Hi,

I'm developing some educational materials on ecology for high school students in western Montana. As a small part of the project, I'd like to help the students to expand their idea of "population" to organisms other than human. So I am including information on the number of people (~91000), cattle (~13200), trees (~1.2 billion), bears (still waiting on that number), and would love to include an estimate of the number of ants! This is an area in northern Montana (Flathead County), mostly forested, some urban, and some agricultural... also some sagebrush steppe. Can you suggest a way for me to estimate the ant population within a couple of orders of magnitude? More than a trillion, perhaps? Any guidance would be welcome. Thank you!

Jane

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Dear Jane,

Thank you for contacting AntBlog. We are glad to hear you are including ants in your ecology high school materials. Your question is related to a question we addressed regarding biomass:

http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/10/do-ants-really-have-the-largest-biomass-of-all-species-on-earth-laurie-usa.html

In summary, estimating the number of ants alive right now in Flathead County, Montana is likely impossible. But, you if you assume that all the ants alive today in Flathead County weigh as much (and likely more since Montana has a low population density) than all the humans in Flathead County, Montana. So if you calculated the average weight of a human and multiplied it by the number of humans and then took that number and divided it by the average weight of an ant, this would give you an estimate for the number of ants alive today. Here is my back the envelope calculations of this formula using average adult weight (which is likely a bit to high for the average of all humans if you include non-adults) and an "average" weight for an ant (which varies immensely between ant species - think of calculating an average weight of mammals from species as small as mice to as large as elephants - that is the equivalent in the size ranges of ants):

Number of ants in Flathead County, Montana:
91000 humans x 150 lbs. average weight of a human = 13,650,000 lbs. of humans in Flathead County, Montana

1.5 mg (= 0.0000033069 lbs.) average weight of an ant

13,650,000 all human weight / 0.0000033069 single ant weight =

4,127,732,922,072 ants alive in Flathead County, Montana today


Number of ants on Earth:
If we do the same exercise for all the ants alive on the planet, here is what you get:
7,077,551,385 human on the planet x 150 lbs. average weight of a human = 1061632707750 lbs of humans on Earth

1.5 mg (= 0.0000033069 lbs.) average weight of an ant

1061632707750 all human weight / 0.0000033069 single ant weight =

321,035,624,829,901,000 ants alive on the planet today


That is a lot of ants!


On a related note, you might be interested in this blog post (and many others - feel free to read through them) on why ants are important in the environment for your ecology materials:

http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2012/08/what-good-are-ants-david-panama-city-florida-usa.html


Best regards,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team


Hi,
I've just read your web article about ant communication, which interests me. When I was a child in Africa I saw two species of ants fighting in my garden - small black ants (that we called sugar ants as they were always after the sugar!) and much larger red ants (about 7 - 8 times the size of the black ants and with a fearsome bite). The black ants were attacking the red ant nest at a distance of about (I have to estimate this, but based on a wide turning circle for cars) 15 - 20 yards. As I bent over the red ant hole watching the battle I saw them bringing their queen up to the surface. I picked the queen up and carried it to the black ant nest to see what would happen. For a little while nothing happened; the black and red ants at the red ant hole continued their battle, and the black ants around their hole ignored the red queen completely. Then one of them "spotted" the red queen, and within 10 seconds or so a host of them came boiling out of their nest and began dragging the queen down their hole. At exactly that moment the red ants gave up the fight and turned and "ran for it" away from the black soldier ants. Now there must have been some communication from the red queen to her soldier ants, presumably a distress call, and possibly also communication between the black ants - but across a distance of at least 15 yards. That communication was too fast to have passed between ants travelling between the two, and anyway they were all black ants. I assumed at the time it must have been chemical pheromones, but it carried across a fair distance given the size of the ants, and I wonder if anyone else has any experience of anything similar?

RDL of the U.K.


Hello RDL, and thank you for this inquiry.

