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Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Check this out, my ants finally (after one and a half years of waiting...) moved into their new nest! Partially, at least, her majesty Brunhilde seems to still be focused on staying in the original home, so I have now two separate satellite nests. It's often the case that the queen does want something else than her babies, but since ants are not a monarchy and the queen is not at all a queen, she will at some point have no choice to move, or else be dragged over. Either way, I just got an absolutely amazing internal view of their super new brood chamber, check it out, it still has this new car smell:



You can see the inner colony workers sitting on top of the brood, larvae and pupae strictly separated (larvae tend to eat their siblings by accident as they have no eyes or ability to distinguish food from non-food, they eat whatever they can eat) and boxes of eggs packed up. The brood workers glue eggs together in egg packages like this in order to quickly move them around in time of emergencies.

StrixNebulosa posted:

God that entire post is informative and super cool.

Two* questions:

1) How did this evolve? It's so complex and it seems to be done entirely on instinct?

1a) How old are ants as a species?

2) Got any videos of soldier ants in action? That picture owns.

1) This is hard to tell, but in general the caste differentiation is older than their specializations. All ants, no exception, we ever found were eusocial, but as ants share the same ancestors with bees and wasps (similar to how we share the same ancestors with other apes) and given that by far most bees are solitary species (ONLY honeybees are eusocial) it is very likely that this ancestor was not eusocial at all and thus we had a solitary, but very social animal. In the subfamily Ponerinae (primal ants) that to this day live almost unchanged from this time in Australia, we have ant species that have no castes at all. All ants living in the colony are fertile and have fully developed sexual organs. However, those ant species still form queens via selection based on war and dominance, those leader ants are called Gamergate (yes, really, and not there is absolutely no relation to the other thing, it's a biological term here and decades older than the other thing).
Basically you have to imagine a colony of ants with no queen at all. All ants can lay eggs and all ants do so. However, every single one of them strives to be better at procreation than the next, leading to one ant that's good with laying eggs trying to persuade or dominate other ants into submission, most likely those ants that are not as good with laying eggs. This way, factions form. These factions will start fight each other constantly, they will eat each other's babies and basically try to form a colony within a colony, until one faction dominates the others, resulting in a fully fledged purge where all other babies and all other egg-laying ants are killed and the winning ant queen spraying a do-not-lay-eggs-pheromone all over the nest to consolidate her power. As soon as this happens, the colony comes to peace and we have a more or less regular ant colony with a de facto but not biological queen. If she dies or is overthrown by a new faction forming (happens all the time), the cycle continues, it's a constant Game of Thrones and civil war breaks loose a lot.
From this basis you can imagine that at some point in evolution, the dominating single ants got better and better at dominating, resulting in the queen caste. The other ants kept being subdued and thus lost the ability to procreate on their own entirely - the worker caste is born. Males always happened during that time due to the genetic basis ants operate on (called Haplodiploidy, I can go into detail on that in a full post, it's very funky) - basically if an ant has genetic material from one ant (thus non-fertilized) it always becomes a male, if it's from two ants (fertilized) it's going to be female. This way the three basic caste of male, queen and worker happened.
At some point by sheer accident, most likely due to a lack of food, ants had to raise smaller workers that happened to be better at taking care of the brood - minor workers happened. They learned via trial-and-error that if you limit the food of the larvae, you get more specialized inner workers and if you stuff them full of food, you get bigass major ants. It's only a matter of time until behavior like this is stored into the genetic code - (super simplified) similar to how you as a human have coded in how to eat food correctly using your teeth. It's stuff you do not need to learn, it's stuff you have in you due to the genetic material that leads to it.

You may noticed that I avoided the term instinct entirely here, that's because it originated in the so called Instinct Theory, that basically says that certain behavior are not learned but you are born with and it led to believing that all animals that aren't humans are entirely relying on this instead. This theory is largely debunked by now and outside of popular science publications you usually do not meet the term instinct very often anymore, or at least re-developed to reflect the changes the term has gone through over time. Basically, saying that behavior X is an instinct is nothing but a simplification of an incredibly complex process of genetic basics, anatomical facts and the ability of an individual life form to learn, which doesn't solve the problem or question at hand, but kicks it down the road into a hard to define term. Obviously, everything I just said is controversial in biology.

1a) The oldest fossils we have from ants are estimated to be ~150 million years old, insects are of course extremely difficult to figure out and find fossils for as they tend to fall apart within days after death, but based on genetic research between ants, bees and wasps, it is estimated that the most primal ants without an caste system, but already eusocial (which by now is a defining feature for ants) are ~180 million years old. Their ancestors may be a lot older, we have no fossils to back it up, but based on other fossils that seem to be able to eat those pre-ant/bee/wasp-species it is not an entirely random guess to estimate their non-eusocial predecessors to be 500 million years old or even older.
Termites, by the way, which are in absolutely no way related to ants (they are related to roaches) are estimated to go back around 300 million years and developed eusociality entirely independent from ants and other eusocial animals.

2) Sure thing! Here's an Attenborough narrated wonder of Army Ants, which are very big in soldier castes, raiding through the forest:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsfiUR0ZzLw
You can clearly spot the massively enlarged mandibles and much bigger size of the soldiers vs. the regular worker ants. You can also see their role in killing prey, as they tend to not swarm the victim like the other ants, but keep a certain distance and use their long mandibles to bite from afar, to not injure their sisters and dig deep into the prey's flesh.

