Dear AntAsk,

I am doing a hands on report/experiment on ants for 6th grade. I will need to test my theories and answer questions. My Hypothesis is, ants will only eat sweets. My investigative question is, are ants picky about their food? My mom and I have read info from www.live-ants.com. We found info of types of ants and foods they eat. I am supposed to mention who discovered this? Further investigation led me to Dr. Brian Fisher. He was identified as discovering the 12,000. different species. Can you help me to answer who discovered what ants eat, when, where, and how did they make this discovery or point out a resource I may be missing. Not able to search to get my answers. Also is there a specific ant farm I can purchase to test my hypothesis?
Thank You so much for your help.
Stephanie

Dear Stephanie,
Thanks so much for your question! Like you saw, there are many species of ants. In fact, if you include the species that haven't been described yet, the number may even be closer to 24-28,000! It would take a long time to watch all of those different ants, so for the majority of ants, we don't have any clue of what they eat.

For many of the ants that live around our houses, observations of their preferences are so easy that very few people have published in-depth studies of their diets. Asking who was the first to observe an ant eating something sweet is sort of like asking who was the first to observe rabbits eating vegetables. Even if I did find out who the first person was to write about rabbits eating vegetables, I would be reluctant to give them credit for "discovering" that! Also, as you found out, there are many, many species of ants, more than the number of species of birds! Ants live in many different places and eat many different things. According to evolutionary biologists, the last common ancestor of all ants may have actually been back in the age of the dinosaurs, aroud the same time modern birds may have started to diversity (give or take 50 million years), and perhaps before the origin of modern mammals (there are more than twice as many ant species as mammal species!) so asking who discovered what ants eat is a little like asking who discovered what birds or mammals eat. Without being more specific, you're going to have a hard time!

That being said, several researchers have been doing very interesting research on specific diet preferences of ants. In another blog post we put up today, Dr. Mike Kaspari explains why some ants might be more attracted to salt than to sweet bait (read more here). In some older studies, Dr. James Brown (no relation to the funk/rock singer) showed how important competition was between ants and rodents for seeds in desert communities in the American Southwest (overview of his experiments here and here). Dr Corrie Moreau and Jacob Russell and their colleagues discovered how important it might be for certain kinds of bacteria to live inside of certain ants, so that the ants can get all the nitrogen they need just from the bacteria turning nitrogen in the air into food the ants can use (read more here)! Other authors have researched what the best ratio of food is to feed to ants. For example, Dussutour and Simpson published the recipe for a diet that they claimed made their ants the happiest (click here for link).

Those four studies show how the environment might change what ants need to eat (Kaspari), how ants might change the environment for other animals by competing with them for food (brown), how ants and bacteria can work together to make food for each other (Russell and Moreau), and what the basic nutrients ants might need are (Dussutour and Simpson). The important thing to remember about ants and the food they want to eat is that just like us, they need carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and lots of vitamins and minerals. Ants definitely need salt, for example, and calcium. Some ants usually get by with mostly sugary water they drink from different parts of plants, but most of those ants will also eat fatty, protein-rich foods like peanut butter and dead insects. It all depends on what nutrients they need most at the moment. Some ants are strict predators, and will pretty much ignore anything that doesn't move. Leaf-cutter ants actually chew the leaves they cut into something like paper mache, and use that material to grow fungus garden (They are the worlds first gardeners--they discovered agriculture millions of years before we did!).

If you give us some more information about where you live, we might be able to help you out with diets of specific ants you might be able to find around your house. Many of the best Ant Farm ants are the "Seed Harvester" ants, in the genera Pogonomyrmex, Messor, and Aphaenogaster. These ants will sip sugar, but they need to gather seeds as well, to feed to their larvae. In terms of ants that you might already have around your house, Structure-infesting Ants (or any of Stoy Hedges books) has a number of good notes on dietary preferences of ants that are commonly found in and around houses in North America. If you don't live in North America, let us know, and we might be able to point you towards some other general references.

So, to summarize, if you have a certain type of ant, you might be able to discover who best characterized the different foods that ant eat. You might want to check out some other blog posts here about specifics for ant foods here, here, here, here, and here. About specific ant farms, it might be easiest to just place some bait out in an open jar and try to catch some ants! If you know of some place that there are ants around, you could get a bunch of small jars. I've used baby-food jars before, but I'm sure anything would do as long as it has steep, smooth sides. Just put a bunch of them with different kinds of food out in a place where you know there are ants (for example, every 5 paces along a wall), and pick them up three or four hours later! Then you can see which kind of food got more ants. My favorite food to use is peanut butter, but other people think tuna fish works really well, or some kind of nutty, shortbread cookie. For sweets, you could use honey, jelly, or any kind of sugar-water solution.

