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Ants evolved from wasps, and have lived on the Earth for more than 100 million years. They are found in almost every terrestrial habitat and are most abundant in tropical ecosystems. Ants like hot and humid climates. They function poorly below 68°F (20°C) and not at all below 50°F (10°C).

Ants are the most highly developed social insects and live in organized communities called colonies. An individual ant cannot survive without its colony. Ants live as a “super-organism.” The nest is the physical embodiment of the super-organism. It is where the food is brought, the brood taken care of and the queen protected in a microclimate just right for ants. Even though individual workers may live from less than one year to more than five years, a colony can survive up to 30 years as long as its queen is alive and laying eggs.

The colony is organized vertically within a nest by age and life stage. Younger ants are found at the bottom of the nest, taking care of the queen and her brood. (Most colonies have one queen, but some species have multiple queens.) Older ants take care of food stores and expand upper chambers, while the oldest ants are sent out of the nest to forage for food. Worker ants are all female. They do all the jobs necessary to keep a colony alive except egg laying. Male ants don’t do any work in the colony. They live a short time and their only function is to mate with young queens.

Males and young queens have wings. A queen mates with one or more males and receives her lifetime supply of sperm, which lasts up to 26 years, during the mating flight. While waiting for the first eggs to hatch, a new queen must still get food. She lives off body fat and absorbs nourishment from her useless wing muscles. Out of thousands of winged queens only a few actually survive and start a new colony.

An ant’s worst enemy is another ant. They are aggressive and attack other ant colonies. In most cases, ants from different colonies, even within the same species, treat each other as enemies. Some ant colonies have huge wars in which thousands of ants rip one another to pieces. An ant’s jaws are used to hold the legs or antennae of an enemy ant while nest mates tear the victim apart. The winners invade the defeated colony and carry off the young to eat.

More ant facts:

Thanks to the California Academy of Sciences for the use of "Ant Facts."

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The Ants

This landmark work, the distillation of a lifetime of research by the world's leading myrmecologists, is a thoroughgoing survey of one of the largest and most diverse groups of animals on the planet. Hölldobler and Wilson review in exhaustive detail virtually all topics in the anatomy, physiology, social organization, ecology, and natural history of the ants. In large format, with almost a thousand line drawings, photographs, and painting, it is one of the most visually rich and all-encompassing view of any group of organisms on earth. It will be welcomed both as an introduction to the subject and as an encyclopedia reference for researchers in entomology, ecology, and sociobiology.

Winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in General Non-Fiction.

Click picture of book to purchase.

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