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ninjewtsu
Oct 9, 2012




wow, thanks for this great post! it was definitely major ants that i saw, the body proportions were very very similar to the basic media ants, they were just Way Bigger (they also definitely engaged in regular ant work and weren't just for fighting). carpenter ants makes sense and sounds pretty similar, though trying to google images of them i haven't found anything that really looks quite like i remember. the biggest difference is the mandibles, the major ants i remember had pretty big, almost pincer-like mandibles that would extend off to the sides of the ant while at rest/just walking places (i'm pretty sure. though might've just been that they weren't happy to see me and that's what my memories are based off of). doing some quick googling, their mandibles would've looked more more similar to "trapjaw" ants than what i'm seeing for carpenter ants, just perpetually open (though trapjaws are a decent bit further in the pincerlike direction, and definitely lack any resemblance other than broad strokes jaw shape). my memory of the media ants was that they didn't have those same jaws, and if you were to take one and transplant it in my texan backyard it wouldn't look at all different from the usual ants, but given your explanation that doesn't seem to make very much sense. another big thing i'm noticing is that it looks like typically the major workers have disproportionately large heads compared to media ants (more room for jaw muscles, right?), as if they were playing an old video game and had big head mode enabled, while i'm very certain that the major workers i ran into had pretty proportional heads compared to the media.

onto some actual questions:

while there's many notable species of ant with distinct and highly specialized mandibles, there does seem to be a "standard" mandible shape that is employed by i guess the most commonly seen by humans species. i'd best describe it as "clamp-like." you know, these guys:

what's particularly advantageous about this shape of mandible? how do these mandibles serve their specialized purpose better than the much more knifelike mandibles of, say, driver ants?


question 2: there's a lot of talk about ant hivemind intelligence and their ability to engineer complex solutions to problems, but how much of that is "instinct" vs adaptability? or i guess, to what extent can ant colonies learn and adapt to new situations without having to go through, like, evolution to develop new behaviors or solutions?

do ant colonies develop different "personalities?" can one ant colony be noticeably more aggressive in behavior than another ant colony of the same species, or have other little "individualized" (for as much as that word means for a colony) behaviors like preferred foods or deviations in colony structure?

also years back i watched a wonderful documentary following a colony of driver ants through one transport nest -> build nest -> eat everything -> transport nest cycle, got me very hooked on Cool Ant Facts. do you have any good ant documentary recommendations?

ninjewtsu fucked around with this message at 12:18 on Jul 14, 2020

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



ninjewtsu posted:

wow, thanks for this great post! it was definitely major ants that i saw, the body proportions were very very similar to the basic media ants, they were just Way Bigger (they also definitely engaged in regular ant work and weren't just for fighting). carpenter ants makes sense and sounds pretty similar, though trying to google images of them i haven't found anything that really looks quite like i remember. the biggest difference is the mandibles, the major ants i remember had pretty big, almost pincer-like mandibles that would extend off to the sides of the ant while at rest/just walking places (i'm pretty sure. though might've just been that they weren't happy to see me and that's what my memories are based off of). doing some quick googling, their mandibles would've looked more more similar to "trapjaw" ants than what i'm seeing for carpenter ants, just perpetually open (though trapjaws are a decent bit further in the pincerlike direction, and definitely lack any resemblance other than broad strokes jaw shape). my memory of the media ants was that they didn't have those same jaws, and if you were to take one and transplant it in my texan backyard it wouldn't look at all different from the usual ants, but given your explanation that doesn't seem to make very much sense. another big thing i'm noticing is that it looks like typically the major workers have disproportionately large heads compared to media ants (more room for jaw muscles, right?), as if they were playing an old video game and had big head mode enabled, while i'm very certain that the major workers i ran into had pretty proportional heads compared to the media.
Oh! If they had specific mandibles like that, it's most likely Odontomachus, which exist (in different species though) both in Thailand and Texas. Their unique mandible setup should make it a clearer case, yeah. You can check ant species availability and diversity on this handy map by the way and compare what you saw with what exists in your location quite easily:
https://www.antmaps.org/
(just accept the certificate, seems to be bad currently)
There is no exact species that exists in both Thailand and Texas , but the genus exists and they look quite a lot alike, so that would be a possibility.

ninjewtsu posted:

onto some actual questions:

while there's many notable species of ant with distinct and highly specialized mandibles, there does seem to be a "standard" mandible shape that is employed by i guess the most commonly seen by humans species. i'd best describe it as "clamp-like." you know, these guys:

what's particularly advantageous about this shape of mandible? how do these mandibles serve their specialized purpose better than the much more knifelike mandibles of, say, driver ants?
So in terms of mandibles, you may never forget what they actually are: Part of the mouth. Anatomically speaking, mandibles are nothing else but the upper jaw, as they are very common with pretty much all insects and many other animals, like spiders (those claws scorpions have for example are quite similar to mandibles and part of the mouth, too). So first and foremost, all mandibles are always part of the mouth which the ants need to eat. Then also, ants as most animals use their mouth similar to how we use our hands, carrying stuff around, clean stuff by licking etc. Most mandibles are specialized for these purposes and only weapons in a secondary sense.
This is the full mouth of an ant, extended:

What you are seeing here are the three different mouthparts ants have, plus the tongue: The upper jaw are the mandibles, the lower jaw is the maxilla (the first layer right below/behind the mandibles when closed) and the Labium which are the lower lips (the upper lips are right above the mandibles, that brown edge). Around the Maxilla and the Labium there are tactile sensors which are those lengthy things around it, in the very center is the Hypopharynx, the ant tongue.
When an ant eats, what happens is that they at first hold the food with the mandibles which have barely any sensor function similar to our teeth, then they push out the Maxilla onto the food and start putting pressure on it with the mandibles and Maxilla, through the latter the resulting food is filtered for the first time, then it goes through the Labium for a second filtering and the Hypopharynx is pushed in and out to suck up the filtered juice. This is also why ants are unable to eat solid food entirely: Apart from super small particles that go through those two filters, nothing can end up inside.
The sucked out food is then carried to the larvae which do have regular teeth and are able to feed on the solid stuff, so all parts are used.

