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The Amazing Ant

The ant is truly amazing.  

Like many of you, I also get irritated by them.  But have you ever taken a few minutes to just watch ants?  
This past week end our family joined several other families for a Memorial Day picnic.  We live in the deep South, so it was no surprise to anyone when the ants found our picnic so quickly.  Like other normal people (a biology teacher is rarely normal, but this time I was!) I tried to flick them away from our food and off the picnic table we were using.  

I happened to look down at the ground around the picnic table and spotted the ant hill.  One of us had already stepped in the middle of it, and the ants were in a frenzy.  What caught my eye was the site of the ants lifting the eggs and/or pupae and carrying them to safety.  It was a pretty amazing site, and our group became interested in watching the busy work of these ants.

As I am the biology teacher in the group, my friends began to ask me questions, such as "How do they lift an object that seems as big as they are?"  Other than knowing that they are insects and undergo complete metamorphosis, I had few answers to offer the group.  Since I love being able to spout off biological facts to anyone who will listen, I knew that I had some research to do about ants.

These are some amazing facts that I discovered:

1.   Ants can lift objects that are 20 to 50 times their own body weight.  
2.   Ants live 45 to 60 days.
3.   The ant brain only contains 250,000 cells.  It would take a colony of 40,000 ants to have the same brain size as one human.
4.   Ants have powerful jaws that open from side to side.  They cannot swallow food.  They swallow the juice from the food as they chew.
5.   There are over 10,000 species of ants.  
6.   Each ant colony has one or more queens.  The job of the queen is to lay eggs.
7.  Worker ants are sterile.  Their job is to look after the queen, take care of the eggs and larvae, search for food, clean up the nest, and defend the nest.
8.   Fertile males have one job only.  They mate with the queen and usually die shortly after.
9.   Ants have an amazing ability to communicate with each other.  They use their antennae for tactile communication as well as for smell.  They use chemicals to alert other ants of danger or to lead them to a promising food source.  A trail of scent (pheromone) is used to lead other ants to a source of food.  Cave ants use high pitched squeaks to communicate in the dark.

10.   Some ants live in a mutualistic relationships with plants.  The acacia ant lives in the huge thorns of the acacia tree.  In return, the ant protects the plant from being eaten by herbivores.
11.   Ants evolved 130 million years ago and lived alongside the dinosaurs.
12.   Ants were farmers before humans.  Many species of ants grow and cultivate fungi to support the hive.
13.   Ants are found in almost every corner of the world.  They are not found in Antarctica, Greenland and a few other remote islands.
14.   Ants do not have lungs.  They breathe through a set of spiracles and trachea, which is essentially a bunch of holes along their abdomen.

Here are some links to sites for more information and for some pretty amazing pictures:

Happy Teaching!

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