Given that childhood memories can be a little treacherous, I'll still take a try to respond to this as best I can. My first thought is that perhaps you conflated the "sugar ants" (I'm guessing the common human-associated ant Paratrechina longicornis) that abounded where you live, with a less common, small, dark-colored ant that may have been one of the lesser army ant species that inhabit much of Africa (genus Aenictus). Unlike the larger and more famous driver ants of the genus Dorylus, Aenictus workers are closer to a uniform size and lack the large-headed, saber-toothed soldier caste. These ants feed primarily on other ants' brood, and may also carry home stunned, live adults to be consumed by their colonies. I think that's the behavior you observed.

Okay, that was just guessing, but this part will be more based in science. Regarding your pheromone question, I think it may rest on the common, anthropomorphizing misconception that the queen is a sovereign that "rules" the colony. While it is true that the queen health and reproductiive state influence the health and behavior of the colony, she does not in any literal sense tell the colony, nor any individuals within the group, what to do. The presence of the queen in the nest is thought to be sensed by pheromones disseminated through the colony. Likewise, her absence is eventually sensed in the colony by the decrease, and finally, complete lack of her pheromones being spread through the population. It is possible that the colony of larger ants that was attacked by the smaller black ants sensed that their queen had gone missing, but I deem it rather more likely that their behavior was something apart, more on the order of an alarm/panic response to the invasion itself, and had nothing to do with the queen's presence, absence, or attempts to communicate with her daughter workers. It is not concurrent with what we know about ant communication by pheromones that a "distress call" was sent out, certainly not one that could be detected at a distance of 50 feet away by the workers. A common feature of the physical chemistry of fast-acting pheromones is that they diffuse very rapidly, and over very short distances, to the point where they quickly become no longer at suffcient concentration to elicit a response. Further, no ant seems to be able to aim peromones in a particular direction, least of all at 50 feet distance. On the other hand, ant colonies not uncommonly have an panic escape respone to invasion by army ants, or even to any other sort of ant that invade their nest em>en masse.

Best regards, James C. Trager of the Ask Ant Team


Hello Antweb,
I've been doing some research on ant species richness and was wondering what locality is considered to have the highest species richness and if there is any literature to back up this information, thanks!


Hi Alejandro,

Ant diversity is highest at low latitudes (the tropics) and drops off towards the poles. This is a common phenomenon among many groups of organisms and Terry McGlynn has a relatively accessible piece about it here. This website is also a great way to explore the distribution of ant genera across the world. There is quite a bit of literature on the subject including, but certainly not limited to, the references listed below and the citations therein. The book "Ant Ecology", listed first in the below references, is a great overview of many ant related subjects, including their geographic distribution.

Thanks for your question,
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

References:
Dunn RR, Guénard, B, Weiser, MD & Sanders, NJ. 2010. Geographic gradients. In Ant Ecology (eds. L. Lach, C.L. Parr & K.L. Abbott) pp. 38-58. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Guénard B, Weiser MD & Dunn RR. 2012. Global mode ls of ant diversity suggest regions where new discoveries are most likely are under disproportionate deforestation threat. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109: 7368-7373.

Kaspari M, Ward PS & Yuan M. 2004. Energy gradients and the geographic distribution of local ant diversity. Oecologia 140: 407-413.

Kusnezov N. 1957. Numbers of species of ants in faunae of different latitudes. Evolution 11: 298-299.

Jeanne RL. 1979. A latitudinal gradient in rates of ant predation. Ecology 60: 1211-1224.

Jenkins CN, Sanders NJ, Andersen AN, Arnan X, Brühl CA, Cerda X, Ellison AM, Fisher BL, Fitzpatrick MC, Gotelli NJ, Gove AD, Guénard B, Lattke JE, Lessard J-P, Mcglynn TP, Menke SB, Parr CL, Philpott SM, Vasconcelos HL, Weiser MD & Dunn RR. 2011. Global diversity in light of climate change: the case of ants. Diversity and Distributions 17: 652-662.

Trophic eggs (Mark)



Hey, AntAnswerers!

So, I've been thinking a bit about the situation with trophic eggs in ants. It apparently seems a pretty common practice among ant queens to eat some of their unembryonated eggs. Fair enough.
What I don't understand is the energetics of this practice- calorie for calorie, wouldn't it be costing a queen more to produce these trophic eggs than she is gaining from eating them?
I could understand making the best of a bad situation (i.e., for other arthropods that overshoot the optimal number of offspring, cannibalism retrieves some of the calories from a previous, poor decision), but I'm not sure that kind of argument applies for ants. Any thoughts from you guys?