Now, if you expand the mandibles massively and make them focus more as a weapon than as a mouth part, you lose the ability to eat well. Big mandibles make it harder for the Maxilla to reach the food as it's simply sitting in the way. Also, if they are too strong and too piercing, the food is torn apart while you try to eat it. Additionally, if you have giant weapons sitting in your face, it gets harder and harder to take care of the vulnerable, unprotected larvae that have a soft skin, or the soft eggs that you need to glue together and carry around a lot.
This "typical" form of mandibles is more or less the perfect compromise between having strong weapons and a functional hand-like mouth. That's why you usually see big caste specializations or even specific soldier castes in species that tend to fight a lot of other ants: There the inner colony workers are small and specialized on the brood, with small and practical mandibles, while the majors and soldiers have mandibles that make it almost or even entirely (for soldiers) impossible for them to eat on their own, in exchange to have giant weapons that can pierce through another ant's exoskeleton with one bite. Soldiers need to fed by their sisters to make this possible.


ninjewtsu posted:

question 2: there's a lot of talk about ant hivemind intelligence and their ability to engineer complex solutions to problems, but how much of that is "instinct" vs adaptability? or i guess, to what extent can ant colonies learn and adapt to new situations without having to go through, like, evolution to develop new behaviors or solutions?

do ant colonies develop different "personalities?" can one ant colony be noticeably more aggressive in behavior than another ant colony of the same species, or have other little "individualized" (for as much as that word means for a colony) behaviors like preferred foods or deviations in colony structure?

also years back i watched a wonderful documentary following a colony of driver ants through one transport nest -> build nest -> eat everything -> transport nest cycle, got me very hooked on Cool Ant Facts. do you have any good ant documentary recommendations?

Ants are INCREDIBLY adaptive, like, the behavior we see in hivemind species like bees, wasps and ants, but also termites and also desert mole rats (only eusocial mammal by the way) is vastly different to those of solitary and also most social animals. The ability of a hivemind to adapt to sudden changes is so far only contested by us humans doing the same using our ridiculously large and expensive brains.
An ant colony can change its entire structure within hours. I could take the test tube that has the queen in it right now and drop water in it to flood it all and chances are almost all ants would survive this, the brood would be evacuated a minute later, the queen rescued thirty seconds later and the entire nest would be moved within maybe 10 minutes tops. I could raise the temperature or lower the humidity artificially and they would immediately start carrying water inside the nest or go into the (always very well explored) surroundings. Pretty much every ant colony always has a satellite nest ready to go in spitting distance of their current home, just in case they need to move quickly.
I could, and also did at some point, throw a living cricket into their nest that crashed through their brood and panics, kicking all the ants around and they would sound the alarm and kill it in seconds, followed by a thorough sweep of the surroundings for more crickets or other hostile entities. Hell, when I was cleaning up their garbage pile just this morning, they noticed my big rear end hand digging around their nest and they sealed the entire nest with soil within a minute of me starting.

These kinds of things are not to be explained by evolution alone. They show specific, environmental responses to stimuli and correct solutions to sudden problems perfectly fitting their situation in a matter of seconds. Every ant has a certain mental image of their surroundings and the colony acts like an organism on its own. This organism can learn, can be hurt, can heal and can get sick and it exists on its own and fights for its survival at all times. Also, colonies can have their very own personality, too, even somewhat independent from the usual behavior of the respective species.
A big colony of ants will almost always be aggressive towards other ants and intruders, but a small one will not. A big one that is currently in a difficult situation like lack of water or food will be careful with what to attack and what to engage, while colonies with overflowing storage chambers and big brood are willing to engage fights even with animals many times larger than themselves. Sometimes there are ant colonies of species that are very aggressive and territorial that will just team up with other ant colonies and form a super colony - sometimes even across species or even genera borders, because the current situation needs to be handled differently.

To illustrate that and to answer your last question, there is this really amazing documentary where you see Sir David Frederick Attenborough being climbed by tons of ants between colonies that used to engage in war but are now at peace and even share food together, as temperature changes forced them to do so:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vt7jGGroF0Q

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



That specific documentary by the way is even better for various reasons, like the insane pictures they got from the ants and the insane abilities some of these colonies developed, including the invention of antibiotic medicine the ants create on an almost industrial level by mixing their own formic acid with resin they collect from trees.
You also see ants fighting other animals as big as cows, or what happens when you take two unrelated ants and let them meet each other. Or how the ants deal with snow covering their feeding ground, the ants farming aphids etc.

A very big watch recommendation there. Seeing all the fancy science stuff I mentioned ITT and in my BYOB thread for real is super exciting.

StrixNebulosa
Feb 14, 2012

You cheated not only the game, but yourself.
But most of all, you cheated BABA


Goons Are Great posted:

You may noticed that I avoided the term instinct entirely here, that's because it originated in the so called Instinct Theory, that basically says that certain behavior are not learned but you are born with and it led to believing that all animals that aren't humans are entirely relying on this instead. This theory is largely debunked by now and outside of popular science publications you usually do not meet the term instinct very often anymore, or at least re-developed to reflect the changes the term has gone through over time. Basically, saying that behavior X is an instinct is nothing but a simplification of an incredibly complex process of genetic basics, anatomical facts and the ability of an individual life form to learn, which doesn't solve the problem or question at hand, but kicks it down the road into a hard to define term. Obviously, everything I just said is controversial in biology.

This entire post is insanely cool but this is the most eye-opening for me, as I tend to read a lot of werewolf fiction (love me my urban fantasy) and the terms inner beast and beastial instincts and stuff come up a lot and HMMM it reminds of the sentient/sapient divide in science fiction vs actual science. I'm looking forward to the science getting better so the controversy will hopefully die down.

Regarding the ant information I feel like I'm reading Beak of the Finch again but with ants and it's so cool. Game of Thrones ants evolving into a stable queendom (so to speak) so the assassin/paraside stuff pops into play and it's a neverending drama with these guys. I love it.

StrixNebulosa
Feb 14, 2012

You cheated not only the game, but yourself.
But most of all, you cheated BABA


ninjewtsu posted:

also years back i watched a wonderful documentary following a colony of driver ants through one transport nest -> build nest -> eat everything -> transport nest cycle, got me very hooked on Cool Ant Facts. do you have any good ant documentary recommendations?

