We know. You really don’t want to spend your evenings reading facts about ants. But Sun Tzu once said, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”
And the fifth-century Chinese general is not recorded as ever having had a problem with ants in his home. Coincidence? Probably.
Still, Sun Tzu literally wrote the book on waging war. And make no mistake: there is a war going on. A war for your sweet treats, your kitchen space, your carefully manicured lawn.
We are at war with the ants.
You can’t effectively wage war without knowing your enemy. So here are some facts about ants to help you overcome this six-legged scourge.
5 Facts About Ants You Must Know
And don’t worry – there won’t be a test at the end. Unless you include the test of your sanity it can be to have a recurring ant problem.
An Ant’s Greatest Strength is Also Its Weakness
So here’s something most people don’t know about ants: Ants are eusocial. What’s that, you ask?
Eusocial is a fancy word to describe the highest level of sociality in animals.
Only animals that work together to raise their young and divide labor according to reproductive status can be considered eusocial. Ants and wasps fit the bill.
It could be argued that humans are also eusocial, at least in certain senses. So maybe we’re more like ants than we like to think. Which may still be preferable to being compared to an actual eusocial mammal, the naked mole rat.
The social organization of ants would normally be their own business. But when it comes to defeating the insect menace, it helps to know what you’re up against.
The fact that ants are eusocial, with all members of the colony working to take care of the young (called the brood) and only certain members of the colony capable of reproduction, can be something of a chink in their chitinous armor.
Adult ants cannot survive without the brood, and the brood cannot survive without the adults. The key to effective ant control is breaking this link between young and old.
To this end, some manufacturers have produced growth regulators that can sterilize a queen and prevent young ants from growing into adults.
Once the existing adults die off, there are no new ones to replace them, and the helpless brood will simply starve.
Many Ants Can’t Eat Solid Food
Take a look at an ant, if you can stand it. Pay particular attention to their anatomy – or rather, ant-natomy.
You may notice that an ant’s body is made up of three segments – head, thorax, and abdomen. Extremely narrow connections link these segments.
An ant’s neck is a tiny thing, which makes it very difficult for them to buy bow ties. It also makes it impossible for many species of ants to swallow solid food.
But hang on, you may be saying. I’ve seen ants carrying food before. Why would they do that if they can’t eat?
Well, ants carry food back to the nest to feed it to the brood. In their larval stages, ants have much thicker bodies that allow them to swallow and digest solid food.
The young ants then secrete a kind of liquid that the adults consume. As well as being very gross, this is good a very useful ant fact to know when you’re setting out to bait for ants.
Both solid and liquid baits can work, but you will often find that liquid baits are more attractive to adult ants simply because they can actually consume them.
Can Ants Fly? Sometimes…
Ants and wasps are closely related. They eat similar things and live in similar colonies. But it may surprise you to know that ants also share the ability to fly with their flamboyantly striped cousins.
Now, there are thousands of species of ants in the world, so this isn’t true of all of them. But many of the most common species of ant you will find in your home or garden do have the ability to develop wings and use them to fly.
This matters for a couple of reasons. Firstly, when you see flying ants, don’t freak out in terror that the ants and the wasps have started interbreeding to form a mutant insect coalition bent on world domination. They haven’t… yet.
Secondly, while winged ants can fly, they’re not all that great at it. The winged ants, which are a reproductive caste of ants, tend to all emerge from the nest at the same time, often in staggering numbers.
And sometimes, the place they choose to emerge will be inside your house. So one day, all will be well. And then suddenly, your living room could be filled with clumsy flying ants crashing into one another and bouncing off the windowpanes.
But just because you see a lot of winged ants doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve found the colony. Winged ants can fly quite a long way, and will often congregate around a light source that may not be anywhere near the nest that they emerged from.
How Do Ants Have Babies?
Well, when a man ant and woman ant love each other very much…No, I’m just kidding. The fact of the matter is that most ants are actually sterile.
And so the reproductive duties of an ant colony are generally handled by a single individual known as the queen.
Unlike a human queen, an ant queen is rarely seen launching ships or betting on horses. Her entire role in life is to produce eggs that will grow into more ants.
Some species of ant have multiple queens, while others have just one. But the key to winning the war against your ant enemies is to understand this very important ant fact: you need to eliminate this queen.
Chances are, you’ll never actually see her. So you won’t get to stare into her compound eyes and deliver that awesome quip you’ve been working on. Sorry about that.
But whatever method you decide to use to eliminate ants, you need something that’s going to target the queen.
Ant bait products are great for this, since they use the ant’s own mechanism for feeding the colony against them.
Contact insecticides can also work, but they will only be effective if you’re confident you know roughly where the queen is so that you can apply the poison directly to her.
How Do Ants Communicate?
Strange as it may seem, ants talk. As far as we know, ants don’t have conversations as we would understand them. They seem to have very little interest in gossip, for instance, which you would know if you’d ever tried to talk to one about the latest doings of the Kardashians.
But they can communicate with each other, which is vital to the success of the colony. One of the ways in which they do this is through the use of pheromones.
When a foraging ant finds a food source, it will carry some of that food source back to the nest. Along the way, it will lay down a trail of chemicals that other ants can follow back to that food source.
This is why a syrup spill on a kitchen countertop can so quickly attract large numbers of ants. But without their pheromone trails, ants are lost. Keeping your home ruthlessly clean will not only remove the ant’s food sources, but it will also break up their pheromone trails.
If G.I. Joe has taught me anything, it’s that knowing is half the battle. So the more you know about your insect foe, the better your chances of success at eradicating them. Because ants don’t sign peace treaties. It’s a war you need to win.