Now that it is summer, I am sure you have spotted them already: ants! Do you like them? Do you think they are just very bothersome? The way they dig up the sand between the stones on your patio, walk all over your food and sometimes even bite, ants can definitely be a bit pesky. But secretly they are also enormously interesting! How much do you know about the social system of ants?
Because, you know, ants are very social beings. Social meaning they have an orderly arranged rank system and keep each other on the right track, but it also means they look after their kin.
An ant usually has one rather specific task, that is beneficial for itself and its conspecifics. Other ants then have other tasks, forming a society that runs smoothly. For example, there are of course one or several queens in every colony, workers with various tasks and sometimes also a couple of young males. The workers are all (sterile) females and each have their own job. You have the diggers, babysitters, food gatherers, aphid herders and cleaners.
Did you have to read again when seeing the term “aphid herders”? No wonder, it does indeed sound pretty strange. But in fact, the society of ants has become so evolved that they even keep pets. Just like we herd cattle and sheep, the ants sometimes keep aphids. They protect them from danger and provide them with food. The ants go through all that trouble so that they can “milk” the aphids. They just love the sweet substance that the aphids produce and like to drink it.
And it gets even better, for ants have also mastered the art of farming. Some ant species have special underground chambers where they cultivate fungi to feed on. They make sure the fungus is getting everything it needs so that it will start growing nicely. If that works, they take small portions of the fungus every now and then to use as their meal.
Doesn’t that sound like an amazing society? Those lucky ants!
A tiny drawback is that you have to be born in such a society in order to live there. Ants that are no (direct) family of the queen will be murdered as soon as they set foot in the holding. Well, they are called social, but love, compassion and mercy, that is not for the ants. The social system of ants is a tough one, designed purely for the best chance on survival.
However interesting they might be, I know that ants can still be a nuisance. If you really have to remove them, by all means do that. But before you just kill them off, take a moment to consider their complex society and the wonders of the ant world. Maybe then you can tolerate them for a little while longer?