Insets are amazing little creatures, and there are trillions of them roaming around with us. Today we will be looking at one of the most exclusively intriguing ants known as “Wood Ants”. Without further ado, let’s get right into it
Wood Ants cover the genus “Formica”. Natively found, almost exclusively, within the northern hemisphere. With the richness of species fading out towards the pole and the equator. These ants go by quite a few common names, the most widely used of which, is the Wood Ant. Which is derived from where they’re usually found, in and amongst wooded areas. Although, many species of Formica, do quite well in more open areas too. Like in grasslands… and even arid areas. So you might hear them also referred to, as“Field Ants”. And yet another name they go by is the “MoundAnt”, or “Thatching” ant. As many species form a large hill as partof their nest structure.
These hills are comprised of a mix of organic materials, such as soil, twigs, leaves, and pebbles. The ants meticulously search the surrounding area, gathering up anything they deem suitable. And one piece at a time, they carefully thatch them into their ever-growing piles. For the forest-dwelling species, there virtually no shortage of adequate nesting material lying around in the undergrowth. ‘So here, nests can reach massive proportions,known to get up to 2 meters in height! So what’s the purpose of these monumental structures you ask?
Well, all that organic material works to capture in thermal energy. Absorbing up the heat much more quickly, when compared to, the more the typical, underground nests, in both direct sunlight and in the shade. And with the insulative properties of the materials, combined with some clever architecture, the ants are able to then retain and manage that heat over time. Essentially building themselves an incubator. So how do they do it exactly? Well, if you look closely, you’ll see all these little holes scattered across their mounds. These holes lead back, through tunnels and passages, into the heart of the mounds, acting not only as access points for the ants, but more importantly, as ventilation shafts. Each one is carefully positioned, so as to control the flow of humidity and gasses within. Which in turn, controls the internal temperature of their nests. The ants are constantly at work, shifting their substrate around, so as to maintain their ideal conditions. Which, once achieved, will drastically increase the ants’ productivity and speed up the development of their brood.
The construction of these mounds is especially useful in cooler regions, like up in the mountains, where every little bit of extra heat is crucial for the ants’ survival. The most successful colonies will often place themselves southern facing, so as to take full advantage of the sun’s heat. And they’ll raise and broaden their nests as much as they possibly can. Often building upon logs and tree stumps to give themselves a head start, and to act as a good foundation for their structures.
Wood Ants Dealing With Threats And Hunting
Anything that threatens to block the ants’ precious light cannot be tolerated. So, the ants will actively chew apart the surrounding vegetation. Slicing through their leaves and stems with the use of their powerful mandibles. And just to make sure they don’t grow back, the ants will continually inject the plants with small doses of formic acid, expelled from venom glands in their abdomens.
Wood ants use their formic acid for more immediate threats too. If their nest is damaged by an intruder, within seconds, hundreds of ants will swarm out in defense. Biting at them, creating wounds, and proceeding to fill those wounds up with a spray of their noxious acid. The Ants also use their chemical weaponry the offensive too. Folding their abdomens under their bodies,they proceed to shoot out a stream. Wood ants are mostly scavengers, but have no problems predating small invertebrates. Overwhelming them with their immense numbers and aggressive nature. Rivals ants are also dealt with accordingly.
The smaller ant is quickly secured and sprayed with formic acid… Until it’s no more. Despite Wood Ants’ offensive capabilities, they’re generally more interested in sweet foods. With a large portion of their energy being derived from a symbiotic relationship with sap-sucking invertebrates, like scaly bugs and aphids. The base of this flowering plant is home to a heard of these little bugs. And the wood ants, are their keepers.
They sit amongst them, waiting patiently for them to excrete a rich honeydew, in which, they then consume. Without the presence of the ants, these often defenseless little bugs, become extremely vulnerable to predators, like ladybugs. Ladybugs love nothing more than snacking on these little guys. But when the ants are around, they become far from convenient prey. If they get too close, the ants swarm over the would be predators. Defending the heard with their lives. And, as a result, sometimes the ants return home with more than just a stomach full of honeydew.
Wood Ants don’t always rely on honeydewfor a quick sugar fix, however. Sometimes they’ll feed directly from theplants themselves. Lapping up the sweet nectar found within manyflowering plants. Unlike their relationship with the sap sucking bugs, however, in most cases, only the ants stand to benefit from this exchange.
Hygiene Of Wood Ants
The sweet nectar in which these flowers produce,is intended to attract pollinating insects. Ants, unlike winged insects, like bees, and butterflies, don’t make for great pollinators. Only carrying the flower’s sticky pollen over relatively short distances, before falling or being stripped off by the ants, thanks to their excessive grooming habits. Ants in general, are incredibly hygienic little animals. And they need to be. Because they nest within environments which are often warm and humid, and are constantly within close proximity of countless colony members, it makes their nests an ideal breeding ground for disease.
