Ant biology: June 2012 Archives

Hello,

I have a two part Ant question that I am just so curious about.

We have a patio paved with stones and we have an Ant nest under it.We have seen the small reddish ants and their activity.

1. My question is are the Ants able to predict when it will rain? A day before rain comes we notice small sticks sticking out of the Ants nest holes.The sticks are in a very regular pattern,spaced about 6-10 inches apart.After the rain is gone for a day the sticks go away.

2. Is there more to plugging the holes beyond keeping rain out? Are they funneling water?


It is just so fascinating,we love watching wild creatures and their behaviors and when it's right out the back door, WoW!

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Thank you so much for your time. We hope to hear from you soon,

Chance and Rois



Hi Chance and Rois,

Thanks for contacting us with these puzzling observations! I am not entirely sure about both your questions and here are some thoughts. As far as I know, it has never been scientifically proven that ants were able to predict rain, but there are many stories which claim it. There are also studies that claim that ants might even be able to predict earthquakes, because they sometimes nest on fault zones. It is hypothesized that ants detect Helium which is released before an earthquake.

Coming to your second question, I can only guess. I have never observed this behavior myself, but I've seen ants that cover their nests with rocks. This might be to prevent intruders from coming in or for keeping the rain out. In my own driveway, which has lots of cracks in the concrete because of tree roots, I also sometimes observe little sticks standing out. But we have little ants in the driveway and I think that earth worms are pulling the little sticks in to feed on them. They seem to chew them down. However, the sticks I see are much smaller and look softer than the one that you were showing. I found a picture online in which an earth work pulls a leaf into the ground to feed on it.

I think the only way to find out what is pulling the sticks in would be to dig it up. Let me know if you do so and what you find.

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Here is a picture of an earthworm pulling in a leaf. (image taken from http://www.planet-wissen.de/alltag_gesundheit/landwirtschaft/wiese/wiesenaufbau.jsp)

I hope these thoughts help!

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

Hi all,

What is the biggest and the smallest species of ant? And where do they live?

Thanks, Cassio

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Hi Cassio,

The biggest ants in the world are from the genus Dinoponera. The workers are about 3 cm in length (more than one inch). There are currently six valid species in the genus Dinoponera and they occur in Neotropical rainforests. The ant species Paraponera clavata, the giant Neotropical bullet ant, is also extremely large and the workers reach sizes of about an inch. Paraponera clavata also occurs in rainforests of the Neotropics and is distributed from Honduras in the North to Brazil in the South.

There are many very small ant species and the smallest probably belong to the genus Carebara. This genus comprises 160 valid species, which are found almost worldwide.

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Dinoponera australis - one of the largest ants in the world. Photo from http://www.alexanderwild.com/

All the best,
Stefanie Kautz, Arista Tischner & the AntAsk Team

Hello,

I have a general question about ant colony size:

Having secured their resources, why does an ant community choose expansion in size, structure and function? I guess that at a certain limit of population size things will start to get more difficult with every increase in contrast with a small population where more workers will make life easier and growth is a healthy thing.

Provided that resources are endless will an ant colony continue to grow or is there a target to be achieved? Will ants limit their population if food is scarce for example?

Grateful for your help,
Ibrahim


Hello Ibrahim!

The size of an ant colony has to do both with the ant species and the availability of resources. With that said, it seems to be genetically determined how big an ant colony can get. Many ant colonies have only one egg-laying queen, while others have several and can reach larger colony sizes. Some species only reach colony sizes of a few hundred workers, whereas others can reach colony sizes of over a million, or several millions (for example leaf cutter ants). On the other hand, an entire ant colony of the genus Temnothorax can nest in a single acorn. However, when resources are scarce, an ant colony might not be able to expand to its full potential size.

Hope this helps,
Arista Tischner & the AntAsk Team

Today,

I witnessed something that peeked my curiosity. I saw hundreds of ants moving in a straight line on a curb for about 50 yards. 1. Why would they do this? 2. 99% were moving in the same direction but occasionally one would fight the tide, why?

Thanks,
Mark


Hi Mark,

The behavior you witnessed could have been a colony moving to a new nest site. Parts of an ant colony or an entire colony move to a new nest if the previous has gotten too small or if resources around the nest have been exploited. It's also possible that the ants were performing a "raid", where they quickly swarm a food location. Did you happen to observe whether the ant workers were either carrying brood items or prey items? This might help to understand whether they were moving to a new nest site or were on a raid. The solitary ants moving against the tide were likely recruiting those which were still behind.

All the best,
Arista Tischner & the AntAsk Team

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