Understanding the Diversity Within an Ant Colony

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Israel Alvarez

Owner @ Insight Pest Management

Table of Contents

Ants are one of the few species that show wide divergences in appearance and function within a single “family” or colony. One egg can develop into a lowly worker or a highly useful queen, depending on a variety of environmental cues such as nutrition. A queen can live up to a few decades, while a worker can only live for three months. Queens also have wings and lay eggs. On top of that you have soldiers which are tasked with defending the nest.

Soldier ants themselves do not have wings, but as larvae, they develop wing buds, and if the buds are removed during this stage, the soldiers of some species will not develop into supersoldiers, which are larger in size. Researchers believe that these vestigial body parts are a leftover from some past evolutionary stage in ants, and they are found in a lot of other creatures in a different form, including in humans (such as our wisdom teeth or tails in the human embryo). By understanding their role, if any, in ants, researchers hope that they can better understand the function of vestigial body parts in the human body.

Ant colonies also have intercastes, where individual ants with developmental anomalies fit in. They are found somewhere between the winged queens and the regular workers. They are not always reared inside the colony, and there is not a lot of research done on these ants. They may or may not be able to reproduce, and they always manage to stand out in a colony due to their appearance, and due to the fact that workers and queens are very different in appearance from each other.

There is also a group of ant species (about 1% of them) that have egg-laying workers which can mate, and they have dominance interactions with each other, similar to those seen in animal species where every member can reproduce. Some ant species feature phragmosis, which is a defensive technique where certain workers within a colony have modified body structures which are used to block the entrance to a nest. These individuals are usually workers with a large, flat head that can also be used to push intruders out. Other species will have repletes – workers or soldiers with the ability to store a lot of liquid food in their body, performing the function of a living reservoir for food storage. In order to feed other ants, they will regurgitate the stored liquid food. All of these specialized workers or soldiers belong to subcastes.

However, when we deal with ants in our homes, we do not get to see all of this interesting complexity, just the mess they can make. Ants are a nuisance, and certain species can be dangerous or cause damage to the home, which is why it is important to remove an infestation as soon as you detect it. If you are having issues with ants in your home, and need professional ant control services please contact us today.

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