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Thread: All you ever wanted to know about ants...

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Hello Valedhelgwath & everyone
If you will read once more SLOWLY and CAREFULY my posts in this thread, you will see that I was talking about the most humane ways of killing invertebrates (if they need to be killed which is sometimes inevitable).
However, I am not involved in such research. I am observing ants, recording their behaviour on video camcorder. In some experiments our ants are receiving abdominal injections of various drugs, but they are not suffering (they are under anaesthesia) and then they can live happily many further months.
To punish you for thinking I'm an advocate of torturing ants, I will NOT tell you anything more about the termites! And to grow up to my reputation of a bloodthirsty sadist: I hope that this will be a worse torment that being burning alive (unless the explanations of Gnampie did already satisdfied your curiosity). (And anyway you must be by now wrapped in azbest up to yur ears!!!).
Grondy, great thanks for your gallant aid, you are really most chivalrous!!! (here I am putting my most ladylike blushes...)
That's a really cruel punishment, Eryan. Because we don't get them in this country, nor see many programs about them on television (because the powers that be figure bugs are not good viewing for the masses), they are a creature that fascinates me.
If you won't indulge me with termite facts, please help me with the following,
1) I was always led to believe that invertebrates lacked the nervous system required to feel pain; that effectively they relied on a reflex system whereby motor neurons responded to sensory neurons without the additional nerves sending a pain postBody to the brain. Is this correct, or do invertebrates feel (and are aware of feeling) pain?
2) I was told that due to their small size and the reflective properties of their carapaces, ants are immune to microwaves. Is this true? (Maybe Plastic can better answer this one)
3) A hive or nest of social insects appear to exhibit an intellegence that is greater than the sum of the individuals within that colony. Are the individuals acting like blood cells within a body, giving the colony a life of its own by transference of hormones etc, or is it just a case of so many individuals going about their business that makes the colony appear to have a subliminal intellegence of its own?
Well, Valedhelgwath, as I am not really so VERY VERY cruel, my heart softened already and I will seek for you some more facts about termites and termite altruism. By the way, I have many films on them (copied for my own use from National Geographic, Animal Planet and Discovery channels in our TV). If you are really interested in them, you must just watch your TV programme and in time you will certainly find plenty of information!
As for sensitivity of invertebrates to pain, it is difficult to tell whether they have subjective feelings of pain, but they certainly possess nociception system closely similar to that of vertebrates. Opioid receptors, for instance, are found even in Protozoa, and much research has been done on opioid system and nociception in molluscs (a Canadian, Msrtin Kavaliers made many fantastic experiments on that topic).
As for the resistance of ants to microvawes... I have no idea! Plastic will surely be a greater postAuthorIDity here...
As for colective intelkligence, I think that the rule that "the whole may have greater capacities than the sum of its parts" has nothing mystical in it. It uis simply a fact! Here is my favourite example demonstrating how this may be achieved (and I am proud to say that I invented it myself!)
Consider just a dyad of two humans. Each of them must sleep during 12 hours and can be awake during 12 hours. So each of them can be on his guard only during 12 hours, during the remaining 12 hours he is defenceless. But if they make a team, and each of them is sleeping while the other is awake, they will create a "collective being" which can be on its gaurd during 24 hours per 24 hours... and yet do not suffer from absence of sleep! None of its two "element"s can do that when alone, and yet when they are together they can do it!!
If you have still more elements in a system, this offers yet more possibilities!
I risk an other additional comment, hoping not to be wrong too much.
In some more 'primitive' systems individuals are more or less alike, which allows them to preform any task in the colony. but it other more evolved systems individuals get so specialised they can only replace individuals with the same specialisation. Like the soldiers in leafcutter ants, they can replace other soldiers but can not replace a nursing ant.
Actually, if all nurses are removed from the colony, soldiers very quickly engage themselves in nursing activities. However, they cannot care properly for the larvae because they do not have glands necessary to feed them.
The situation looks totally different in the colonies of honeybees. Here also older bees, foragers, may revert to the role of nurse, and, moreover, that behavioural reversion is accompanied by astonishing physiological and even anatomical reversion. Juvenile hormone level drops, distinct activity rhythm reverts again to arryhmic state, and (most astonishing!) mMany glands which became atrophied when a nurse bee grew older and becomes a forager are again regenerated and wholy functional! Only neuroanatomical changes in their brain do not revert.
Look what I've found:

