Here is a good example of how much Bunny likes ants. We went on a birding outing in Florida and we saw the endangered Florida Scrub Jay. Super cool right? Well it was, but then Bunny found ants:
|Florida Ants! (yes, it was that cold there)|
And so then we spent a good 20 minutes with the ants (we still got to see the birds lots though, don't worry).
|And here we are looking at Ontario ones|
There are more than 12,000 known species of ant in the world but it is estimated that there may be upwards of 20,000 actual species out there. That is a LOT of ants.
But what Bunny wanted to know is how they all work together. When she puts a piece of triscuit down on the rock - how do they find it, know who is carrying what side or whether it's too big to fit in the hole. Can they "talk" to each other?
So, to answer that we need to know a bit about ant social structure. Ants have a queen and her job is to lay eggs. That's it, she doesn't get to order other ants around or get fanned while eating grapes. Eggs, eggs and more eggs. It's an important job because the future of the colony rests on her eggs. Then there are male ants - in many colonies, they also have one purpose. Mating. Then they can die. Yeah, male ants don't do much. The colony itself is run by the worker ants, who are wingless females that never reproduce. They get the food, care for the eggs and baby ants, build the nest, protect the nest and generally do everything. So chances are, all those ants you see out there are girls.
|They found the hidden popcorn!|
Now, all the worker ants are out there running around, they need to tell each other stuff. Important stuff like if anteaters are coming or if kids are putting triscuits near their nest. They do this with a combo of pheromones (chemical signals), sound and touch. They leave trails on the ground which other ants can pick up using their antennae, which are sensitive enough to figure out the direction and strength of the scent. So say one of them finds a triscuit - it leaves a trail back to the nest which all the other ants then follow back to the triscuit, then as they carry the pieces back they keep remarking the trail. If you put a rock in the way they will scatter and then whoever finds the food again makes a new trail back to the other ants, allowing them to adapt to change really well. Some ants also produce sounds using their mandibles that can be used to call for help and some ants when crushed send out a pheromone attack signal.
So a plea from Bunny - please don't squish your ants, sit down and watch them instead. Build them a bridge or a puzzle to figure out. Maybe give them a snack.
If you've got awhile and a cup of tea, here's a great talk about ants: