Ants May Rule the World.
Just a few of the 12,000 species of AntsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Meek Shall Inherit...!
Antsy About Ants? Maybe You Should Be!
If there is any one creature tipped to take over the earth after man’s demise, it is the ant. In fact, they could probably do so now if the thought occurred to them, and if they weren’t so busy fighting among themselves, (another reason they would fit right into our shoes). In fact, in a recent study in Yale or Halfhard, or one of those US seats of learning, ants broke into the lab and carried off radioactive material and stored it in their nests in the uni walls without any apparent harm to themselves. They must be praying for the nucleur holacaust to start!
There are about 12,000 types of ants we know about and perhaps as many again we don’t. Their diet consists of just about everything: some subsist almost exclusively on animal protean, others do well on vegetable matter, often using it to feed other organisms on which they feed. They are found in almost every climate, from the steamy Amazon to the tundra of the Arctic. The Antarctic and a few islands are the only ant free places on the planet.
Most ants can bite and are venomous to other insects. A few, such as Australia’s Jack Jumper Ants have a venom that can and has been fatal to man: so much so, a special antivenin is available. That nation also plays host to the huge, aggressive Bulldog Ant with large mandibles capable of a very painful nip. Fire Ants are distributed in many places, many with venom causing painful bites. One particularly nasty chap, the Bullet Ant, has the most painful sting in the insect world, according to the Schmidt Sting Pain Register. Ants are, of course, related to wasps and bees, in the family Formicidae, so the intensity of their nips should be no surprise.
Ants have been around a long time, for more than 120 million years, appearing in the fossil record in the mid Cretaceous. So successful have they become, their bulk adds up to around 20% of the biomass on Earth! Their success is mainly due to their uncanny talent for unified thought, each ant seeming to know what all the others are thinking and to act accordingly for the benefit of the whole. Their accurate communication by the use of phenoromes well documented. Less well known is that many species are capable of communicating with sounds generated by mandibles and legs.
Some ants are definitely a mixed blessing to man. The Pharaoh Ant is the scourge of hospitals where it will feed on wounds, dressings and just about anything containing fluids or blood. This tiny, transparent ant has now spread all over the world and is proving impossible to eradicate.
Army Ants are the darling of Hollywood “creature features.” They are one horror that really needs no exaggeration by the director. They go on the march through the jungles of the tropical regions of South America, quickly swarming over all in their path and overwhelming it with their sheer numbers and the accumulation of venom from a million bites. Everything gets out of their way, including man, especially as left to their own devices, they will eradicate all other bugs and vermin from the huts along the way. Most of the larger mammals that fall prey to the armies are sick or wounded, healthier individuals quickly leave the area.
The Driver Ants of Africa are cousins to the army ants. They do more or less the same job, but with even more formidable ambition as they have been known to dispose of lions and buffalo (albeit wounded). These critters have such powerful mandibles they have been used in lieu of stitches to hold the edges of a machete slash together. After the ant has been encouraged to clamp down on the flesh, the body is quickly snipped off and the mandibles remain locked in place in a bulldog grip.
The aforementioned Fire Ants have relentlessly marched north from South America and have infiltrated into many US states. The bite of this ant is not life-threatening unless you are allergic to the acid-like, burning venom. But the bites are very painful and can leave nasty, puss-filled blisters. Great fun at the family picnic. The kids will love you, dad, for having brought them to this sylvan glade!
When I was a horrible little Dennis the Menace, I used to target poor little black ants with my magnifying glass, focusing the rays of the sun on them until they stopped, shriveled and melted. Which is why, I am sure, when once pissed in the Aussie outback I had a snooze against a tree and got covered in about 10 green tree ants - the large, iridescent ones with red eyes and a “Ouchhhhhhh!” bite. Aussies will know the ones I mean as just one can get you dancing and a nip on a finger can paralyze your whole arm. I never forget the half dozen bites I got before leaping up and screaming, and hope I have paid for my childhood cruelty.
The fascinating Leaf Cutter Ants. These are about my all-time favorite insect (apart from the Monarch Butterflies). To watch a long line of them, each carrying a “sail” of a piece of leaf many times heavier than they are will either give you a surge of affection, or generate a snarl of rage if it is your garden being raided. To ponder on this marvel we call life as you realize they take all these leafy offering to others in the nest who chop them into even smaller pieces and then add them to a bed to feed the beds of fungus deep in their nests. The ant larvae then feed on the fungus and the adult ants on the sap from the leaves. All the 41 species of leaf-cutting ants are native only to the Americas. What a peaceful and creative existence; such harmony and understanding of the balance of nature…is man really the highest form of life? You have to wonder; perhaps this pyramid is inverted.