Ants are one of the most successful and ecologically important groups of terrestrial insects. They have colonised all terrestrial habitats throughout the world except the polar regions and highest mountaintops.
Ants can be found anywhere from coastal mangroves to urban backyards and inside our homes. Their success is because of their ability to communicate with each other. They have the most complex form of chemical communication in the animal kingdom and together they accomplish tasks beyond any individual insect.
Ants are formidable opponents and defend their foraging area from other animals. They can overwhelm by sheer weight of numbers and have defensive armoury that may include fierce jaws and potent stings.
Features of ants:
- Ants are social insects. They exist in colonies that work together to gather food, rear young and defend their nest.
- Nests contain eggs, larvae, pupae and different types (or castes) of ants.
- Colony sizes range from a few individuals to tens of thousands. Each colony is made up of a queen, different-sized workers and a number of other castes at different stages of the colony cycle.
- The most commonly seen caste are workers.
- Winged ants leave the nest to mate and found new colonies in late summer and spring, often after rain. Many are eaten by birds and other predators.
- Ants are probably the most common insects encountered by humans.
- There are around 15,000 different species of ants worldwide.
- There are 1,275 Australian ant species described, but this could double with further research.
- Most species of Australian ants are found only in Australia.
- Many plants and other insects have evolved relationships with ants, even to the point where ants are a necessary part of their life cycle.
- Some birds place ants on their bodies to remove parasites. This is known as anting.
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