Ant behavior: July 2012 Archives

Hi AntBlog,

I am an elementary school teacher and I am looking for a project to do with my students on ants? Do you have any ideas?

Thank you,
Maria

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Dear Maria,

We are really glad you want to include ants into your classroom activities!

There are many potential ways to include ants into classroom and teaching, including 1) having a living ant farm in the classroom, 2) participating in the School of Ants, or 3) becoming an Urban Ant Collector.

Ant Farm: You can learn more on making your own ant farm and finding and/or purchasing ants for the farm here, here, and here.

School of Ants: School of Ants is a nationwide citizen science program interested in getting people from across the USA to collect their local ants and send them into a lab in North Carolina so they can make a map of all the ant species found. It is easy to participate and all you need are a few common items (read here for the list). Once you have put out your "baits" you just put them in the freezer overnight to kill the ants, and then ship them off for identification. Once identified you can log in and see what ant species your classroom collected! It is a great way to see not only your local ant diversity, but also how your ant community compares to other locations.

Urban Ant Collector: Using an Android smart phone app, you can collect ants like a professional while adding to our knowledge of the planet's biodiversity. You can read more about this program here.

Best of luck,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Hi, I am in Montenegro and have been observing ants on our terrace. I have been watching an apparently dead ant being approached by another ant. It appears to prod the "dead" ant. This often prompts some movement. It is as if the ant is trying to revive the one which is "dead". This behaviour goes on for a number of minutes. Sometimes the ant is joined by another member of the group which also seems to be attempting resuscitation. If there is no success the ant carries the body away. Can you explain this behaviour for me.

Thank you, Maureen

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Dear Maureen,

Great questions! We have addressed similar questions about ants carrying other ants, both dead and alive, on AntBlog. You can find the answers to your questions in the following posts:

http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/08/do-ants-carry-away-dead-ants-tom-perris-ca.html
http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/07/why-do-adult-nestmates-carry-each-other-ken-poland-ohio-usa.html
www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/10/live-ants-perceived-as-dead-jon.html

Keep watching ants!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Hi,

I recently visited and isolated mountain is central Montana where I have visited from time to time for about 45 years. The mountain, known as Square Butte, rises from the badlands country of less than 4k feet above sea level to an elevation of about 5600 feet. Dry but timbered. Not much for soil.

This time we experienced a presence of ants, mostly the "red ants", that are very common throughout the area, in numbers none of us have ever experienced in all our collective time outdoors in Montana. The nearby ranch owner who has been on the mountain more than probably anyone, has never experienced this phenomenon before either.

There is hardly a yard large space in hundreds of acres at a time which is not crawling with the ants. And extraordinarily large ant hills. The nearby ranch owner who has been on the mountain more than probably anyone, has never experienced this phenomenon before either. 2011 was an epic year for moisture in the area. More rain and snow than a normal 3-5 year period. What do you think might have happened here?

Thanks,
Larry



Hi Larry,

We have contacted James Glasier, antweb's Alberta ants curator, for help with your question and here is what he had to say:

"If the area was timbered, I would probably guess Formica rufa group ants, but he also mentioned badlands, which could indicate Pogonomyrmex, like Dr. James Trager said, so any pictures would make identification easier. The density of ants seems extremely high from his description and I have not seen anything like that. I have had reports of large colonies of Formica podzolica in the last few years that just appear in farmer's yards where they weren't there the year before; colonies three to five meters in diameter compared to regular one meter nests or smaller. I have also had a few people report in southern Alberta an increase in large Formica obscuripes mounds. So it is quite possible these are indications of increased ant populations. I personally haven't collected ants in Montana and don't know the area he refers to, so I can't say for sure what else may be going on... is it possible to get pictures? The other potential thing I could think of is a large nuptial flight occurring right when he was in the area. I know Formica rufa species can be quite aggressive when nuptial flights are going on and run a round quite a bit, and Pogonomyrmex can do that in large numbers as well... so that may also have been what was happening where he was."

Hope this helps,
James Glasier (guest expert), Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

Hey there!

I am currently doing an experiment on ant repellent and I noticed something weird which I would like to inquire about. For my experiment, I used chicken skin as the attractant to test whether the repellent works. I was hoping to get the same type of ants for all the set-ups so that my experiment will be fair. However, one of my set-up had black medium-sized ants attracted while the other had small red ants and medium-sized, big head red ants attracted. Both set-ups were done at the same time under the same conditions. I was thinking whether it is because the black ants and red ants were of different colonies/groups and do not mix and have their own territory. (The 2 different types of red ants could be from the same family/species.) So when any one type of the ants leave their scent on the chicken skin, the other type of ants will not come and invade their territory when they smell a foreign scent and the same type of ant will come instead when they smell the particular scent from their same kind. Thus, whichever type of ant that stumbles first on the chicken skin and leave their scent, that chicken skin will be invaded by that type of ant. Is my reasoning correct? Also, is there any way to only attract one type of ants? Because my experiment can only have 1 type of ants to be fair.

Thank you!

Regards,
Janelle

Hi Janelle,

Thanks for your interesting question and sharing your observations with us!

Without a picture, it is always hard to tell which ant species you encountered. Information on your location would be very valuable to get an idea on the ants identity as different ants are distributed in different parts of the world.

Ants of a single species often have the same color. This means that the red and the black ants you observed most likely belong to two different species. However, the red small ants and the red bid headed ants might actually be different casts of the same species. For example, there is an ant genus named Pheidole, which has two or sometimes even three different casts. The big headed individuals are called the soldiers or major workers, while the little ones are called minor workers (but as any ant workers, these are all sterile females). Here is a picture of two ants from the same species and even same nest. In this picture, you see that not only is there a distinct difference in size and morphology (i.e., shape), but also the color between the two individuals differs.

PheBar6.JPG

Pheidole barbata - an ant species with two distinct casts. Photo from http://www.myrmecos.net.

As for whether ants are deterred if a different species has left pheromone trails, I think it depends on the species identity. A dominant species would not care, while a more timid species might be repelled.

For your experiment, I think that it does not matter whether you attract ants from one or more species. You could just note how many individuals of how many different types of ants were attracted (as species is sometimes hard to distinguish). Another approach could be that you go out and collect a bunch of ants from a single nest and then test their reaction to the chicken skin in a plastic box. This would also control for other factors, such as soil type etc.

Hope this helps!

Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team


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