Hope this helps!
best,
Jesse

ps., just for the record, Brian Fisher is an amazing guy, and he's described quite a few species of ants. However, he did not describe all of them. You can read more about people who have described some of the 11,000 or so ants Brian hasn't had time for here. In fact, I'm pretty sure Dr. Fisher himself has a number of heros in the ant world, including Dr. Barry Bolton. There are lots of great qualities that make Dr. Fisher special, even amidst the hundreds of talented myrmecologists (people who study ants), but personally one the things I'm most grateful for is his passion and persistence at pulling together this great website. Pretty much everyone who studies ants would have a much harder time doing our jobs without it!

Hi,
For my specialist study in the UK I am studying the food preference of Lasius niger by feeding them 3 cotton buds soaked in different solutions (sugar+water, salt+water, and just water). So far, I have found that they prefer the salt solution over the suger solution and I am wondering whether this is possible as Lasius niger are knwon to prefer sweet foods over others. I believe the food preference is seasonal and is related to colony needs (althought my colony does not have a queen).

Kind regards,
Christina
*****

Dear Christina,

Your ant feeding experiments sound interesting. We contacted an expert on the salt preference of ants, Dr. Michael Kaspari, to help us with this question. Here is what Mike had to say:

"Christina,
It is indeed possible. A diet rich in plant exudates like nectar is typically poor in sodium, the Na in NaCl, or table salt. We have found that ants that are more herbivorous are likely to take advantage of NaCl baits, especially if those baits are presented to ecosystems that are far from an ocean source of sodium. Check out KASPARI, M., YANOVIAK, S. & DUDLEY, R. 2008. On the biogeography of salt limitation: a study of ant communities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 105: 17848-17851."

Mike also suggested Googling "ants" and "salt" to find other relevant resources.

Best of luck with your research!
Mike Kaspari (guest expert), Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team


Hi, my name is Felipe and I live in Brazil, I found some queens in the countryside and I wonder which species are them, can you guys help me out?
I found them living under a rock and they are red legged and their body is black. Some told me they are Camponotus, I knew that, but which camponotus species specifically?
Here are some pictures of them in a tube.
That's it, I hope you guys can help out..

Thank you
Felipe Lei
Mirmecolista e Estudante
São Paulo Brasil


Hello (Olá) Felipe!

It's great to see you become interested in raising ants. This is an excellent way to learm more about their home life. It is difficult to identify the ants to species from your pictures, though they do look like Camponotus.
There are many species of this genus in Brazil. Some do not have names yet, as the group needs work in that rich fauna. However, a number of them are pictured at AntWeb's Paraguay page - http://www.antweb.org/description.do?rank=genus&name=camponotus&project=paraguayants. You might be able to compare the color and hair patterns of your queens to the worker pictures there, and make a good guess about the species.

Até logo.
James C. Trager & the AntAsk Team

Ant Communications



On my walks I see ants of many sizes. My question is about medium size fast moving ants. As they race about in a line (or roughly a broad line), some going and some coming, some meet head on and stop to either check something or communicate. They stop for a split second or sometimes a second or two. Any idea why?
John McAllister


Dear John:

As always around here, we appreciate your interest in ants. Lacking locality information or more specific description of the ants, it would be impossible to identify the species you observed, but some general principles of ant behavior will certainly apply to your question.
Ants may form relatively heavily traveled trails, with individuals traveling in both directions for a couple of reasons. One is that they have what is called a foraging "trunk" trail, with hungry outbound foragers heading away from the nest to the food gathering areas beyond, and food-bearing returning individuals heading home. Similar trails may be formed among the various nests of ants that live in large, multi-nest (polydomous) colonies, and it is along such trails that the family ties among the different nests are maintained.
You more or less answered your own question about why the ants stop when they meet head-on, with the phrase "either check something or communicate". One thing they check is that the ant they encounter is a member of their own colony, recognized by odor, just as dogs recognize humans and other dogs individually. Ants are strongly territorial and typically don't tolerate members of other colonies intruding on their space. Another thing, they might be checking is if the oncoming ant has any food to offer. Commonly, if a returning forager has found a particularly good source of food, it may communicate to the other ant through physical and chemical (pheromone) signals that it should carry on in the direction it is going to find that food.

