Ant behavior: September 2012 Archives


Hi there, having been to France recently on a University field course I noticed that there were many aphid guarding/milking ants on Broom bushes. I have a few pictures, I find this interaction fascinating so I'd really like to know what species it is.
If it helps any I was in the Cevennes region of France. I've got pictures, not terribly clear I'm afraid. Do you know of a good Ant ID key on the internet? Even to get it down to Genus level would be most useful.
Thanks,
Lorna

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Hi Lorna,

Thanks for your interest in these interactions. They really are amazing! We contacted an expert on French ants, Christophe Galkowski, to help answer your question. According to him, "ant-aphid interactions are very common in France, many species are concerned, especially in the genus Lasius." He also identified the ants that you found as belonging to the genus Formica and are most likely Formica (Serviformica) fusca. This key may be useful for identifying other ants you collected while in France.

Thanks for your question,
Christophe Galkowski, Ben Rubin, and the AntAsk Team

I'm thinking about doing a science fair project on ants. I was hoping to create a habitat for two colonies of ants and then connecting them by removing a plastic divider. Wanted to observe what the colonies would do and how it would change their behaviors finding food, etc. Also, I read that certain ants can float by linking together on top of water. Is this true? Will ants from two colonies link to survive?

Marion


Hi Marion,

We have several posts on ant farms here, and particularly this post might be of interest to you.

Almost all ant species will viciously defend their colony against ants from a different colony. This being said, once you remove the plastic divider, the two colonies would fight each other. If the two colonies are from the same species, workers usually fight one-on-one in often lethal fights and the larger colony would win. Check out this post by Alex Wild on territorial fights of pavement ants. If the ants you bring together are from different species, it is hard to predict which one would survive.

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Two pavement ant colonies fighting (Tetramorium). Photo by Alexander Wild (http://myrmecos.net/2010/09/21/the-battle-for-clinton-lake/).

To answer your second question, fire ants can link together to float. This behavior actually helps this invasive species to survive during floods and to colonize new habitats. (To find out more about fire ants read this post.) Researchers have discovered the mechanisms behind these living floats and found that ants use the buoyancy of air bubbles to float. Linking their bodies together increases water repellent activity. Here is an article on the study by Mlot and colleagues, which was published in 2011 ("Fire-ants self assemble into waterproof floats to survive floods" PNSA 108:7669-7673).

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Air bubbles enable fire ants to float. (Picture is courtesy of Mlot, Tovey and Hu, Ant Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology).

I hope this answers your questions!

Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

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