Ant biology: January 2011 Archives

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

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