Phylum, Arthropoda; Class,
Insecta; Order, Hymenoptera
Adult males and females
When ant colonies reproduce, the new queens and males may
be found in the colony. These are "flying ants" and have two pairs of
wings. Males generally have small heads, large eyes, large thoraces, and
a pair of claspers at the end of the gaster. Once they fly (and mate),
males do not live very long. After mating, new queens break off their
wings and never fly again. Without wings, they can generally be distinguished
from workers by their larger body size, larger thorax and larger abdomen.
All workers are females.
Immatures (different stages)
Ant larvae are white and grub like. They have no legs and do not move
about much on their own. You can generally see a large, dark stomach through
their cuticle. Ant pupae look like white adult ants, with their legs and
antennae pressed close to their bodies. In some species, larvae spin silk
and the pupal stage is inside a cocoon. Newly emerged adult ants are often
paler than older ones. It may take them several days to reach their final
Most ants that are easy to keep in the classroom are generalists, eating
a variety of small insects that they capture, dead insects they happen
to find, nectar, or honey dew. They need a balance of carbohydrates and
protein. Protein is needed especially for the queen to make eggs and for
the larvae to grow.
Most ant species live in the soil. Some, like the carpenter ants, also
live in wood (they excavate, but do not actually eat the wood). Some ants
live in cavities made inside plants, such as acorns, twigs, and galls.
Since ants are social, they display many behaviors that remind us of
our families and society. For example, worker ants take care of larvae
by feeding and washing them. Ants are able to communicate with each other.
They are able to communicate, among other things, directions (to where
the food is) and alarm.
IMPACT ON THE ECOSYSTEM
World wide, ants are one of the most important predators on small invertebrates,
including other insects. Leafcutting ants in the American tropics are
the most important herbivores (plant consumers), outranking grazing mammals.
In many ecosystems, ants are important dispersers of the seeds that they
harvest. In desert regions, they are one of the principle consumers of
seeds. Wherever ants live, they turn over and aerate the soil as much
or more than earthworms (depending on the specific ecosystem). (For more
information, see Holldobler and Wilson's book).
A few ant species are considered pests, because they live in and protect
territory that we consider ours or because they want to consume resources
that we need. For example, leafcutting ants (see "Positive" section above)
compete with us for crop plants in the American tropics. Fire ants colonize
damp grasslands (including lawns!) with alarming ease. Carpenter ants,
adapted for living in dead wood, consider the dead wood (lumber) in houses
fair game, especially if it is damp. A number of opportunistic ant species
can overrun kitchens, pantries, and pet food areas in search of suitable
food items. Also, some ants (like their relatives the wasps and bees)
have a potent sting. As with bees, some people can become hypersensitive
to ant stings.
COLLECTING LIVE INSECTS
Where to Find
Ants are found under logs, particularly rotting logs that
pull apart easily. In some parts of the U. S., ants live in acorns or
twigs on the ground. Catch new queens near porch lights in warm months.
If you are lucky, you may see new queens before they have found a place
to dig. Worker ants and vertical dirt ant farms can be purchased from
How to Collect
By gently turning over rocks on warm spring days, you may find a colony
with the queen and brood. Since the light and air will disturb the ants,
work quickly to gather the queen and as much of the brood as possible
before they go underground. Use an aspirator or small shovel to remove
the ants and brood from the colony. If you use a shovel to dig, take care
when placing the dirt and ants into a container with light oil or Vaseline
around the rim so that the ants can't escape. Let the dirt dry out slowly.
Place the test tubes with water and cotton plugs in the box on top of
the soil. As the soil dries out, the ants will move into the tubes. When
most of the ants are in the tubes, transfer them to a dirtless nest. (Place
an incandescent light over the container to make the ants move faster).