Seconding these questions but especially this one I'm trawling youtube for documentaries now. That said ninjewtsu if you can find this documentary again I want to watch it!

e: watching Empire of the Ants now because there's roughly an hour between now and the new Harvest Moon game dropping and what do you know that's the perfect length of time for ant facts

StrixNebulosa fucked around with this message at 15:13 on Jul 14, 2020

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



StrixNebulosa posted:

This entire post is insanely cool but this is the most eye-opening for me, as I tend to read a lot of werewolf fiction (love me my urban fantasy) and the terms inner beast and beastial instincts and stuff come up a lot and HMMM it reminds of the sentient/sapient divide in science fiction vs actual science. I'm looking forward to the science getting better so the controversy will hopefully die down.
Don't get me wrong, it's not like the term instinct in itself is wrong or not based on stuff we believe to observe, but the original intend of the term came from a theory that is now considered historic and largely wrong. The question goes quite deep into animal cognition and questions the ability of any animal (specifically including humans here) to learn, understand and act based on knowledge, which is an entire field of philosophy called epistemology and much more my actual profession, which is why I love to talk about it, too, even though it drastically goes beyond the scale of an ant thread.
The basic question would be, especially when applied to humans: Is it an instinct (as in, knowledge residing in an individual as as result of genetics) of a baby to search for its mother's breast and look for food, or is it an act based on the observation that the baby is lying in her arms and observes the breasts, understands their purpose and acts based on that - or both? This applies to the question of how ants act as much as every other animal and is a very exciting field. My initial motivation when I started looking into Myrmecology was the question: How does an ant see its world? Also that's how I disguise my nerdy fascination of ants inside my actual job of asking and writing about these questions while being paid for it by my boss.

Asking the question behind it is valid and a usual thing to do in current research, only using the term instinct as an answer (like: They do it because of instinct, it's inside of them, easy peasy) is pretty much outdated and honestly not really correct, as it doesn't answer anything. It's kinda like answering the question of how to clean your car by saying that removing the dirty stuff would be a great start.

edit: I made a full effort post about an ant's mind in BYOB a year ago if you are curious to look into the cognitional stuff more without leaving the ant territory of this thread: https://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3886441&pagenumber=10#post496656570

Goons Are Great fucked around with this message at 15:18 on Jul 14, 2020

StrixNebulosa
Feb 14, 2012

You cheated not only the game, but yourself.
But most of all, you cheated BABA


Your secret agenda of getting me to visit BYOB more often is working, drat you!

Also!! I just remembered to ask: have you read the sci-fi book Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky? It's about humans making a virus that will make a species become more humanlike/smarter/able to communicate, and then screwing up while deploying it so it hits spiders instead of apes, and then it follows the extremely long-view of spiders going from primitive to something more. While it's mostly spider-centric, ants show up in some huge and (afaik) accurate ways and I think you'd enjoy reading it!

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..





I have not read that, but sounds really cool! Gonna get that right away.

ninjewtsu
Oct 9, 2012



This is a wonderful thread!

What are ant diseases like? Do ants have an equivalent of the flu, or some other kind of common-but-usually-not-serious disease? You've mentioned that they make their own antibacterial, but what happens when a colony gets an infection? Are infected workers put into care chambers or anything, or culled, or does the colony even have a mechanism of recognizing that it has an infection? Assuming it does, how does it do so?

Also are there any ant species especially notable for attacking other ant colonies, like beyond typical turf wars or whatever, aside from the already mentioned parasite queens? What are the conqueror ants

ninjewtsu
Oct 9, 2012



StrixNebulosa posted:

Seconding these questions but especially this one I'm trawling youtube for documentaries now. That said ninjewtsu if you can find this documentary again I want to watch it!

e: watching Empire of the Ants now because there's roughly an hour between now and the new Harvest Moon game dropping and what do you know that's the perfect length of time for ant facts

I'll try to remember to find it after work tonight!

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



ninjewtsu posted:

This is a wonderful thread!

What are ant diseases like? Do ants have an equivalent of the flu, or some other kind of common-but-usually-not-serious disease? You've mentioned that they make their own antibacterial, but what happens when a colony gets an infection? Are infected workers put into care chambers or anything, or culled, or does the colony even have a mechanism of recognizing that it has an infection? Assuming it does, how does it do so?

As with most insects, ants are quite resistant to most regular diseases we mammals get all the time, due to the reduced anatomy compared to everything that is going on within us, limiting the number of diseases an ant can get.
Most notably, ants make it warm inside the nest, but aren't warm on their own, they produce no heat, which already makes stuff very difficult. Stuff like the flu that spreads via lungs and coughing etc doesn't work, as they have no lungs but spiracles, which is a passive system of holes and tubes inside the body to breathe that most insects use. Also, there is no blood but hemolymph which also is not pumped in a closed system like we do it, but it's a open system where diffusion and a heart-like muscle keeps stuff floating around more or less freely. The exoskeleton that provides stability from outside and also protects against external intruders additional features a very good protection.
All of these features aren't unique to ants, but a very good reason diseases for insects in general are a lot less of a thing than it is for us humans and other mammals.

Nevertheless, there are ant specific viruses around, some special parasites that target them and especially bacteria that don't really target the ants, but profit from the high temperatures ants cause inside their nest and the density of individuals hanging around in one spot.
If an ant behaves weirdly or not typical for the colony, other ants will react to it. That plus the weird smell sick ants tend to release (they fart out a lot of nonsense pheromones or use straight up wrong chemicals due to microorganisms living in the gaster) are a sign for sickness which the ants know and react on immediately. Sick ants are thrown out of the inner colony and send to scout or explore instead. If they cannot do so anymore, they are separated in safety from other ants and only a few special ants, sometimes called doctor ants, visit them and check on them to see how the smell is going. Very specific ants of the genus Adetomyrma (Vampire ants, they also suck blood) even developed the ability to detect diseases by telling the sick ant to bite themselves and smell on the hemolymph carefully.
Either way, sick ants are always taken care of separately from the other ants and sometimes groups of sick ants even form scouting or raiding expeditions away from the colony, so they can be useful while outside of their regular function. Sick ants are never killed by their sisters, which not only is them being nice, but something they figured out as killing them might lead to infection. Usually they tend to get healed quite quickly though, or die of whatever they have, as most diseases are either fought off easily or are specialized for ants and kill them too fast, so ant epidemics don't really happen, even over the course of decades.

