Learn about Ants
Ants are social insects related to wasps and bees. They form colonies that range in size from a few individuals to highly organized colonies which may consist of millions of individuals. These larger colonies consist mostly of sterile wingless females serving specialized functions as members of the colony such as “workers” while others adopt specialized jaw features and serve as “soldiers”. Nearly all ant colonies also have some fertile males called “drones” and one or more fertile females called “queens”. These colonies are sometimes described as super organisms because of the ants unique ability to operate as a unified entity, collectively working together to support the survival of the entire colony.
The ability of ants to explore their environment and to locate and utilize resources often brings them into conflict with humans. Ants communicate with each other using pheromones, and they use these pheromones to create trails for other ants to follow. For example, in species that forage in groups, an ant that finds food marks a trail on it’s way back to the colony. This trail can then be followed by other ants, these ants then reinforce the trail when they head back with food to the colony. When the food source runs out, the ants stop marking the trail and the scent slowly dies out.
Many species of ants can inflict painful bites and stings to defend themselves, and one notable species is the red imported fire ant. This species of ant was accidentally introduced into the United States in the 1930’s by a cargo ship from South America, and has successfully invaded and established itself in the entire southeastern US. The red imported fire ant is unique in that it bites only to latch on, and then uses its abdomen to sting and inject venom. In cases involving large numbers of stings, especially for people who are allergic to the venom, the red fire ant can be deadly.