Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The ants go marching

There is just something about kids and ants. Bunny has always been fascinated by insects, but ants in particular. I think maybe it's because Bunny and the ants seem to have a lot of the same qualities. Now some of them bite you with formic acid, which thankfully Bunny does not do, but for the most part they are tiny, hard-working and persistent, like my Bunny.

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).

She goes out on the back rocks at her grandparents place with crackers and raisins and "feeds the ants". She loves watching them dismantle the large pieces to fit it down into the cracks in the rock or work together to lift a raisin and stuff it down a hole. Just the other day I noticed my 2 year old nephew staring intently at a tree. I asked him what he was looking at and he gleefully replied "ANTS!" and Beans and her new friend intently watched ants march around on a rock for a good 15 minutes until the camp bus arrived. So maybe it's genetic.

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?

Busy dismantling

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:


  1. Go Bunny! I love her passion. I've got a kiddo who loves hummingbirds & butterflies at the moment, so I can completely relate. Thanks for sharing the lowdown on ants!

  2. Bunny loves butterflies too! Although it's pretty hard not to love butterflies... :)