Back in 1990, an item in SF was titled "Ants Like Amps." (SF#60/160) The subject then was the strange mesmerizing effect electrical equipment has on ants. They dote on airport runway lights, household electrical meters, and in particular electrical relays, where they congregate en masse.
Now, a decade later, we discover that they are also not adverse to exploring microwave ovens -- even when they are turned on!
We cannot explain the attraction of electrical relays, but we do know how ants survive in humming microwave ovens. It is because the microwaves inside the oven form standing waves. Energy is high in some areas -- ants would fry there -- and weak elsewhere. Ants seem to be able to find these lowenergy refuges and survive very nicely -- perhaps on the food you were planning to consume!
(Anonymous; "Them!" New Scientist, p. 109, July 31, 1999.
Comment. You can map you microwave's standing waves by filling a flat tray with marshmallows. A pattern of toasted and untoasted marshmallows will appear post-zapping.
From Science Frontiers #127, JAN-FEB 2000. ’ 1997 William R. Corliss

And using marshmallows is much kinder than using ants.

If you use many of the small marshmallows cut into quarters, you can get an even higher resolution map of your microwave's standing waves. However, if you have a rotating tray in your microwave, all you will obtain is goop, unless you nuke it too long, in which case you will have one big cinder. Big Smile Smilie
I don't own a microwave, so I've never tried microwaving ants, Sorry. Seems it would have been a waste of time anyway....
True, ants are better dipped in batter and deep fried, Oh no, wait! That's how to prepare locusts and those water bug woznames, shrimp and crawdaddies. Big Smile Smilie
Thanks folks for taking time to answer my question. You are a wealth of information.
Nobody interested in ants anymore?
Do you know that the largest ant supercolony extends over the area of over 6000 km of coastline from Italy to the Atlantic coast of Portugal, is composed of billions of nests and is the largest cooperative unit on this planet? (The ant species is an imported species of small Argentine ants, Linepithema humile).
And a joke about an ant and an elephant:
An ant and an elephant went together to the orchard to steal apples. Suddenly they hear some footsteps.
"Hide behind me" whispers the ant "I'm unconspicuous".
Very Big Grin Smilie
When you say supercolony, Eryan, do you mean the individual nests actually cooperate with each other, or just that their territories border each other?
Do individual ants move from nest to nest, or are they still territorial?
I seem to remember hearing that there was cooperation between the bordering colonies.
The ants move freely between cooperating nests belonging to the same supercolony and they are no more territorial. New colonies are not founded by a single foundress queen, but after having mated queens are adopted by already existing colonies. Each nest can contain many cooperating queens, and the supercolony may contain more than a million of queens. Relatedness coefficient between individuals is very low, close to zero, but yet they do cooperate! There is still very very much that could be told about these supercolonies, among others, the genetic background of the transition from a system of warlike, territorial colonies having each a single strong and fecond queen to a supercolony where the nests are not territorial, and queens are smaller and less fecond... but this will be for another post! Smile Smilie
Cannot wait to hear about it, Eryan.

I was hoping to see this thread resurrected, but I never knew enough about ants to get the ball rolling.

Are these ants less aggressive in general than normal ants, or is it just their behaviour to each other that is different?
Are these ants less aggressive in general than normal ants, or is it just their behaviour to each other that is different?
Exactly. Iin developing their empire, have they practiced anticide when taking over the territories of the native ants and are they still expanding their borders showing normal ant aggression against the remaining natives?
They are agressive against natives, but they are highly tolerant towards non-kin ants of the same supercolony. However, they are stil aggressive againts ants of the same species but from a different supercolony. And they are highly aggressive against some queens - they kill them (the phenomenon is known as "queen execution"). It was fascinating to discover which queens are executed! The workers kill the largest and most fecond individuals - which is paradoxical. But it has been demonstrated that the workers which are actually the killers they recognize and spare queens which share with them some particular allele. And the large queens killed by them do not possess that particular gene. Another interesting thing: the ants start to form supercolonies when population density is already high. It was often believed that high population density leads to the escalation of aggression. Now there is growing evidence that in many animal species (birds, primates, ants, mites) high population density leads rather to increased tolerance and to appeasement of conflicts!
It's nice to know that it's really the workers that rule roost.

