Ants are small insects that, although very common, present a whole series of exceptional and unique qualities. With more than 14,000 species of ants distributed throughout the world, with the exception of the Arctic and Antarctica, these can represent half of the insects that inhabit tropical forests. Despite what it may seem to us due to their size, ants are one of the strongest animals in the world and have developed a very important social component. But have you ever wondered how ants communicate?
How ants communicate with each other
If you were wondering how ants communicate with each other , we begin by detailing that they are eusocial organisms and are organized in colonies characterized by a very well-defined social structure and a high capacity for collective decision-making.
In this way, within a colony, worker ants, classified as workers, seekers and feeders of larvae and sentinels, are distinguished from queens and drones (reproductive males); These last two ensure the survival of the colony and ensure that the establishment and development is as efficient as possible. The role of each of them is vital to maintain balance within the anthill and, this is where communication between ants is essential. Up to 12 functional categories have been recognized to communicate:
- Solid food exchange.
- Group effect.
- Recognition of the colony companions.
- Determination of castes.
- Control of breeding competitors.
- Signposting of the territory.
- Sexual communication
Ants communicate and cooperate with each other through pheromones , chemicals produced by the exocrine glands, such as Dufour’s glands, venom glands, and glands in the sternum, posterior tibia, large intestine, pygidium and rectum.
Not being able to fly made reaching far away places a problem. All this triggered the ants to develop a high dependence on chemical substances to communicate . This development has led to the fact that, depending on the proportion of pheromones coming from different glands, these signals carry different meanings, from indications to take them to food sources to alerting other ants to possible dangers. For example, an ant that has been crushed gives off alarm pheromones which are received by nearby ants and alert them of a possible attack and, consequently, attract ants from far away to reinforce their colony. Pheromones are perceived by ants through their long, thin antennae, which provide information on the direction and intensity of the aroma. In addition to ants’ pheromones, ants also use auditory and visual signals , as well as tactile and vibrational signals to communicate.
In addition to communication via pheromones, ants can also touch each other to establish tactile communication . This type of communication usually covers a more limited range compared to the other types of communication, since it requires that at least two of them are next to each other. Tactile communication can occur through vibrations from the ground or through direct contact, which usually occurs from exhibitions, shaking, or dancing. The tactile signals , can also be used together with the pheromones off insects of this type. For example, the lateral movement of the head is used to reinforce the response of the partners.
The ants impregnate the soil with pheromones so that other ants can follow these signals. In species where feeding takes place in groups, a collector who finds food for the ant colony is in charge of marking the way back to the colony’s nest , using his individual memory, so that the same route can be followed by other ants and, in this way, the signal trail is reinforced.
The result of this process are ant trails between the nests and each of the various locations of the food sources, which are increasingly followed by more ants, becoming denser and reinforcing the paths and, also, little by little identifying little the best route. Once the food source is exhausted, the odor is allowed to dissipate over time.
How ants are organized in their work
Considering the classification of ants within a community, the organization of each of them is as follows.
Queen ants are the only ones that deal exclusively with laying eggs. These ants are highly dependent on seeker worker ants, which are responsible for providing food to non-seeker worker ants , larvae, and community drones . Seeker antsthey continuously provide food to the colony where they reside. To do this, they rely on pheromones that other seeker ants have previously left behind and follow their trail over a wide area, while looking for new sources of food. This area can reach 90 meters away from the location of the ant colony. Part of the food found is consumed by the ants themselves, while another part is shared with the non-seeking adults and larvae of the colony; This mechanism by which ants (and other eusocial insects such as bees) transfer food to each other from mouth to mouth is known as trophalaxis . It is an organizational mechanism within the colony and is very common in social insects.