer could not be more definitive!"

As for getting rid of the ants, please see the following AntBlog post here.

Joshua King (guest expert), Corrie Moreau, & the AntAsk Team

Hi, We have a new little ant farm with Harvester ants. We had a mishap and had to remove the ants to reduce the moisture. During our clumsy transfer a few dead ants ended up back in the farm enclosure. The ants made one tunnel and a ball of white fuzzy stuff is now at the end of it. A couple of legs and perhaps a part of a head are visible around the exterior of it. How did they make this, and what is it?
Thanks very much, Jackie.

Hi Jackie,

Thank you very much for contacting us at AntAsk! Great to hear that you are keeping ants in an ant farm! Without a picture it is hard to say what the fuzzy stuff is, but my guess would be that the ants have formed a waste pile and now a fungus is growing on the dead ant bodies. Does your ant farm smell moldy? And is it still moist in there? It is quite common that ants dispose waste material in special locations to keep the nest clean. Please also read this post. I would recommend that you remove the fuzzy white stuff and carefully wash your hands afterwards. I would also try to further reduce the moisture as fungi usually prefer high moisture. This might further help to prevent the spread of the fungus.

I hope this helps and you will enjoy your ant colony!

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

If and when an ant is moved from one colony to another is it rejected in the new colony? Or it could be taken by other worker ants and brought to the queen ant for decisions. Or does the ant just fit in into the new colony. (Anthony)

Hi Anthony,

Thank you very much for contacting us at AntAsk! This question is not that easy to answer as ants are highly diverse. There are more than 12,500 described ant species to date and many more awaiting description. Each species has a distinct biology and many differ in their response towards an ant which belongs to a different colony. I would say that in the majority of cases, an intruder would be killed by the workers of the resident colony. However, if the intruder is from a colony that is closely related to the new colony, then the workers might not be able to recognize it as foreign and it could sneak in. There are a few ant species, which would accept an ant from a different colony. These ants usually are more primitive in their social organization. Please also read this post. The queen does not take part in the decision process, her job is to lay eggs and to produce pheromones (chemicals), which signalize her dominance over the workers regarding reproduction. The workers perform the task that also involve nest defense against ants from other colonies.

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

I'm a writer, currently working on a children's story which includes an ant anecdote.

In the story, I have six ants carrying a strawberry at a strawberry farm. They carry it about 3 yards (past a child who is watching) to their anthill.

I don't want to include anything in my story that couldn't really happen. Could this scenario happen? If not what would be more likely? Less ants? More? Would they cut the strawberry into tiny pieces before carrying it?

Thanks so much for your help.

Dear Sara,

It is a very nice image! But I have never seen a group of ants carrying a strawberry. If it were very ripe, most ants would simply drink the juice inside of it. Ants tend to put more effort into bringing food back to the nest that is rich in proteins and/or fats. The major exception to this rule is the leaf-cutter ants, who use leaves or other things to feed their fungus gardens. Leaf cutter ants, especially those in the genera Atta or Acromyrmex, would happily cut up a strawberry into liftable pieces and bring those back to their nests, like this picture of an ant carrying part of an apple.

Unlike other ants, these genera of leaf cutter ants need the cellulose in leaves and other plant parts to feed their fungal gardens. The reason most ants bring food back to the colonies is to feed to their larvae; not only do the baby ants need food to grow, they are also the only ones in the colony who can chew and swallow solid food! Adult ants can sip water and other liquids, but they cannot chew food up into small enough chunks to pass through their narrow necks, so they bring large chunks of food back to their babies, their babies chew the food, swallow it, and then regurgitate the partially digested food back into their older sisters' mouths! For this reason, larval ants have sometimes been referred to as the "digestive caste" of the colony.

Leaf cutter ants actually have two "digestive castes": their fungal gardens, which digest leaves and other vegetable matter (in the case of the two genera mentioned above, at any rate), and their larvae, which chew, swallow, and regurgitate the fungus. For ants that don't grow fungi this way (including other genera of "leaf cutters" that actually use insect droppings or dead animals to feel their gardens), they wouldn't bother bringing such a sugary, cellulose-rich source of food back to the nest.

I personally think it's ok to take a few artistic liberties with children's literature. It's not impossible that some Atta or Acromyrmex would carry an entire strawberry back to their nest, and then cut it up there. But it seems much more likely that they would cut it up on site, and then carry it.

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

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