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ants

OLogy Series
animal
card
133

ants

OLogy Series
animal

It only seems like the world's entire ant population attends your picnics. Actually, countless ants can be found everywhere on Earth except on frozen parts of the Arctic and Antarctic, on the coldest mountaintops, on a few islands, and in the ocean. These insects live in highly organized groups called colonies, which can have many millions of ants.

Army Ants, Always on the Go
Of the more than 9,000 different kinds of ants, army ants are among the most famous. They are usually found in tropical areas of India, Africa, and South America. Army ants, sometimes called driver ants, live in huge colonies that can contain millions of ants! Even when there's plenty of food around, army ants never keep a permanent nest. Instead, they move around in large groups, kind of like a big ant parade. They stay attached by using their hooked legs. Most of the ants are blind and instinctively follow the ant directly ahead of them. Army ants can devour anything from cockroaches to small mammals.

How do ants help the environment?

Ants' underground nests allow air and water to enter the soil.

Some ants help plants reproduce by spreading their seeds.

both A and B

Are you right?

Correct!

Ants play many ecological roles. When they dig underground tunnels, they help air and water enter the soil. Ants also help plants grow by spreading seeds.

What kind of ants actually make fungus in their underground colonies?

leaf-cutter ants

fire ants

carpenter ants

Are you right?

Correct!

Leaf-cutter ants are known as "fungus farmers." They make fungus out of leaves. They carry pieces of leaves back to the colony, where the leaves decay and turn into fungus. Leaf-cutter ants eat a substance produced by the fungus.

Scientists use tools like vacuum cleaners to collect ants for research.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Scientists who study ants are called myrmecologists. Some of the things that mymecologists study are ant anatomy, behavior, and diversity.

Most of the time, ant colonies are composed only of females.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Male ants are present only during certain times of the year. The queen ant is the only one that lays eggs. Other females gather food, defend the colony, and raise more ants.

ants
Order: Hymenoptera Size: up to one inch long
Range: throughout the world except for frigid regions
Diet: everything from crumbs left behind by humans to other insects, plants, and fruits
Characteristics: have elbowed antennae; live in social homes called colonies
Significance: provide nutrients for soil; eat other pest insects

Image credits: courtesy of Scott Bauer, Agricultural Research Service.