Ants can be very irritating little creatures. They wreak havoc on our homes and picnic areas, managing to get into food we thought for sure they couldn’t access. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home after work to find hundreds of ants in a neat little line going to and from one of my dogs’ bowls, happily carrying bits of leftover food, that I failed to notice was there, back to their homes.
But ants are also fascinating! They can carry up to 100 times their body weight; they can live as long as 30 years; like humans, ants farm other animals; ants are found on every continent but Antarctica, and they create huge, social colonies. In fact, the largest ant colony ever discovered was over 3700 miles wide!
Below are 7 interesting (and a little scary) facts about ants:
1. They’ve been around since the dinosaurs
Scientists from Florida State University and Harvard conducted a joint study of the genetics of ants from 19 subfamilies. What they discovered from this study is that it is quite possible that ants first came to life about 110 – 130 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. This, of course, also means that ants survived whatever event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs! Hearty little critters, aren’t they?
2. One ant species is the most venomous insect in the world
The Maricopa harvester ant has a sting that is equivalent to 12 honey bees! It’s the most common harvester ant in Arizona, but can also be found in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Colorado. Their sting can cause incredible pain that can last for hours. They grab onto their victims with their mandibles, allowing them to sting numerous times. When they sting, they also release a pheromone that signals other ants in the area to attack. Word of advice: stay away from these ants!
3. There are a lot more ants in the world than humans
It’s estimated that there are upwards of 10,000,000,000,000,000 ants on Earth. That means that, for every human, there are about a million ants. The total weight of all ants in the world is at least equal to, but possibly larger, than the weight of all humans.
4. Not all ants are small
The largest ant that was ever found was a Titanomyrma giganteum fossil. This ancient ant was 2.4 inches long, with a wingspan of almost six inches! But, don’t assume there are no ants alive today that can rival this giant. Female ants of the Dinoponera subspecies can be up to 2 inches long! They can only be found in South America.
5. Fire ants cause 5 billions dollars worth of damage in the U.S. each year
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that more than 5 billion dollars is spent annually on control, damage, and medical treatments due to red imported fire ants (RIFA). These ants are invasive pests in the U.S. that are originally from South America. These ants also cause around 750 million dollars in damage to agriculture in the U.S., which includes the cost of veterinarian bills, crop loss and loss of livestock. Phorid flies have been introduced in infested areas as a means of bio-control of RIFA.
6. Ants practice “slavery”
This practice happens in one of two ways. One species invades another species’ nest and kills the queen. The invaded colonies’ ants are then brought back to the invader’s nest and are used as workers to feed the young. The “slaves” will eventually die out because they no longer have a queen to reproduce for them. Another way slavery happens is when workers from an invading colony steal the larvae and pupae of another colony and then raise them to be slave workers.
7. Ants can stay alive underwater for up to 24 hours
Ants breathe through spiracles, or small holes found on their bodies, rather than lungs. So, although an ant may appear lifeless underwater, if there is enough oxygen flowing through the spiracles when the water evaporates, the ant comes back to life!