I had read somewhere that bees are similar, and that there is a continuous struggle between the queen and her workers as to which ratio of new queens:drones are produced. From what I remember of the article (it was a long time ago), they could determine how dominant a queen was by recording this ratio. The more drones produced by a hive indicated worker dominance (because in a haplo-diploid society the workers are more closely related to the new drones than they are to the new queens.)
Also, it suggested some of the workers might be laying eggs themselves, which because they had been unfertilised would be haploid and thus drones.
Imagine that in at least one subspecies of honeybees (Apis mellifera capensis) and in several species of ants workers are able to lay non-fertilized diploid eggs -,which then develop into new workers! This form of reproduction is known as thelytoky. How it is possible??? New eggs are produced by normal mitosis and not by meiosis as usual... Insects are astonishing aren't they!?
Like certain amphibians and reptiles too, in which the sex of the offspring is not determined at the time of conception, but after some time as an egg (often temperature dependant). The more we peer into the animal kingdom, the more mysteries we uncover.
This thread was what originally brought me to the PT forums (referred by Gnampie) so I'm glad to see it active again!

there is growing evidence that in many animal species (birds, primates, ants, mites) high population density leads rather to increased tolerance and to appeasement of conflicts!

That's very interesting because I always believed that part of the reason for increased human violence in the world was overpopulation. It would seem the more people there are the more violent and self destructive we become. Natures harsh (and obviously ineffective) way of population control.
Hi ProgHead777,
Nice to learn that you like ant talk!!! We ant fans should stick together! Angel Smilie Pixie Smilie
As far as I know, the conclusion that high population density leads to social pathology is still valid for laboratory rats... but it proved to be false in the case of many other animal species, both vertebrates and invertebrates. For me these recent discoveries are a postBody of hope. So many of us believe still that one must be ruthless to succeed, to win in the "struggle for life"... that one must be selfish, or at least to be altruistists only when our benefactors are our kin. Actually "the law of the Jungle" is not so hyper simple! At a long term, the best strategy may be to help thes which can in turn help you. Consider the case of humans and dogs! Why should humans invest time and energy into rearing dog whelps while they could use all that effort to raise more of their own offsprin? Why because in the long term dogs will help them to protect their children and to hunt for food for them!
This implies that an altruist helping non-kin is not necessarilly a hopeless softie & silly romantic; on the contrary, he may be really clever - in the long term he may be amply rewarded!
And another implication: the best way to win in a conflict may be... to become a helper of your enemy! If he is wise, then not only he will stop to try to destroy you - but he will actually protect you - in his own interest!
And I think that every biologist should teach these simple truths to everybody willing to listen to him/her... so many people are still unaware that a confict may be solved in a win-win way!
What about this for wierd behaviour, then....

In a newspaper this week I read a story about a lioness in Kenya that keeps stealing Beisa Oryx calves from their mothers and tries to raise them as her own. So far she's been seen to do it five times. She steals them from the herd, protects them from other preditors, and mournes when she loses them. She lost the first to a male lion. The next one was taken from her by Kenyan Wildlife Services and returned to the herd, while the following two were rescued by their mothers. After that, the fifth one starved to death, even though the lioness occasionally let the mother come close enough to suckle the calf.

The behaviour of the herd has changed too. At first they moved from the scrub onto the open plain to avoid her, but when that did not stop her stealing more calves, they started tracking her, the male attempting to get the calf back. The Wildlife Service are now leaving her to it, hoping in time she will realise the futility of what she is doing.

Now all go "ahhh" Tigger Smilie
How sad, I assume she can't have a kit of her own, thus she trys to adopts the only young in the neighborhood. Elf Confused Smilie
Very probable. I once had a boxer bitch Puma who adopted... our telephone. It was a nuisance, because she was putting it in her bed, tried to lick it and did not let us make phone calls. So we decided that she should have whelps and she had four beautfuls puppies - Lama. Lisa, Leopard and Leader - and then that abnormal behaviour stopped once for good.
Oh dear, I really think that these computers are stupid, stupid!!! To put stars while I only wanted to tell "a female dog"!!!!! (see my previous post) Now I feel branded for abusive language - and yet I am innocent!!! Big Laugh Smilie
The language filter is a bit quirky but I think the term you used is more commonly used profanely these days rather than it's original meaning. Not your fault Eryan, we know what you meant! Wink Smilie