If one ant were to be infested by a harmful bacteria or fungi, it could quickly spread and spell doom for the entire colony. So, it’s vitally important that the ants,not only carefully dispose of waste and keep their nest area clean, but keep themselves clean too. So ants will obsessively groom themselves. They do so by running their forelegs all over their bodies. These front two legs contain a row of minute,comb-like hairs, making them perfect for scaping off any contaminants, and thus reducing the chances epidemics. And for further protection, many ants make use of their formic acid, spreading tiny amounts over them and their developing brood. Uniquely, Wood Ants, have taken some extraprecautions in cleanliness.
Their solution is rather ingenious. What they do, is scale-up conifer trees, and gather fragments of their dried-up sap, known as resin. This resin naturally contains antimicrobial compounds, which greatly inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi within wounded trees. So, the Wood Ants carry these fragments back to their nests and disperse them throughout. And the resin continues on serving the same purpose as it once did for the tree, fighting off bacteria and fungi, but instead, it’s, working for the ants.
Every time an ant walks over the resin, its essentially disinfecting itself. This practice of resin collecting is unique among wood ants, and what’s more, is the ants can even enhance the resin’s beneficial properties. They do so, by treating it with their formic acid. Studies show that when deadly outbreaks do occur, colonies which have formic acid-treated resin present within their nests, have a much higher chance of both surviving and recovering from the ordeal. Colonies have been known to collect dozens of kilos of this sticky stuff, and it’s easy to see why. It really is a perfectly evolved safeguard for the ants. Improving their colonies’ longevity, and subsequently their odds in producing reproductives
Nuptial Flights (Mating) Of Wood Ants
In summertime Wood Ants undergo their nuptial flights. This is where all the reproductive ants, known as alates, fly away from their nests and mate with foreign alates. The males, referred to as drones, have a very slender to look, resembling more of a wasp than an ant. Their sole purpose in life is simply to mate with the winged females. After they’ve completed their task, they die, a short life, but productive life. The female alates, on the other hand, now becoming known as de-alates or simply, queens, have a long and strenuous road ahead of them.
Their goal, is to find a suitable nesting site, in which they can safely lay and tend to their eggs. At this point, they shed their wings, as they’ll simply become a liability for when they begin the digging of their underground chambers. Once they’ve settled into their new homes, they’ll lay their eggs and simply sit there, in solitude. Waiting for them to develop into workers so they can form a new colony.
But not all Wood Ant queens have such humblebeginnings. Some species are known as social parasites. After their nuptial flights, instead of searching for a secluded spot and slowly founding a colony from scratch, what these queens do, is seek out a small colony of another specific Wood Ants species. Once they find the right nest, they infiltrate, seeking out their queen, and pacifying the workers with alluring pheromones as they go.
Once the queen is found, the parasitic queenslaughters her amongst the confusion. Tearing the unwary queen apart with its powerful mandibles. Then, she excretes a chemical signature almost identical to that of the deceased queen. Fooling the workers into believing that sheis, and always has been, their queen.
And so, the workers just blissfully continue on about their business, foraging, tending to the brood, and now ignorantly caring fora foreign queen. Once the new queen’s offspring begins emerging, the colony becomes a blend of two different species, working together as one. The parasites… and the slaves. Eventually, as the slaves die off from old age, leaving only the parasitic queen’s offspring behind.
Often, however, when the parasitic workers have become abundant, they’ll begin raiding other colonies for more slaves. Forcing their way into their nests and capturingtheir brood, so as to build up the working force of their colony. So Wood Ants, they really are a sophisticatedbunch. From their intuitive skills in architecture,constructing nests of remarkable scale and function. To their cunning as farmers, vigilantly tendingto their flocks. To their insightful resourcefulness as chemists,using their formic acid to, fight off threats, subdue prey, clean their young, and even toproduce antibiotic concoctions, and finally, to their darker side of parasitism, forcefully infiltrating nests, and deceitfully controlling foreign colonies, as well as raiding themfor slaves.
How to Get Rid of Wood Ants
Though wood ants are great little reatures they can be quite a pain if they get inside your house and can cause quite some damage to your property
The very first thing that you can do to make sure that that your house stays safe is to remove all the shrubs sticks or any other wooden thing from inside of the house. Moreover,r you would also be making sure that you clean your whole house up especially if you have any crumbs lying around and also see for any repairs that your house might have and you will be just fine. And lastly, if you see Wood ants roaming around after cleaning the whole house, you should then consult the professionals as they will get rid of them permanently for you
Hopefully, this article was informative, and gave you some interesting insight about Wood ants as well as their unqiueness when it comes to insects. If you have any further related questions feel free to use the comment section below. Moreover, if you want to know an answer to whether insects seek and take revenge, we have a great article written on just that, you can give that a look “here“. And if you want to go through some interesting facts about insects, natgeokids has a great article written on that, you can give that a look “here“