7 Incredible Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Ants
Ants can be very irritating little creatures. They wreak havoc on our homes and picnic areas, managing to get into food we thought for sure they couldn’t access. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home after work to find hundreds of ants in a neat little line going to and from one of my dogs’ bowls, happily carrying bits of leftover food, that I failed to notice was there, back to their homes.
Below are 7 interesting (and a little scary) facts about ants:
- They’ve been around since the dinosaurs
Scientists from Florida State University and Harvard conducted a joint study of the genetics of ants from 19 subfamilies. What they discovered from this study is that it is quite possible that ants first came to life about 110 – 130 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. This, of course, also means that ants survived whatever event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs! Hearty little critters, aren’t they?
- One ant species is the most venomous insect in the world
The Maricopa harvester ant has a sting that is equivalent to 12 honey bees! It’s the most common harvester ant in Arizona, but can also be found in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Colorado. Their sting can cause incredible pain that can last for hours. They grab onto their victims with their mandibles, allowing them to sting numerous times. When they sting, they also release a pheromone that signals other ants in the area to attack. Word of advice: stay away from these ants!
- There are a lot more ants in the world than humans
It’s estimated that there are upwards of 10,000,000,000,000,000 ants on Earth. That means that, for every human, there are about a million ants. The total weight of all ants in the world is at least equal to, but possibly larger, than the weight of all humans.
- Not all ants are small
The largest ant that was ever found was a Titanomyrma giganteum fossil. This ancient ant was 2.4 inches long, with a wingspan of almost six inches! But, don’t assume there are no ants alive today that can rival this giant. Female ants of the Dinoponera subspecies can be up to 2 inches long! They can only be found in South America.
- Fire ants cause 5 billions dollars worth of damage in the U.S. each year
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that more than 5 billion dollars is spent annually on control, damage, and medical treatments due to red imported fire ants (RIFA). These ants are invasive pests in the U.S. that are originally from South America. These ants also cause around 750 million dollars in damage to agriculture in the U.S., which includes the cost of veterinarian bills, crop loss and loss of livestock. Phorid flies have been introduced in infested areas as a means of bio-control of RIFA.
- Ants practice “slavery”
This practice happens in one of two ways. One species invades another species’ nest and kills the queen. The invaded colonies’ ants are then brought back to the invader’s nest and are used as workers to feed the young. The “slaves” will eventually die out because they no longer have a queen to reproduce for them. Another way slavery happens is when workers from an invading colony steal the larvae and pupae of another colony and then raise them to be slave workers.
- Ants can stay alive underwater for up to 24 hours
Ants breathe through spiracles, or small holes found on their bodies, rather than lungs. So, although an ant may appear lifeless underwater, if there is enough oxygen flowing through the spiracles when the water evaporates, the ant comes back to life!
Your home is under attack
Your home is your castle, and unfortunately it’s not immune to attack…by a large army of tiny ants. An ant invasion is annoying, but it can also be dangerous to your health and your home, depending on the type of ant you’re dealing with. And as with any pest problem, you definitely shouldn’t ignore it and just hope it goes away. So, what can you do to stop this problem in its tracks? Do battle in the smartest ways possible. We got the lowdown from bug experts on how to get rid of ants and finally evict these unwanted visitors from your home, safely and easily.
Keep your home as clean as possible
How do ants know you have food, anyway? They have an extraordinary sense of smell, which they put to good use when they’re foraging and sending scout ants from the nest to search for food. Sometimes, the food source is in your home, and it only takes one ant to discover a crumb and spread the news through the colony. The big problem is that they leave behind pheromones as they scout. “When they find a new source of food, they gather a piece of it and follow the pheromone trail back to the nest,” explains Sebring. There, the colony investigates the food to determine if it’s a viable food source. If it is, a band of scouts will follow the pheromone trail back to retrieve more.
The trick to getting rid of ants for good
It’s smart to start with fastidious housekeeping. Putting a tray under the cats’ bowls is a good step, and rinsing the bowls as soon as the cats finish eating helps, too. If that isn’t enough, though, you might need to resort to pesticides — but in a smart way. Forget about using ant spray, which spreads pesticide in your home but hardly ever solves an ant problem. It just kills the ants visible at the moment, something you could also accomplish by wiping them away with a damp cloth and rinsing it out.
Slow-acting pesticides that ants don’t recognize as poison can do this. When the pesticide is mixed into sweet or fatty bait they like, foraging ants carry bits back to the nest and share it with their mates. It might take two weeks or longer, but eventually this can do in the whole colony. You can buy slow-acting pesticide for ants in bait stations enclosed in plastic, a handy, mess-free solution. But gel formulations, which come in squeezable or syringe-type tubes, are even more effective, “Oftentimes the squeezable gel formulations are more versatile in that you can put out lots of small dabs of bait wherever ants are trailing (along cracks, edges, both horizontal and vertical surfaces, etc.),”
Quick-Killing Ant Baits
Perhaps your bait is working and you’re seeing dead ants everywhere, but that doesn’t seem to be slowing them down. There’s a chance your bait is killing the ants too quickly. This can cause a number of problems.
Quick-killing baits will do exactly that; kill quickly. Although that may sound ideal to you, it isn’t if you want to get rid of the entire ant colony. The key to successful ant removal is a slow-killing bait. You want the foraging ants to bring the bait back to the colony where the Queen(s), nest workers, and brood will eat the bait as well. If your bait is simply killing the foraging ants, that bait will never be brought back to the colony and kill it off.
Use Ant Bait Indoors
Avoid the temptation to simply use pesticides to spray visible ants marching along trails in your home. Pesticide sprays can eliminate a few visible ants, but more will quickly replace them, and you’ll never make real progress to eliminating the infestation. Instead, use these worker ants as the ticket into the colony by placing ant bait for them to carry back to the hidden nest.
Ant baits are edible materials, usually sweet, sugary carbohydrates, mixed with substances that are toxic to ants but which have minimal toxicity to animals or humans. Some ant baits are primarily made from boric acid, a natural substance that is entirely non-toxic to humans.
Ant baits can be “stations” containing granular materials or liquids that are sprayed onto surfaces. Whatever form of ant bait you use, try to place it close to visible ant trails but outside the reach of pets and children. The bait will work most effectively if you keep other surfaces clean so that the bait is the only sweet substance available to attract the ants.