This one isn't so much about bizarre behavior as it is about bizarre biology. The Pacific Blackdragon (Idiacanthus Antrostomus....or something like that) has extreme sexual dimorphism. The Females are a very odd eel looking creature 2 feet long (about 60 centimeters, I think) with a large mouth and a long spike like barb on her chin. The males, however are about 7 centimeters and have no teeth or even any functioning digestive tract. They are born sexually mature, live long enough to mate and then die. Wierd, huh? It makes you wonder about evolution. How does such a creature come into existence?
How does such a creature come into existence?
Quite simply, Prog, because it works.
Simple and tru, VAl! Big Smile Smilie
They are born sexually mature, live long enough to mate and then die.

Hmmmm. interesting.

Quite simply, Prog, because it works

Hmmmm. now it could become even more interesting. Very Evil Smilie

ROFL! What are you implying Red? Elf Confused Smilie

I just thought it was interesting that the males are born without any way to sustain themselves. No teeth, no stomach...very bizarre. And yet the females live apparently long normal lives... well, as normal as life can be for a fish!

There are other strange examples. The deep sea anglerfish! The males are nothing more then parasites, a fraction of the size of the female. They attach themselves to the females and remain there for the rest of their lives! Talk about monogamy!

And of course, there's sea horses. The males are the ones that become pregnant and give birth! You just have to wonder what series of mutations led to that!
And of course, there's sea horses. The males are the ones that become pregnant and give birth! You just have to wonder what series of mutations led to that
That one at least is a little easier to explain, Prog. It's a misconception (excuse the pun) that male sea horses get pregnant. What actually happens is the females lay the fertilised eggs in a special pouch in the male. The eggs therefore develop in the male, and in effect it is him that gives birth.
This is a strategy that has developed enabling sea horses to get an extra set of offspring each year. While the first batch of eggs are developing in the male, the female is able to start growing the next batch.
Well, if the male sea horse has to bear a whole load of baby sea horses in his belly, in a way he IS pregnant!
It is true that most weird adaptations rvolved because "it works". Look at us humans! MY adaptation is to study ants - it's this weird behaviour which provides me means to buy food, pay for my flat... More strange than sea horses reproductive biology if you think about it!
I agree with that, Eryan. I have always thought we are the strangest of beasts in many ways.

A lot of people seem to forget that we are animals as well. They look as us as though we have transcended that state and have become something else, but at the end of the day, we haven't. We are just animals.

I think a lot of the stress of so-called modern living comes from this. In the 3 million years since we left the trees, our DNA hasn't had time to properly adapt to the new lifestyles we have created for ourselves. Essentially, we are still cave-men, living in an environment, and with social restraints, that were never intended for us.

Men and Women, for instance... We don't understand each other, and loads of arguments arise because of this. One of the biggest causes of divorce is adultery, for instance. But it is only society that says we should be monogamous. This is a false limitation imposed upon us, when all of our natural hormones are urging us to do something different (particularly in the case of men). Because women are severely limited on the number of children they can bear, natural selection favours them finding a strong male to father their children and a reliable provider to raise them (not necessarily the same man).
Men on the other hand, with capabilities of potentially fathering hundreds of children a year with different women, find natural selection giving them hormones that promote this behaviour.

Whether right or wrong, society tries to put a reign on what is our true natural behaviour (not just with sex, I was just using that as an example) and this creates real problems for us. We spend a lifetime fighting our urges, because we believe them to be wrong, when really maybe we would be happier following our insticts (except then there would perhaps be more violence - although a lot of wars are possibly due to us males trying to suppress our natural behaviour of fighting for mates).

I'm not suggesting for a minute, we should live in a society without rules, for all social animals have rules of some kind, but some of them do seem to go against what is natural for us.
I think a lot of the stress of so-called modern living comes from this. In the 3 million years since we left the trees, our DNA hasn't had time to properly adapt to the new lifestyles we have created for ourselves. Essentially, we are still cave-men, living in an environment, and with social restraints, that were never intended for us.

Very interesting Val. I never thought of that. It makes perfect sense.

