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1. Types of dwellings
A. Ants evolved some 130 million years ago at the end of the Jurassic. Most fossil evidence of insects is found in lumps of ancient amber, or fossilized plant resin. The oldest known ant fossil, a primitive and now extinct ant species, was found in Cliffwood Beach, New Jersey. Though that fossil only dates back 92 million years, another fossil ant that proved nearly as old has a clear lineage to ants of present day. This suggests a much longer evolutionary line than previously assumed.
B. Ants use their tiny size to their advantage. Relative to their size, their muscles are thicker than those of larger animals or even humans. This ratio enables them to produce more force and carry larger objects. If you had muscles in the proportions of ants, you’d be able to heave a Hyundai over your head! In certain ant species, the soldier ants have modified heads, shaped to match the nest entrance. They block access to the nest by sitting just inside the entrance, with their heads functioning like a cork in a bottle.
C. Ant plants are plants with naturally occurring hollows where ants can take shelter or feed. These cavities may be hollow thorns, stems, or even leaf petioles. The ants live in the hollows, feeding on sugary plant secretions or the excretions of sap-sucking insects. What do the plants get for providing such luxurious accommodations? The ants defend the plant from herbivorous mammals and insects, and may even prune away parasitic plants that attempt to grow on the host plant.
D. By following a scent given off by scout ants from their colony, foraging ants can gather and store food efficiently. A scout ant first leaves the nest in search of food, and wanders somewhat randomly until it discovers something edible. It will then consume some of the food and return to the nest in a straight, direct line. It seems these scout ants can observe and recall visual cues that enable them to navigate quickly back to the nest. Along the return route, the scout ant leaves specifi c scents that will guide her nestmates to the food.
E. Ant colonies come in literally all shapes and sizes. A few species live in colonies of only a few dozen ants; however, the average ant colony contains thousands of individual ants. Smaller colonies live in natural openings while larger colonies create vast nests and forage for supplies and food. There are also super colonies around the world that can contain more than 300 million individuals. These super colonies have been identified in Japan, Australia, the United States, and southern Europe.
F. Perhaps the strangest ant fact, there is a species of fungus that infects ants and takes control of their bodies. However, social insects have evolved collective disease defenses to try and control epidemics in their colonies. So, for example, they groom one another and they use anti-microbial substances to prevent individuals which come into contact with pathogens. In a full colony set up that can very quickly lead to a sort of huge mass break out of the disease, there is zero disease transmission because of special behaviours.
G. Not all ant species build nests. A group of about 200 species known as army ants have two phases of their life: nomad and stationary. During the colony’s nomad phase, the ants travel all day, attacking other colonies and insects. At night, they build a temporary nest and keep moving the next morning. The only time they stop traveling is when the queen lays eggs and the colony waits for them to hatch. During this time, the worker ants make a nest out of their own bodies to protect the queen, the food, and the eggs.