Scientific Name: Family Formicidae
Description: Ants are most closely related to bees and wasps, which all have a narrow waist that segments their body. The body is separated into three parts—the head, thorax, and gaster (the part of the abdomen behind the waist). There are over 12,000 species, most of which are black, brown, or red in color.
Diet: Diet varies among species, but most eat leaves, seeds, small insects, nectar, and honeydew. Ants can carry more than 10 times their weight back to the nest.
Typical Lifespan: Longevity can’t be generalized to all ants, but queens usually live for several years and workers only for weeks or months.
Habitat: Most species live in soil, leaf litter, or decaying plants.
Range: Ants are found almost everywhere on the planet. The only areas that don’t boast populations of ants are Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, and some island nations.
Life History and Reproduction: Colonies of ants are separated into groups of individuals that have different jobs, such as workers, soldiers, and queens. The workers are all females that take care of the much larger queen and her young or go out to find food. Winged males mate with queens and die soon after. Queens also have wings, but they break off after mating. Ants are an important prey species for many different reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, birds, and mammals.
Ants use their keen senses to communicate with colony members. They produce chemicals called pheromones which are sensed by other ants using their antennae. They can also use their antennae or other body parts to send messages through touch. Touch messages are transmitted through stridulations, which are sounds and vibrations generated by one ant rubbing its body parts together. These forms of communication relay different messages, such as where food is located or what dangers are present.
Conservation Status: Stable. Ants often come into conflict with humans because they colonize our homes and some—like fire ants—have stingers that can harm us. However, they are extremely important members of the ecosystems in which they’re found, and they help to aerate the soil just like earthworms.
The University of Arizona Center for Insect Science Education Outreach
Arizona State University School of Life Sciences:
New York University Langone Medical Center
Evans, A. V. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.: New York, NY 2007.
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Ferreira R.S., Poteaux C., Delabie J.H.C., Fresneau D., Rybak F. 2010. Stridulations Reveal Cryptic Speciation in Neotropical Sympatric Ants. PLoS ONE 5(12): e15363.
University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture
National Geographic Society – Did You Know?