It's interesting how humans are unintentionally changing the way we evolve. Natural selection can no longer occur in a...well, natural way. It is no longer a survival of the fittest kind of world, at least not for humans. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. But in the long run, it might not be an especially good thing either.
The survival of the fittest means simply that you are sufficiently well adapted to survive and to beget offspring (or to spread your genes by caring for your other kin). So being a slave protected by a master and allowed to breed may be a more successful strategy than being a warrior and run a risk of premature death! We modern Men are largely the descendants of serfs and slaves, not of heroes and masters, and this must have influenced our evolution!
Sadly, modern life provides vast opportunities for disastrous unadaptive behaviour for intelligent, ambitious women. Many of them delay their reproduction and finish by becoming childless singles... Men are much more fortunate in this respect - they can become fathers even at the age of eighty! This is really unjust!!!!
Still one fascinating thing: do you know that Cro-Magnon men were taller than we modern men, and that they had larger brains? Their art was superb. We have dwindled. Were Cro-Magnon men the real Firstborn, real Elves singing beautiful songs at their fires, under the stars?...
Wow! I came across this thread and thought I shoul put in a comment/ question.
My brother had an ant farm, but all the ants died the next day. Somehow it was my fault because I was playin music really loud next to them, but I don't see how that was my fault!
So someone who can answer whether I did it or not, please convict me! Wink Smilie
I wouldn't have thought that was possible, Andrea, unless the music was really really loud. Ants seem capable of surviving many harsh conditions that would kill a human, so I don't think loud music would be a problem. I might be wrong though. Eryan is the real expert on ants.
Hi, I'm not an expert, but I did work with ants for two years. I haven't been active for some months so many among you will not know me. Anyway, I don't think loud music could kill them. It does disturb them. It is possible that the combination of loud music and the stress of being in an artificial nest disturbed their eating habits and things like that. However, ants are usually very strong, but that also depends on the species. Conditions like that wouldn't kill them after just one day. Worker ants usually don't live so long. Only reproductive individuals, like queens, can reproduce other ants. If your colony didn't have a queen or other reproductive ant, it would eventually die, depending on the age of the worker ants.

I hope this can help defening you against your brother. Wink Smilie
Hi gnampie. Good to see you back among us again. How's your daughter doing?
Hi everybody,
great to see the ant thread active again!!!
I think that Gnampie is entirely right, it is probable that the ants died because of stress caused by vibrations. When several years ago we had renovations close to our ant lab and workers were using hammers and drilling devices which produced terrific noise and vibartions, ants were very stressed, they were running about and dropping their young instead of taking care of them... But it is difficult to tell whether this really was the case of their death, because some others factors might have intervened too (overheating, chemical pollution...)
Ah, very clever. Smile Smilie
Hi Eryan!

Nice to talk about ants again, isn't it!
I know this was ages ago, but somewhere in this thread someone (I think it was Eryan) mentioned that some worker insects were capable of producing eggs by mitosis. I've never heard anything about this before. Is it just basically asexal reproduction, or something more sinister? Very Evil Smilie
Many social insects, particularly the bee families, are what is called haplo-diploid. In this case the males are haploid (they have only single sets of chromosones) while the females are diploid (they have pairs of chromosones).

In this scenario, a fertilized egg will have a set of chromosones from the female and a set from the male. It will therefore be diploid and be a female. An unfertilized egg, laid either by the queen or by one of her workers will have only a single set of chromosones. It will be haploid, therefore, and grow into a male.
I didn't quite understand that Valen. Big Smile Smilie
I just got bit by a fire ant(s) and it's stinging like heck,can fire ants kill a person??
Well, as for social insect reproduction, it is basically like explained by Val. But there are some ant species and at leadt one subspecies of honeybees who can reproduce parthenogenetically by producing diploid unfertilized eggs. So orphaned workers can produce new workers and even a new queen!
Yes LadyF, fire ants can kill a man. There were many accidents of drunken people being killed by them after having collapsed on their nest. And they do not bite, they sting, like a bee! You were probably stung by a fire ant, not bitten by it! As a consolation, you may tell yourself that you were stung by one of the most fascinating animals living on this planet! Wink Smilie Are you sure that you are not allergic to fire ant venom? In such a case, such an accident may be dangerous for your health.
RIP LadyFeawen Wink Smilie
Thanks for all that really cool and neat info Eryan Big Smile Smilie Ants are so cool.
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