Ants may be something you almost never notice, or perhaps you’re always wondering “Why do I have ants in my house?“. Either way, there are one quadrillion (10,000,000,000,000,000) of these insects on our world—more than a million ants per person. Let’s jump into the world of those tunnel-dwelling workers, soldiers and queens and find out a bit more about them.
There are over 14,000 species of ants known to scientists. Each year, this number goes up. Don’t worry—you can encounter only four of them in your home here in the UK. Still all types of ants pose a great risk to your property and can cause costly damages. The four species of ants are the Garden ant, the Pharaoh’s ant, Roger’s ant and Ghost ant.
Garden ants (Lasius niger) are by far the most common type in England—4mm-5mm black bodied insects.
Pharaoh’s ants (Monomorium pharaonis) are yellow-brown in colour, and can reach up to 3mm. They also have wings.
Roger’s ant (Hypoponera punctatissima) can also reach 3mm in length but are much paler in colour than their Pharaoh cousins.
Ghost ants (Tapinoma melanocephalum) are the smallest of the bunch—they are semi-transparent and can reach up to 1,5mm in length.
They live in artificially-created ant mounds in class-based “societies”. Most ant societies compromise of workers, soldiers, drones and queen. Ants prefer sweets, sugar, foliage and rarely wheat products. Workers collect food and return it to their hives, where they store it for future consumption. Some ant species leave acidic trails around for orientation reference.
When ants come in the house, they are looking for two things – food and shelter. Ants may come in the house because:
Ants are omnipresent—they are literally everywhere. Your home can easily be infested by ants if there are hives nearby. Your garden, rotten wood and even cracked driveways are a perfect spot for those insects to call home. Ants get in your house through cracks between the walls, basement or the air between wall panels (if you live in a panelled house).
Unlike most other pests, ants can be easily detected. They do not hide from humans and do come out during the day, which makes it easy to spot live insects. A single specimen might not be an indication of an infestation but regular appearance of more than one ant does indicate a problem. Some species, such as the Pharaoh ant, leave a transparent trail of pheromones on their way. Those trails shine under bright light and smell unusually. Ant nests are harder to spot. They can look as innocent as piles of dirt or detritus on the ground.
Unlike cockroaches, few people are allergic to ants. However, ants can be much easily ingested than cockroaches. Their small size allows them to remain unnoticed in your food. They also leave a trail of pheromones some people are allergic to. Ant bites can result in swelling and inflammation. They usually do not need special treatment.
Ants prevention is similar to roach prevention. If you’re wondering why do ants come in the house, tightly seal and store away all food. Ants are even better than cockroaches at accessing hard-to-reach areas. Thus, an open box of oatmeal in the cupboard can result in an infestation. Make sure you sweep all surfaces after cooking, and clear up any debris. Block off any access points, especially those at ground level. If you see ant mounds in your garden, slowly pour boiling hot water over them. This will not cause their complete extermination, but will keep their population at bay.
A typical British breakfast consists of ham, eggs and beans. A typical breakfast in Central Asia can consist of fried ants. They are highly nutritious and different species taste differently. For example, the Lemon ant gets its name from its savour, while the Sugar ant tastes like mint. Recently this tradition has seen some acceptance in Europe. Renowned Chief Rene Redzepi has included them in the menu of his two Michelin star restaurant Noma. Noma was subsequently named the Best Restaurant in the World in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Ants are unwelcome guests to our homes and offices but they are extremely important to the ecosystem. They feed primarily on dead plants, animals and detritus. This recycles those materials and fertilises the soil. A study conducted in the 1970s estimated that ants add 1,5cm of topsoil every 250 years. Ants also serve as the primary food source to a vast number of animals. Spiders, reptiles, birds, other insects and even mammals such as the anteater prey on them. Some animals exist in a symbiosis with ants. For example, the Macrocheles rettenmeyeri lives on the foot of army ants. It serves as an extension to their claws in exchange for feeding on ant blood. A more general example is the relation between ants and fungi. Much like human farmers, many ants cultivate crops of different fungi to serve as a food source.
Images by: 1. Animal Diversity Web, 2. www.AntWeb.org, 3. www.AntWeb.org
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