James C. Trager & the AntAsk Team

Hi there,

Thanks for your wonderful website and blog! The worker harvester ants that are usually sold for small home ant farms only live perhaps a few months, often only a few weeks! What species of ant would you recommed if I wanted to have worker ants that easily live perhaps a year or longer?

thanks,
keith
*****
Dear Keith,

We are glad to hear you are interested in keeping live ants! We are often asked about which ants to keep in ant farms, how to make your own ant farm, and how to find ants that live longer than the ones sent through the mail.

They only way to insure your ants will live long is to have a colony with a queen. It is illegal to mail queens, which is why most companies that provide live ants to not offer this service. You can also read more about this here. The best way around this is to collect your own colony of ants from nearby.

We have several previous posts that will help with this:

You can read more about collecting your own ant colony on these posts:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/10/how-to-find-an-ant-queen-austin-arizona.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2011/07/questions-on-ant-farm-steve-winnipeg-manitoba-canada.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/07/how-do-you-collect-an-entire-ant-colony-evan-philadelphia-pa-usa.html
- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/ask-an-ant-expert/ant-farms/

For tips and instructions to make your own ant farm see these posts:

- http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/04/how-to-make-an-ant-farm-john-leeds-uk-moving-to-us-soon.html

Best of luck and enjoy the ants!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Hi,

I found this in my yard, Western Australia near Perth. It's about 33mm long and I'm intrigued to find out what it is.

thynnus_sp.jpg

Please view the picture here.

Kind regards,
William

*****

William,

Fantastic picture! This insect is in fact a wasp from the family Tiphiidae, commonly called flower wasps or simply tiphiid wasps.

This particular specimen is a female Thynnine wasp. All female species of the subfamily Thynninae are wingless and can often be seen scaling an elevated structure like a flower or a tree (or in your case, a fence) in order to catch the attention of a passing male. Unlike females, Tiphiid males do have wings and will literally sweep the receptive female off her feet for an extended in-flight mating ritual that also involves treating the female to several easy meals along the way (flower nectar being much more accessible from the air).

Winglessness in female tiphiid wasps finally proves useful when, after mating, the gravid female must burrow underground to find a suitable repository for her eggs, namely scarab beetle larvae. Interestingly, winglessness or brachyptery (reduced wings) in wasps often goes hand in hand with this kind of parasitism and occurs in at least eight other wasp families. This frequently leads to confusion with ants, of course, but you can consult our post on one particularly notorious wasp family with wingless females, the mutillids (deceptively referred to as velvet ants), to learn more about some of the differences.

Thanks for your query,

Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

Ant? No, a wasp.



Hi

I found your blog whilst looking for information about ants. I found
this large, winged, ant strolling around my kitchen today. 2cm long and
with a bright red body with black tip. It raised its tail end a couple
of times when I gently nudged it with a piece of paper - as though it
may have attempted to sting. I let it go in the garden - but I'm just
curious to know what it is. Is it a common ant? Are there likely to be
more? And should I be concerned that there may be a colony in my
house? Oh yes - and I live in Catalonia, Spain.

Any ideas please?
thanks in advance

kind regards
Dena

Prionyx_lividocinctus.JPG

Dear Dena -

Thanks for your inquiry and the accompanying photos. And I have to inject here, lucky you living in Catalonia, my favorite part of Spain! By the way, it may interest you to know that there is an active group of professional and amateur ant enthusiasts in Spain, many of them around Barcelona, and they communicate at an online forum - www.lamarabunta.org.

Your critter, as it turns out, is not an ant, but a related insect. Your pictures show one of the solitary hunting wasps in the family Sphecidae. Both ants and wasps, as well as bees and sawflies, are in the insect order Hymenoptera. I don't know wasps as well as ants, but I believe yours is the common European grasshopper-hunting species Prionyx lividocinctus. You need not worry that there is a colony of them in the house, nor even outside, since they live a solitary life. I appreciate that you took the care to return it to the outdoors.

James Trager & the AntAsk Team


Hi,

I have a question I hope you can answer for me.

I have recently started my own ant colony which is currently thriving. The ants have even created a new nest which is full of larvae at various stages of development.

I may need to provide a bigger habitat for them in future judging by how many larvae there seems to be in the new nest. However I'm not sure how long it takes the for an ant to go from a new laid larvae to an ant that's ready to go.
Could you give me some idea of the timeline for this?

