For every Human, there are 1,000,000 ants. Ants and termites are social insects that live in large colonies and have developed complex systems of communication. Ants are found worldwide, but like termites, most of the 9, 500 species of ant live in the tropics. There are more than 2,400 types of termite. Many are blind, spending their lives inside nests, never seeing the light of day.
Ants have two pairs of compound eyes, three single eyes or OCELLI, two antennae and three pairs of legs. Only queens and males have wings. A narrow waist connects the thorax and abdomen. Ants undergo complete metamorphosis, from an egg to larval and pupas stages, before emerging as adults. They live in huge groups and each ant has a particular role. The queen runs the nest and mates with male ants. Workers are female and gather food and nurse the eggs, larvae and pupae. Soldier ants, also female, guard the nest.
Ants lay trails of pheromones chemicals that smell – so that other ants can follow them by using their sensitive antennae to pick up the smell. This helps foraging teams home in on food.
Many ants are omnivores and eat seeds, nectar and invertebrates. Army and driver ants are more carnivorous and kill and eat prey such as worms, spiders and even some lizards. Leaf – cutting ants are one of a few species of herbivorous ants. They feed on a type of fungus which grows on the chewed – up remains of leaves and flowers that the ants take back to their nests.
Most ants live in nests or colonies, usually underground. However, weaver ants build nests out of leaves in trees and army ants build Live Nests of worker ants. Normally, there is one queen in a nest, but there are sometimes several. Nests of Australian bull ants contain up to 600 ants, while some wood ants’ nests can house more than 300 million.
If a nest in attacked, the ants release pheromones to warn each other. Most run for cover, but soldier ants get aggressive and defend the colony. They attack enemies with their large jaws or sting them and inject formic acid which causes extreme pain. Some ants even explode to shower an attacker in venom.
Although often called white ants, termites belong to a totally different order The Isopteran. Like ants, termites live in large colonies. Unlike ants, termites do not have waists and the male, called a king, does not die after mating, but lives with the queen. They do not go through complete metamorphosis, but grow up gradually through several nymphal stages.
Like ants, termites have soldiers. Termites cannot sting, but defend themselves in other ways. Some soldiers have large jaws that can cut through flesh. Others squirt a poisonous sticky liquid from a special nozzle on their heads. Some nests have no soldiers. The termites defend themselves by vibrating their bodies against the side of their nests, making the sound of a hissing snake.
Queen and King:
A queen termite can reach more than 15 cm (6 in) in length. Her ovaries make her so large. She can lay up to 30.000 eggs a day. The king remains by the queen’s side and mates with her several times to fertilize all the eggs.
Fungus gardens are areas where fungi grow on termites’ faeces and break down the cellulose within them. There termites feed on the products released and the fungi itself.
Each species of termite has its own types of nest. Some build towers more than 6 m (20 ft) tall which help maintain the correct temperature and humidity of the nest at the base. Other build mushroom – shaped mounds – the domed top deflects the rain away from the nest below and has given these insects their name of Umbrella Termites. Many termites do not build nests above ground, but live below the soil or inside logs. Termites that live in trees build their nests on branches.
Worker termites build the nest, collect food and feed the soldiers, king and queen. The nest is made from saliva, soil and their own faeces. Most workers feed on wood and have microscopic organisms in their guts to break down the wood into a more easily digested form.