The most dangerous disease an ant can get is based on parasites, which don't care about their exoskeleton or internal anatomy, most notably spiders like mites. They do not cause the ant to smell or behave differently and thus they can infest the entire colony quite quickly.
In nature, they only solve mite infestations by moving out of their current nest and moving elsewhere, leaving the infested ants behind to die.
As this is not easily possible for ant keepers to offer, mite infestations for kept ants are extremely dangerous and a big reason why pet ant colonies die out, depending on what mites are caught. That's why most ant keepers, me included, do not regularly offer live food to them, but kill them first and boil them on water to kill any parasites that might live on a feeder insect.

ninjewtsu posted:

Also are there any ant species especially notable for attacking other ant colonies, like beyond typical turf wars or whatever, aside from the already mentioned parasite queens? What are the conqueror ants
The ants that do this the most are slaver ants and army ants.
The latter are easily explained and were noted before - they just raid the entire landscape and pillage other ant colonies they outnumber by order of magnitudes. They kill all living ants they can get, eat the babies and the queen and take whatever food they can find. Afterwards they move on, taking the killed ants and babies as loot with them to eat later.

Slaver ants, mainly a subgenus of Formica called Raptiformica, are ants specialized on living off other ants (mainly the subgenus serviformica, slave ants). Those guys eat and hunt more or less normally, only on a smaller scale, but are constantly on the lookout for victim ant colonies nearby. Once they found a nest they haven't raided recently, the scout informs a special recruiter ant which then starts to recruit ants into an army, mostly veteran workers, majors and soldiers. The army then marches towards the target colony and raids them, but less brutal or relentless than the army ants, but specifically targeting brood. They fight off any fighting enemy ants, enter the nest and steal eggs, larvae and pupae. They leave their food be and do not hunt for stragglers or kill ants that are not a threat to them, including the queen, they only come for the children.
The stolen babies are brought to their home nest and raised as their own, they grow up and work as slaves for the slaver ants, feeding and taking care of new slaves coming in, taking care of the queen and everything else that needs to be done around the nest.

The most specialized Raptiformica only create worker ants in the beginning of the colony, later on they exist solely out of soldiers. They require their slaves to feed them and the queen, they can no longer sustain themselves and are basically the Spartans of the ant world, as the, are nothing but warriors and bandits.
As with all soldiers, they are large and have massively enlarged mandibles that hinder eating but are perfect to pop through other ants' heads with one bite. They also have specialized ant venom that kills other ants quickly by dissolving their entire exoskeleton using formic acid. Additionally, they have the unique ability to spray a special so called "propaganda pheromone" which is not decodable by themselves, but only to be read by their victims. It's sprayed all over the next during a raid and causes the victim ants to flee on pure panic, leaving their own nest and hide nearby, leaving their babies without protection. This is special because usually a fleeing ant will ALWAYS at the very first chance grab a baby and take it to safety, as the well-being of the brood is the second most important thing in the colony next to the queen's health, plus it's special because it's a pheromone created for other ants.

Those conqueror ants will never destroy a victim nest entirely, but leave it largely intact and steal most (but not all) brood, in order to let them regenerate and raid them again later. They can do this over many years without killing off the victim colony, in fact they even protect them from external threats and thus basically rule over them as conquerors.

StrixNebulosa
Feb 14, 2012

You cheated not only the game, but yourself.
But most of all, you cheated BABA


Goons Are Great posted:

As this is not easily possible for ant keepers to offer, mite infestations for kept ants are extremely dangerous and a big reason why pet ant colonies die out, depending on what mites are caught. That's why most ant keepers, me included, do not regularly offer live food to them, but kill them first and boil them on water to kill any parasites that might live on a feeder insect.

oh man I don't want to keep bringing antscanada up, but he doesn't do this. He just plops pre-scissored cockroaches and such in there and

ninjewtsu
Oct 9, 2012



StrixNebulosa posted:

Seconding these questions but especially this one I'm trawling youtube for documentaries now. That said ninjewtsu if you can find this documentary again I want to watch it!

e: watching Empire of the Ants now because there's roughly an hour between now and the new Harvest Moon game dropping and what do you know that's the perfect length of time for ant facts

here you go bud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwEubzr7sCs



this poo poo is hardcore as hell and i love it. don't mean to be monopolizing the ant questions but i want to know so much more!

iirc i once heard/read that there's tons of ants living under the ocean (underwater? or merely subterranean beneath the seabed?), potentially more than exist on land. i can't find anything backing this up on google so maybe it doesn't exist and i'm full of poo poo, but in any case do ants have any interesting interactions with large bodies of water? i know there's the famous antrafts but is that all there is to it, or is there more to ants and water than that?

also, what are the major ant predators and what are ants' defense mechanisms against these? seems like ant colony growth is generally more limited by access to food than any real predators (and the vulnerable period when a new nest is forming), though there's obviously parasites and whatever the hell anteaters are too.