I am similarly confused about the energetics of dracula ants, for similar reasons (i.e., the food comes from within the "extended phenotype").

Many thanks!
-Mark


Dear Mark,

Typically, trophic eggs are unfertilized eggs laid by workers and used predominantly to feed larvae and queens but can also be fed to other workers. This type of resource sharing is similar to the regurgitation (trophallaxis) that occurs frequently between ants that you may be more familiar with.

Queens can also produce trophic eggs and new foundresses often use these to feed their young larvae. They certainly could eat these themselves and they may be useful as a way of storing food until it is needed, but most are fed to their offspring.

Also, larvae do sometimes cannibilize other larvae as you mention. This system of feeding larvae may or may not be optimal for the colony but it undoubtedly benefits the larval aggressors.

Dracula ants are incapable of consuming solid foods because their mouthparts are not built for chewing. The larvae, however, can consume and digest these foods, producing a resource rich hemolymph. Many ant colonies operate in this way, indirectly feeding on the digestive capabilities of the larvae. Dracula ants are special because the larvae do not have the ability to regurgitate nutrients and must, therefore, be bitten open by the workers. Larvae of most other species are perfectly capable of regurgitation so this complicated method of sharing resources is not necessary.

Great question!
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team


How difficult, if possible, is it to transfer an ant colony from a small easy maintenance starter farm to a much larger farm. Also how big would my farm have to be to have a full colony of pavement without 'controlling' population size? I can build one as big as I need. And what are the chances that my pavement ant colony will have more than one queen producing, I read that they will sometimes have more than one producing queen per colony. I think it would be very interesting to watch a multi queen colony.

Thank you so much,
Justin

Dear Justin,

It should not be too difficult to transfer your colony to a new farm, though you will probably lost some individuals in the process. Take a look at our previous post here.

I doubt that there will be any need to "control" the population size. The colony will grow until it is mature or runs out of resources so keep it well fed and it should be fine. Pavement ant colonies can grow to tens of thousands of workers so if you want your colony to reach its maximum possible size, you should probably make the farm rather large. Be sure to take a look at this previous post for tips on building a habitat.

Steiner et al. (2003) found multiple queens in five of 35 pavement ant colonies collected, so it is certainly possible that your colony contains multiple queens. Although you may need to do some more whole colony collecting if you are determined to find this type of colony.

Good luck with the farm!
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

References:
Steiner FM, Schlick-Steiner BC, Buschinger A. 2003. First record of unicolonial polygyny in Tetramorium cf. caespitum (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Insectes Sociaux 50: 98-99.


How do I get my ant farm to produce more queens and how do I collect them?

Dear Anthony,

This can be a very difficult goal to accomplish. Ant colonies need to be very well established before they will begin producing reproductives. Depending on the species, this can take up to a few years. Also, if your ant farm doesn't have its own queen, it can't possibly produce new ants because, with a few exceptions, worker ants cannot produce fertile eggs.

Allowing your colony to grow and providing it with abundant resources is the best way to ensure that it will attain maturity and will eventually be able to produce new queens.

Good luck!
Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team


We have been battling ants for about a month now and I'm just curious if we need to take it to the next level (ie- call in a professional) or if we are on the right track.

First, some background, we live in the Kansas City area, and we've had a fairly mild winter up until about a month ago. We have had 3 snowstorms in the last month, all producing more than 6" of snow (two with more than a foot!). The first two snowstorms were 5 days apart and we first noticed the ants between those two storms.

We have a split-level home, and I first noticed the ants in our dining room area, and as I started looking around more, I realized they were everywhere. In the dining room (which is connected to the kitchen, but they weren't trailing to any food in the kitchen), they were also in our front living room near the window and the fireplace, they were also in our walk-out basement. None were noted in the storage room (where the dogs and their food are), or any of our bedrooms which are on the same level as the kitchen/dining room.

