How Are Ant Hills Made? Plus 8 Other Facts About These Amazing Insects
Ants (family Formicidae) are one of nature’s most intelligent and formidable insects, found globally, except for polar regions like Antarctica. They are members of the third-largest (115,000 species) insect order called the Hymenopteran order, which includes bees and wasps.
Ants are prevalent in tropical and subtropical climates and range in colors from red, brown, black, etc. In addition, they range in size from 2mm to 25mm (roughly 0.08 to 1 inch), with an average litter size of 1,000. Other physical features are the ants’ antennas, large heads, tiny waists, and oval-shaped abdomens. Their two antennas are attached to the head and are sensory tools that allow them to detect various scents and vibrations and transmit and receive signals. Their jaws (mandibles) are strong, enabling them to carry food and other materials, build nests, and defend their territory. Ants are also omnivorous, feeding on plant and animal matter.
Ants build highly complex social networks called colonies, which enables them to organize and delegate responsibilities, as well as protect their most valuable asset: the queen. These colonies range in size dramatically, between an average of 20,000 to 100,000 ants. Ants construct hills that provide shelter, insulation, organization, and security, ensuring the future success of the colony. If you’ve ever wondered what life is like in ant hills and how they are built, look no further.
How Are Ant Hills Made?
Ants make hills with natural materials, like soil or sand. Many ant hills have a depression in the center, giving them the appearance of a crater. The mounds are a byproduct of the tireless work of the ants. They are formed from discarded soil while the ants burrow, building underground chambers and tunnels for their home. The tunnels are insulated, keeping them cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Some ant species are nomadic, which means the structures they build are temporary. Ant hills can be found in the ground, on trees, inside logs, or in acorns. Ants may also abandon their nests and build elsewhere if a threat is detected. While the formation of these mounds is incredible, ants have many more notable skills and qualities. Continue reading for eight additional facts about these amazing insects.
#1: Ants Build Labor Forces
One can observe an ant’s ingenuity in how it builds and maintains its society. Ants create hierarchies within their colonies that typically fall into three castes: queens, workers, and males.
The queen is the colony’s founder, and her role is to lay eggs. She will produce winged princesses (young queens) that, after exiting their birth nest, will eventually mate and find a nesting site to lay their eggs. Once the larvae mature, the newly established queen resumes her egg-laying role in service of the colony for the remainder of her lifecycle. Interestingly, some queens will produce millions of eggs throughout their lives.
Worker ants have the most challenging role in the colony. They are typically sterile females who spend their lives defending the nest, foraging for food and materials to build with, and expanding their territory. They may be sterile, but that doesn’t stop them from laying eggs, which are fed to the queen or her larvae.
Male ants, known as drones, usually have a short lifecycle — around two weeks. These winged insects aim to mate and reproduce with a virgin princess, and he dies shortly after fulfilling this purpose.
#2: Ants Keep Their Colonies Tidy
Ants’ cleanliness is a means of survival. They will clean the nest and other colony members to remove harmful organisms that could expose them to diseases. Some ant species will produce antimicrobials, which kill deadly pathogens and prevent the spread of disease. They apply these chemicals to the nests, as well as themselves. This is a necessary adaptation that ensures the colony’s health, both individually and collectively.
#3: Ants Mate in the Air
As mentioned, queen ants are born with wings, exiting the nest to find a mating partner. While scouring the landscape through the air, she will find a drone ant to mate with. They will mate in the air, but the male falls to the ground and dies shortly after. Predators like birds and insects will prey on the drone in this vulnerable state.
#4: Ants Build Rafts to Survive Floods
Ants respond to danger in incredible ways. When floods arrive, some ant species will evacuate their nests for safer shelter. They will link together to assemble a raft-like structure on the water’s surface, eventually floating down to dry ground. In addition, fire ants can flatten themselves in the water in minutes, buoyant enough to float for weeks without drowning. If the integrity of the raft is compromised, the ants will quickly redistribute to reform the raft. They hold themselves together by linking their mandibles to the legs of other ants in the colony.
#5: Ants Are Territorial
Territoriality is important to ensuring cooperation and safety in the colony. Ants will fiercely defend their territory from outside threats. Rival ants in their territory also leave fewer resources to forage and put the health of the colony at risk. Ants will engage in organized fighting to drive rivals out, and these struggles often result in death.
#6: Army Ants Conduct Mass Raids
The army ant makes up over 200 species of ants and is considered predatory. They are nomadic, moving tirelessly from one habitat to the next. Army ants conduct raids en masse, taking over a limited territory to pillage the land’s resources. They will coordinate a hunting swarm of thousands, moving as a unit to capture food like spiders and small vertebrates. Interestingly, resident birds in Costa Rica partially rely on army ants to help them find food. They will follow the swarm, picking up fleeing insects in the process.
#7: The World’s Largest Ant Lives in South America
There are a variety of large ants in the world, with the most enormous one living in South America. It is known as the Amazonian ant and can reach up to 1.6 inches long. Females and males are easy to tell apart. Females are jet black, while males are dark red. They enjoy a variety of prey, including plants, snails, crickets, and spiders. In addition, their caste system includes alpha females, who rank the highest in the colony. They maintain dominance through ritualized aggressive behaviors like biting and antennal boxing. The colonies are much smaller, containing 70-96 workers. Amazonian ants do not recruit their nestmates for foraging assistance, and they transport their food independently as well. Their nests are built in soil and contain large chambers and tunnels.
#8: The Largest Ant Colony on Earth Spans Thousands of Miles
The largest ant colony on Earth is in the Meditteranean region, spanning over 6,000 km (3700 mi). Known as the Argentine Ant Supercolony, the territory of these ants stretches from northern Italy through the south of France and out to the western coast of Spain. Stowing away on ships and boats, these resourceful insects migrated to Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Therefore, the Argentine Ant Supercolony is considered an invasive species, occupying 15 countries. They displaced and killed native ant species, doing irreparable harm to the natural ecosystem. Their supercolony contains multiple queens, meaning thousands and potentially millions of ants will claim the land for generations.
- Ants build highly complex social networks called colonies, which enables them to organize and delegate responsibilities, as well as protect their most valuable asset: the queen.
- Ants make hills with natural materials, like soil or sand. They build their homes underground and create tunnels and chambers.
- Ants create hierarchies within their colonies that typically fall into three castes: queens, workers, and males.
- The queen is the colony’s founder, and her role is to lay eggs. Some queens will produce millions of eggs throughout their lives.
- There are a variety of large ants in the world, with the most enormous one living in South America. It is known as the Amazonian ant and can reach up to 1.6 inches long.
- The largest ant colony on Earth is in the Meditteranean region, spanning over 6,000 km (3700 mi). Known as the Argentine Ant Supercolony, the territory of these ants stretches from northern Italy through the south of France and out to the western coast of Spain.