StrixNebulosa
Feb 14, 2012

You cheated not only the game, but yourself.
But most of all, you cheated BABA


ninjewtsu posted:

here you go bud https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwEubzr7sCs


this poo poo is hardcore as hell and i love it. don't mean to be monopolizing the ant questions but i want to know so much more!

iirc i once heard/read that there's tons of ants living under the ocean (underwater? or merely subterranean beneath the seabed?), potentially more than exist on land. i can't find anything backing this up on google so maybe it doesn't exist and i'm full of poo poo, but in any case do ants have any interesting interactions with large bodies of water? i know there's the famous antrafts but is that all there is to it, or is there more to ants and water than that?

also, what are the major ant predators and what are ants' defense mechanisms against these? seems like ant colony growth is generally more limited by access to food than any real predators (and the vulnerable period when a new nest is forming), though there's obviously parasites and whatever the hell anteaters are too.

Hell yeah thank you for the documentary, I'll dig into it tomorrow.

Also please keep asking questions, you ask good questions that antmod expands into really cool posts.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



StrixNebulosa posted:

oh man I don't want to keep bringing antscanada up, but he doesn't do this. He just plops pre-scissored cockroaches and such in there and

Yeah cockroaches are very resilient against parasites but still, he keeps them in very close space and just throws them in and surprise surprise, a year or two ago he had a big mite infestation that killed one colony entirely and endangered another.
It's a really dangerous thing and almost impossible to defeat, so preventing it from happening is key.

ninjewtsu posted:


iirc i once heard/read that there's tons of ants living under the ocean (underwater? or merely subterranean beneath the seabed?), potentially more than exist on land. i can't find anything backing this up on google so maybe it doesn't exist and i'm full of poo poo, but in any case do ants have any interesting interactions with large bodies of water? i know there's the famous antrafts but is that all there is to it, or is there more to ants and water than that?

All ants we know today are exclusively land animals and they can dig and work with soil but their spiracle anatomy requires them to breathe air. There are no fossil ants that indicate that they ever had the ability to breathe underwater and since this goes for almost all insects it is highly unlikely that even their predecessors had the ability to live underwater, apart from maybe 1 billion years or more ago, when stuff was still super funky in terms of evolution.

Nowadays ants have to protect themselves from water, as surface tension becomes a real problem when you're only 2 to 8mm big as a regular worker, and the spiracle system (simplified it really is just holes in the exoskeleton covered by a lid and those holes lead right inside where oxygen can diffuse into the hemolymph, it's an almost entirely passive system to breathe) is very vulnerable to water getting in, or surface tension covering the spiracles. In order to solve that, many temperate ants, including my own, developed a thick fur. The hair is covering the exoskeleton entirely and the longest hairs grow up to 100 mikrometers in length. Water gets entrapped between the hairs and thus the spiracles stay water free, then the ant can clean itself and wash the water off. That way most ants are very resilient to water in general and can endure even floods without a problem, as long as they can climb out of the water soon-ish.
Additionally, as they are lacking the reflex to breathe like we do, they do not breathe in water even if covered by it. Instead, if they cannot breathe, carbon dioxide starts stacking up inside of the body as the spiracles no longer can release it, which causes the ant to fall asleep quickly. However, the spiracles are still filled with air and oxygen, the CO2 level only increases slowly inside of the spiracles due to the lack of activity of a sleeping ant. They can spend up to 10 to 15 minutes underwater this way, entirely asleep and apparently dead, but if you then take the ant out of water and let it dry for a few minutes, oxygen rushes back into the spiracles, the CO2 is vented and after only a few minutes the ant is back alive and well, with no damage whatsoever. It's an experiment you can recreate at home easily, even though it's a bit cruel to do so.

That's what especially fire and army ants use in their antrafts, too, those constructions are made entirely out of ants, no other material is used. You can watch them do this here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2ZysgGAABw
The way this works is all ants hug each other tightly, with the brood workers staying on top in the dry with the queen, taking care of the babies. The other workers are stuck in position and the lowest level of ants is naturally entirely submerged in water. Using their ability to stay awake is underwater for a few minutes, they stay like for a bit and once it gets too much, the lowest level ant will break the formation can climb back up to safety. The hole immediately gets closed by another ant from the level above, that hole is closed by another ant from yet another level above and so on. The raft is constantly in motion this way and they do this so efficiently that, assuming no predators try to eat them as those fish in the video do, they wouldn't lose a single ant to drowning, assuming the current doesn't gently caress them up entirely.
They can cross lakes, ponds, even rivers using this technique and survive even hurricanes. All temperature and tropical ants can do this, only desert ants and those living in very dry areas never learned to do this.
I actually saw my ants doing this once when their nest was accidentally flooded due to water leakage from the water tank in the founding tube. No brood or worker was lost and I was able to mop up the water with a paper towel in no time.

ninjewtsu posted:


also, what are the major ant predators and what are ants' defense mechanisms against these? seems like ant colony growth is generally more limited by access to food than any real predators (and the vulnerable period when a new nest is forming), though there's obviously parasites and whatever the hell anteaters are too.
Most insect eating animals can feed on ant but rarely any bothered to specialize on them, most likely simply because even in vast numbers, ants are small and you need to eat a ton. Of course, any hedgehog, bird, fish when in water, many many spiders and of course other ants hunt ants and wouldn't ever say no to them, but it's not as big of a deal that they either of them ever had to co-adapt to each other. That is also due to the fact that ant colonies are so adaptable and even if they lose 90% of workers due to a predator attack, the colony doesn't die out and the survival rates are in total not even noticeably lowered, which would be a requirement for evolution to kick out this behavior and replace it with something better.

Anteaters are a special case, as they are mammals that truly specialized on ants - however, only in terms of eating them, not in terms of evolutionary adaptation. Obviously, their trunk like mouth seems to indicate something else, but their stomach is quite simple and they have no defense mechanisms against the ant venom or formic acid (for subfamily formicinae, that is, that's the only subfamily of ants that produce those by the way, all ants having formic acid is a common misconception). This most likely is the case as they don't really need it, as there still are no co-evolution factors in the equation and the only time there ever was they quickly developed this mouth.