Initially we sprayed indoors which I now realize was foolish. We couldn't spray outside because there was collectively 2 feet of snow after the first two storms. After doing a bit of research I decided that the terro traps were the way to go (because we were still seeing live ants every day). We went out of town on March 1st, and we laid terro traps in the areas we'd been seeing the ants. We were gone for 10 days, and when we returned, there were THOUSANDS of dead ants all over. The most concentrated areas were near our fireplace, the front window, and near the door to the walk-out basement. I vacuumed all of the dead, and continued to see new live and dead ants each day, but the numbers slowly dwindled over the following 2 weeks. I also sprayed the perimeter of the home (outside) once the snow melted. I felt like we were finally getting ahead of the game because it seemed like we weren't seeing any more accumulate.

Then out of the blue this morning (after our third snowstorm happened overnight last night) I noticed a few more near the front window, however they were different. Instead of being small, black (what I think were odorous house ants), there are a fair number of dead, larger, winged ants. They have a good waist to them, so I don't think they are termites, and they are all dead, or almost dead, no swarms.

My question is, is this a good sign? Have we killed enough that the end of the colony is coming out dead? Or is this a bad sign that more breeding ants are coming out and developing new colonies? We continue to have the terro traps in place and have not given up the battle yet. I just need to know if it's time to call in a professional, or are we making progress and just need to keep at it?


Dear Christina,

It is hard to say but it is very possible that you are on the home stretch of ridding yourself of these ants. Oftentimes, when ant colonies are on the verge of death due to depleted resources, disease, or attacks from other ants, they will devote their remaining resources to producing winged reproductives in a last ditch effort to reproduce before dying. Therefore, the colony occupying your house may be teetering on the edge of collapse.

Good luck! Hopefully an exterminator will not be necessary!

Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

Ants from Argentina



Dear Ant Team,


I am currently working on a project studying plant-insect interactions. Particularly indirect defenses against plant predators. In literature there are citations about ants behaving as watchdogs in exchange for a reward, in this case nectar.
In my studies I have found, among others the ants shown in the attached picture visiting extrafloral nectaries and feeding on them.
In the attached picture you can see the ants that had made a nest in the pot, when I watered the pot this morning, thousands of them came out of the nest with larvae. Could you please tell me what species it is?

I appreciate your attention.

Best Regards

Miriam - Facultad de Agronomia, UBA
1.jpg

Dear Miriam,

Thanks for informing us about your interesting research and for inquiring about the identity of your ant study subjects. There are oover 600 species of ants in Argentina, but among all of those, the picture you sent is of the single ant that has come to be known around the world as the "Argentine ant", or to ant experts Linepithema humile. This species is native to Argentina and adjacent countries, but has been transported to other continents, and in many places has become an invasive species and agricultural pest, famous for its interactions with sap-feeding hemipterans, which it may defend, as it does the (extrafloral) nectar sources in your study.

Best regards,

James C. Trager of the Ask Ant Team

Hello,

We are trying to determine if this is an ant or a beetle:

ant_or_beetle.JPG

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Hi Lena,

The insect pictured is in fact a beetle in the family Cerambycidae. It appears to belong to the New World genus Euderces, many members of which are known to mimic ants. This particular species is probably Euderces pini, the double-banded ant-mimicking cerambycid.

You can learn more about ant mimicry by checking out this previous post, and more specific examples of ant mimics here, here, here and here. This last link discusses ant mimicry (or perceived ant mimicry) in two other species of cerambycid beetles found in the U.S.

Thanks for your interest!

Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

Dear Ant Team,

I photograph insects...but I do not know ants. Can you help me identify the following species? Thank you very much.

Best regards,

Josef

ant-crete-1-1.jpg

ant-crete-2-1.jpg

ant-cyprus-1.jpg

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Josef,

Beautiful images!

The species pictured are most likely (1) Aphaenogaster simonellii, (2) Messor meridionalis, and (3) Cataglyphis nodus.

These IDs were determined with the assistance of guest experts (and AntWeb's own Ants of Greece curators) Drs. Anastasios Legakis and Chris Georgiadis. Feel free to check out the Greece Ants page (linked above) to learn more about the ant fauna from this region.

Thanks for your interest!

Alexandra Westrich & the AntAsk Team

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