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The Tiny World of Ants

Compiled by Bindu Misra; Illustrations by Amarjeet Malik

The colonies also show a division of labour. There are queens, drones, huntresses and brood-tending workers. The queen, who is usually winged, produce a large number of eggs which are fed and cared for by the workers. The other females who are wingless, non-reproductive workers perform the life-maintaining tasks of the colony. In some colonies there are subcastes among worker ants. The division here is correlated with size. Small workers tend the brood or larvae and the larger workers hunt for food. Guard ants at the entrance discriminate nestmates from strangers. They will defend the nest to death if invaded. The drones are produced from unfertilised eggs and serve only to fertilise the queen.

The Tiny World of Ants, Earth facts for kids: 18_2.jpg The way ants communicate is also very interesting. Without voice or ear, an ant sends perhaps 50 messages through body language and pheromones. Ants are in fact little chemical factories, continuously producing an array of substances called pheromones, that serves as the antís language. Through these pheromones the ants can convey messages ranging from the location of food to the presence of danger. They use pheromones to orchestrate social behaviour as diverse as tending the young, grooming the queen, marking their territory, mating and laying trails. They also interact through oral exchange of food called trophallaxis, a behaviour pattern of critical importance to social organisation in ants.

An antís life cycle includes egg, larva, pupa and adult. Whether an egg will develop into a worker or queen depends mainly on the amount and kind of food fed to the larvae.

Ants usually live in nests excavated in the soil or wood or in a variety of natural cavities. Some ants called army ants form temporary nests that consist entirely of the ants themselves, suspended from one another and a supporting object. The nest is a living ball or cylinder of ants. In this cluster the queen and brood are enclosed. After nesting phase, the nomadic phase starts.

The whole colony moves with the queen and the brood and are protected by the huge soldiers who will kill everything that come into their way. The African weaver ants make their nest of living leaves held in place by larval silk.

Ants are generally omnivorous but some need special food. Fungus growing ants cut leaves and bring them to their nest to fertilise the fungus gardens they built. These ants are herbivorous and survive on fungus. In some species like the Atta or leaf cutter ants, the queen lays special non-fertilised eggs which will be consumed by the ants in the absence of food.

The harvester ants frequently visit grass fields to harvest and store the grass seeds. They live in arid environments and survive almost totally on seeds. Specialised workers crack the seeds for the other ants to eat. Some ants like the gatherers or the herders feed on plant juices.

Some ants are temporary or permanent parasites in colonies of other ant species. The Amazon ants attack other ants and bring back unconsumed brood to serve as slaves as soon as theyíve matured.

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The Tiny World of Ants [Earth facts for kids]
Compiled by Bindu Misra; Illustrations by Amarjeet Malik


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