The way this works is equally simple: An anteater breaks open the nest using his sharp claws and great ability to dig, causing panic and alarm in the ant colony (ants are photophobic while nesting, opening it up results in an immediate evacuation order) and they just start licking them up quickly. They only have a few minutes to do so, because the ants know what's up and can see the threat, resulting in them spraying venom over the place, especially inside the anteater's mouth. This doesn't really hurt him, but it stinks terribly and if exposed for too long it starts to hurt (in case of venom) and/or dissolves the vulnerable skin inside of the mouth (in case of acid). That's why these attacks only last for a few minutes. Afterwards the ants have to rebuild the nest or move elsewhere, but usually they did not suffer heavy casualties and can do so in a matter of a few days.

There are other, generalized predators that like ants, sometimes a bird lands on a nest and starts eating, sometimes a bear feels like a snack, sometimes a hedgehog runs into a nest, or a mole digs one up. The answer is always the same: Secure the nest, safe the brood and queen, spray or sting with venom/acid continuously until the threat is gone.
This even works for humans, if you would fall into an ant hill you should get the hell out of there immediately because you will first smell the formic acid or venom that's sprayed on you and then feel the burning sensation of it eating through your skin. For non-formicinae ants the venom is less bad for you and usually hardly to be felt unless they hit your eyes, mouth or nose, but those ants often have a stinger and inject it instead, which hurts like a mosquito and will lead to a rash. Only that it's not one mosquito, but thousands of ants doing so.

Goons Are Great fucked around with this message at 09:04 on Jul 15, 2020

The Lone Badger
Sep 24, 2007



Goons Are Great posted:

Unless if you're Australian, in which case your native ants are most likely aliens from another world, because holy drat what you Aussies got down there is beyond imagination.

I don't know exactly what sorts of ants you have over there, but the two that come to mind here are hopper ants and inch ants.

Hopper ants aren't content to try and crawl onto your shoes and up your leg. They will climb to the top of stalks of grass and lie in wait, then leap up onto your knees and start stinging away. The venom isn't actually that bad, except that it tends to provoke a strong immune response that can scale all the way up to anaphylaxis and death in sensitive individuals.

Inch ants are named that because they are bloody massive. Particularly venomous for an ant, though still only really comparable to a bee sting. Unlike hopper ants they often like to try to maul things with their bigass mandibles rather than necessarily try to sting, which in my opinion makes them somewhat preferable.

Alehkhs
Oct 6, 2010

The Sorrow of Poets


Ant thread? Ant thread!

Thanks for making this happen, GAG. I've been enjoying reading through the past couple pages; what with excellent Q/A, setup photos, and discussion of ants in media. I was particularly pleased to see mention of Bernard Werber's bizarre novel Empire of the Ants (AKA Watership Down with ants), and agree that everyone should experience that book at some point!

Also, the fact that every other book/documentary/game having to do with ants is named "Empire of the Ants" never fails to be amusing and/or confusing.

-----

ninjewtsu posted:

iirc i once heard/read that there's tons of ants living under the ocean (underwater? or merely subterranean beneath the seabed?), potentially more than exist on land. i can't find anything backing this up on google so maybe it doesn't exist and i'm full of poo poo, but in any case do ants have any interesting interactions with large bodies of water? i know there's the famous antrafts but is that all there is to it, or is there more to ants and water than that?

Ants and the ocean?!

GAG already covered how the rafts work and the ability of ants to "hold their breath" in water, but there actually are instances of marine ants! Well, quasi-marine: There are several species that make their homes in the tidal zone, and have developed various adaptations to survive the daily inundations by the tide.

One such species, Polyrhachis sokolova, inhabits the tidal mangrove mudflats of Australia and New Guinea, which are submerged by seawater twice daily. Their light bodies are able to walk on the surface tension, but they will also sometimes dip their front legs beneath the surface to "swim", steering with their trailing back legs. What's more shocking is that the nests of these ants actually lie below the high-tide line, meaning that twice a day, the entire nest is submerged by the sea! The nest entrance is constructed in a manner so as to collapse and prevent the water from pouring straight in, and certain chambers are built to trap air even as less air-tight passages slowly fill.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er-OnJCn1gg


While P. sokolova has taken the sink trap / diving bell approach to surviving the tide in their mud nests, another tidal species in Australia (Colobopsis anderseni) actually blocks up the narrow entrance to their mangrove tree-twig nest with a plug-headed individual:


During the periods in which a tidal ant nest is submerged, CO2 levels can become very elevated, and there are studies that have found some tidal species can enter into anaerobic respiration, still continuing to produce CO2 while no longer consuming the trace oxygen in the trapped pockets of the nest.

So there you have it! The truth about the colony of Antlantis, which sinks beneath the waves twice daily. It only goes to support GAG's declaration that the ants of Australia are those of another world.


Thank you for permitting my geekery of ants and the ocean to overlap!

Alehkhs fucked around with this message at 17:35 on Jul 15, 2020

StrixNebulosa
Feb 14, 2012

You cheated not only the game, but yourself.
But most of all, you cheated BABA


Holy cow, I didn't think I'd see an ant swim today. How the hell do they do that? I've been taught/seen all my life that you need broad surfaces to stroke water with, and ants have just spindly little legs. I know they're tiny so that probably works, but also like, how?!

Alehkhs
Oct 6, 2010

The Sorrow of Poets


StrixNebulosa posted:

Holy cow, I didn't think I'd see an ant swim today. How the hell do they do that?



