Top 10 Weird And Fun Facts About Ants!
Ants are cool creatures. They have been around since the time of the dinosaurs and can now be found almost everywhere on earth. They live in colonies that number hundreds where everyone plays a role. They build nests with numerous underground tunnels and chambers. They work hard, constantly looking for food. They can also be dangerous, with the harvester ant widely considered to be the most venomous insect and the bulldog ant being responsible for several deaths in Australia. And did you know they can be weird, too? Here are some weird and fun facts about ants that you might not know about.
1. Some army ants are used to stitch wounds.
If you ever found yourself with a bleeding wound in the middle of the forest and don’t have any bandages or needles and thread to stitch it with, don’t despair. Who knows? You might stumble across some army ants.
Stumbling across army ants is usually not good news because of their painful bite and their voracious appetite, attacking and consuming just about any creature in their path. But if you have a bleeding wound, army ants can do you some good. That’s because once they bite, they don’t let go, not even for a time after they’re dead. If you let them bite on either side of a gaping wound, the wound will close temporarily so the bleeding will stop and eventually, the wound will heal permanently.
Think this is a joke? The people in South America and Africa have actually been doing this in place of surgical sutures for centuries.
2. Some ants know how to farm.
There is only one animal, apart from humans, that knows how to farm and that is the ant. Well, some species of ants, that is.
Leafcutter ants, for example, tend to a fungus orchard. That is why you don’t see them carrying bits of food back to their nest. Instead, they carry bits of leaves which they hold above their heads like umbrellas, hence their name. These leaves are further cut down and combined with the feces of the ants to make a large ball of mulch and from this mulch, fungi grows. The ants care for the fungi and then feed on its most nutritious parts, thus having a constant food supply.
Other ants have herds instead of orchards. Several species of ants take care of aphids or plant lice, which drink nutrients from plants and produce a sweet excretion called honeydew. The ants love this honeydew and gather it from the aphids. They can even stroke the aphids with their antennae to produce the honeydew, much like we massage cow udders so that they can produce milk. In exchange for this honeydew, the ants make sure the aphids always have food, care for their eggs and protect them from their predators like ladybugs. The aphids are not always cared for, though. When food is scarce, the ants feed on some of the aphids much like farmers butcher some of their cows and pigs.
Some keep caterpillars, instead, which also secrete a sweet substance. During the day, the caterpillars are kept in the nest or an enclosure made by the ants, where they are guarded by the ants. At night, the caterpillars are herded up a plant to feed. Unlike the aphids, the caterpillars don’t end up eaten by the ants since they produce a special chemical that makes the ants think they are one of them. The ants only try to eat the caterpillar when it has turned into a moth but most of the time, the moth is able to fly away to safety.
3. Some ants are slave-makers.
Think ants are such docile creatures? Think again.
Several species of ants live by raiding the nests of other ants, usually those related to them, during which they steal hundreds of pupae. Sometimes, they even capture the adults and bring them back to their nests. Back in their nests, the pupae are cared for, often by the captured adults, and raised as slaves, which later on find food for their masters, defend the nest and even participate in future raids, even raids against their original nest. Cruel, isn’t it?
4. If the queen ant dies, the whole colony dies with her.
In a bee colony, when the queen dies, a new one is chosen from among the larvae, fed royal jelly and raised to become the new queen. In most ant colonies, when the queen ant dies, the colony eventually dies off. This is because although all of the ants in the colony are females, only the queen ant can lay eggs and after she dies, no one takes her place and so no new members are added.
How does the queen ant die? Believe it or not, some queen ants are killed by her own rampaging worker ants, who either sting her to death or do not bring her food. Whether or not they are aware that they are killing off the colony by doing so remains a mystery.
5. The queen ant feeds her first batch of young with her own saliva.
Starting a colony isn’t easy. After the young queen ant leaves her colony – because there can only be one queen in a colony – she flies in search of a mate. After mating, she looks for a place to lay her eggs. She lays just a few at first, feeding them with her own saliva since she cannot look for food and there is no one else to feed them. As for her own food, she doesn’t eat, simply absorbing her wings for nutrition. The first batch of young grow up and take care of her, some of them going out to look for food and after she eats, the queen ant lays more eggs, laying more and more – sometimes, thousands per day – until there is a whole new colony.
6. Ants can lift objects up to 50 times their body weight.
Ants are strong insects. In fact, they can easily carry much more than they weigh. This is considering ants have strong muscles yet are very light. Elephants have strong muscles, too, but because they are heavy themselves, they can only lift up to 25% their own weight. They have to carry their own weight, too, after all.
Most ants can carry up to 50 times their body weight. Some can even carry up to 5,000 times their body weight, which is amazing, considering most of that weight is carried on their strong, flexible necks.
7. Fire ants can clone themselves.
Most queen ants reproduce the usual way – by mating with a male. Queens of fire ant colonies, however, don’t have to. They can lay eggs even without mating, passing a hundred percent of their genes to their offspring, which is much like cloning.
What happens to the males then? In cases where the queen fire ants mate with males, the male genes destroy the female genes and only male ants that carry a hundred percent of the genes of their fathers hatch. Now, that’s payback and more importantly, a creative means of surviving.
In essence, the queen’s sons are clones of her mate while her daughters are her clones.
8. Some soldier ants guard the nest with their heads.
Ants do not only have to find food to feed the entire colony. They have to defend the nest from predators and from other ants who might want to steal their food or the brood. The soldier ants are the ones who have this duty and they take turns guarding the entrances to the nest. It can be difficult to keep track of everyone coming in and out, though, so some have come up with a more creative means of guarding. They use their large heads to plug the entrances. If an ant from the colony wants to come back in, it simply has to tap the head and it will be let through.
9. There is a supercolony of ants that stretches over more than 3,000 miles in Europe.
Argentine ants are special in that the new queens do not go off to start their colony from scratch. Rather, they branch off from the main colony, taking a few workers with them. Because of this, supercolonies form and one of them is taking over southern Europe. Scientists took specimens from various nests in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain and as it turned out, they all belonged to the same supercolony, refusing to fight each other.
Argentine ants have also spread to mainland USA, Hawaii, Australia, Japan and New Zealand. All of these are large supercolonies of their own, making scientists fear that they may one day become a nuisance.
10. Ants are a delicacy for many.
Ants are edible and not just for birds, anteaters and monkeys.
In Australia, honeypot ants are eaten raw like sweet treats because their bellies are filled with nectar. In China and parts of Africa, they are deep-fried. In Colombia, the fat-bottomed ants are toasted like popcorn. These same ants are dipped in chocolate and served in some exotic restaurants in other parts of the world or packaged and sold in department stores. In Thailand, red ants are sautéed and made into a salad.
Ant eggs are served as delicacies, too. They are especially popular in Mexico, where they are called escamoles.