The ant species I have is Polyrhachis Australis.
Any information you can provide me with would be greatly appreciated.

Regards, Michael

Dear Michael:

Congratulations on your thriving colony of the beautiful, shiny black Polyrhachis australis, seen at this link from the Oz Animals website http://www.ozanimals.com/Insect/Dome-backed-Spiny-Ant/Polyrhachis/australis.html>, in two lovely images . This is one of the lesser known weaver ants, that builds nests above ground, of leaves and other plant parts, bound together with larval silk. Note that the correct format for this and all scientific names is always with the first part (genus) capitalized, and the second part (species name) always in lower case.

It turns out you've asked a question, about devlopment time of ants, that has many answers, depending on the sort of ant that one is considering. The development of an ant from an egg laid by the queen to an adult ant can take a little over three weeks to almost two years, depending on the species and the climate in which the ant lives. I admit to no personal experience with observing the development of Polyrhachis, but based on my experience with related ants in the genus Camponotus, I would guess eggs in your colony would complete development to adult workers in 6-10 weeks. In other words, now would be a great time to prepare for the expansion of the colony!

Maybe you can send us in a nice picture or two of them in the future . . .

James Trager & the AntAsk Team



Dear AntAsk,
I live in Puerto Rico and am wondering about a tiny ant whose bite
continues to burn after it bites and likes to eat cotton clothing. And
scurries in and out of electronic equipment like my comptuer keyboard
and my other electronic things like the dials on my electric guitar.
They also like paper. and books - I see them outside where they like
very dry wood and leaves - and digest dry wood as well. They look just
like ants - act just like ants - How do I get rid of them as I can't
spray my equipment. and my clothes.

Thanks

Sonja

Dear Sonja,

Thanks for contacting AntBlog. Chances are you have one of two species: Wasmannia auropunctata or Monomorium destructor. Wasmannia workers are all the exact same size and their bodies tend to be all the same color (they can be light or dark, but it's usually one or the other). Monomorium destructor are red-brown in the front part of their bodies, and darker in the back. Their workers are different sizes: within one foraging trail, you'll often see workers that are twice as big as the smallest ones, and there will be sizes between those two. Monomorium destructor has more of a tendancy to damage clothing (like you mentioned) and electrical equipment, but both species (and many others) will nest in a variety of small containers like electrical boxes and clothing drawers.

In previous posts (click here, here, here ), we've outlined some general strategies for getting rid of ants using commercially availible poisons like Borax. I would add putting items in the freezer for 24 hours will often kill them in small electronic items (and anything else you can fit in the freezer).

You also might want to check out the website of our friend, Cas Vanderwoude in Hawaii:
http://www.littlefireants.com/
He has some useful tips there for how to get rid of Wasmannia auropunctata, and the research his team is doing to fight this invasive species.

Good luck! Sorry you're having so much trouble with these ants!
Best,
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Larval development


Hi,

I have a question i hope you can answer for me.

I have recently started my own ant colony which is currently thriving. The ants have even created a new nest which is full of larvae at various stages of development.

I may need to provide a bigger habitat for them in future judging by how many larvae there seems to be in the new nest. However im not sure how long it takes the for an ant to go from a new layed larvae to an ant thats ready to go.
Could you give me some idea of the timeline for this?

The ant species i have is Polyrhachis Australis.
Any information you can provide me with would be grately appreciated.

Regards, Michael

Hello Michael:

Congratulations on your thriving Polyrhachis australis colony.

The question of how long it takes an ant to develop from egg to adult has been studied in only a relative few of the 14000 or so known kinds of ants. Most of the ones studied are those which infest buildings or are agricultural pests. Two house infesting ants, the Pharaoh ant Monomorium pharaonis and the ghost ant Tapinoma melanocephalum develop quite quickly, about three weeks from the laying of an egg by the queen to an adult worker, while fire ants Solenopsis invicta take about a month from egg to adult. On the other hand, some Myrmica species from the cold north of Siberia and Canada may take about two years to complete their development.

Unfortunately, your Polyrhachis australis fall into the category of ants whose development has not been studied. But I would estimate, based on my experience with related ants, that they complete their development in 8-12 weeks, in part depending on temperature. In other words, you might want to prepare for the rapid expansion of your colony with additional nesting space, sooner than later.

James C. Trager & the AntAsk Team

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