The more serious answer is that there are many species beyond just those in the tidal zone that demonstrate water-walking and/or swimming behaviors, and they all seem to have slightly different methods - but the underlying mechanics are still not fully understood. The above figure actually comes from a paper examining the methods of a couple of species found in Kentucky: https://academic.oup.com/aesa/article/111/6/319/5054178

Gripshover et al. posted:

Some F. subsericea workers walked across the water surface (i.e., with the body elevated above the surface and legs supported by surface tension), whereas others swam (i.e., with the ventral surface of the body in contact with the water surface and legs penetrating the surface film). Despite this conspicuous behavioral difference (walking vs swimming), ants in the two groups did not differ conspicuously in morphology or swimming performance. The average body length and hind leg tarsus length of walking workers were somewhat shorter than those of swimming workers (Table 4). However, no other individual legs or leg parts differed between them (t < 1.83, df ≥ 27, P = 0.08). Mass also was similar between the groups, and overall morphometrics were only marginally different between them (Fig. 4; pseudo-F = 2.66, df = 1, 52, P = 0.054). In terms of swimming performance, walking workers exhibited higher maximum velocity, but walking and swimming individuals had similar overall velocity, maximum acceleration, and efficiency (Table 4).

[...]

The dual swimming behaviors exhibited by F. subsericea provide insight into the mechanisms that enable organisms to walk on water (Hu et al. 2003, Bush and Hu 2006). Although the addition of ethanol has multiple effects on the characteristics of the fluid substrate, our observations suggest that reductions in surface tension caused the lower frequency of walking behavior. The difference in size between walking and swimming workers also suggests that swimming workers exceed the threshold ratio between worker size and tarsal surface area that breaks the local surface tension of water (Hu et al. 2003). This could explain why C. pennsylvanicus workers do not exhibit water walking behavior, as C. pennsylvanicus workers are generally larger than the walking F. subsericea tested in this study. Apart from overall size, the only structures of F. subsericea that were proportionally larger than those of C. pennsylvanicus were the midleg tarsi and hind leg tarsi, which coincidentally are the stabilizing leg segments that directly contact the water surface. The hydrophobic properties of body parts that directly interact with the water surface are important to water walking behavior (Suter 2013), and thus, the hydrophobic properties of F. subsericea tarsi warrant further exploration.

[...]

Ultimately, the results of this study indicate that differences in morphology underlie the differences in swimming performance and behaviors observed in the two focal species. Forelegs and tibiae could enhance swimming performance via multiple mechanisms (overall size, hair density, or hydrophobicity), and thus, further exploration is necessary to identify the specific mechanism of their action.

-----

Edit: Here's another great shot of a swimming ant, courtesy of a different study comparing the swimming abilities of 35 species (https://jeb.biologists.org/content/217/12/2163):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41fALZbG5Wk

quote:

In real time, this ant (Odontomachus bauri) is moving about eight times faster across a pan of water than the video shows. This species moves quickly to rescue itself, but about half the species in a recent test just flailed and struggled. The background grid is composed of 1-by-1 centimeter squares.

There's several other videos and some photo breakdowns in the article, so check it out: https://jeb.biologists.org/content/217/12/2163

Alehkhs fucked around with this message at 17:15 on Jul 15, 2020

Quaint Quail Quilt
Jun 19, 2006



StrixNebulosa posted:

Your secret agenda of getting me to visit BYOB more often is working, drat you!

Also!! I just remembered to ask: have you read the sci-fi book Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky? It's about humans making a virus that will make a species become more humanlike/smarter/able to communicate, and then screwing up while deploying it so it hits spiders instead of apes, and then it follows the extremely long-view of spiders going from primitive to something more. While it's mostly spider-centric, ants show up in some huge and (afaik) accurate ways and I think you'd enjoy reading it!
I did, someone (maybe you) said it was good, and it was!

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Alehkhs posted:

Ants and the ocean?!

GAG already covered how the rafts work and the ability of ants to "hold their breath" in water, but there actually are instances of marine ants! Well, quasi-marine: There are several species that make their homes in the tidal zone, and have developed various adaptations to survive the daily inundations by the tide.

Holy mother of hell, I did not know about this. Before I posted, I actually read up and looked for any instances of maritime ants being mentioned anywhere and asked my friend in the biological institute who's a Myrmecologist and none of us knew about these specializations. This especially hit this friend and almost threw him into a quasi-existential crisis because he believed to not be surprised by stuff the internet says for years now and now we are both knee deep covered in details about this forgotten type of ants.
science, why do you keep doing this to us!!

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Quote him: "That's it, I give up. I am now convinced there is no biological realm ants cannot live in. Only a matter of time until we find them in Antarctica, earth's orbit and the center of a black hole with some hosed up gravitational specialization."

There's some Nobel prize nominations to win with this.

cheetah7071
Oct 20, 2010


College Slice

Do any insect species truly live underwater in their adult form? Plenty of larvae do and there's things like diving beetles but I would be astonished if ants ever truly migrated below the waves instead of swimming on top of them.

Maybe some variant that stays as larvae their whole life could be possible I guess. Like some kind of insect axolotl

VictualSquid
Feb 29, 2012

Gently enveloping the target with indiscriminate love.


Goons Are Great posted:

Quote him: "That's it, I give up. I am now convinced there is no biological realm ants cannot live in. Only a matter of time until we find them in Antarctica, earth's orbit and the center of a black hole with some hosed up gravitational specialization."

There's some Nobel prize nominations to win with this.
Have my favourite survivalist ant classic.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kg4vVYKc90

ninjewtsu
Oct 9, 2012



How do ants react to rain? What goes on in the nest during a rainstorm? Doesn't it mess up all their pheromone trails?

Is there any ant prey that have developed sophisticated anti-ant defense mechanisms?

Shrecknet
Jan 2, 2005

Nosferatu Enthusiast
@shrecknet



How did they get the name Myrmidon? Because that's loving sick for a taxology and if I'd named them it'd be something like "antis antos"

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



cheetah7071 posted:

Do any insect species truly live underwater in their adult form? Plenty of larvae do and there's things like diving beetles but I would be astonished if ants ever truly migrated below the waves instead of swimming on top of them.

Maybe some variant that stays as larvae their whole life could be possible I guess. Like some kind of insect axolotl

There are a few insects around that spend their entire life in and around water, but it only makes up a fraction of the total insect population and it's not a common feature. The main reason for this is that insects as a class developed on land and going back into the water would require specific evolutionary pressure that requires them to do so - similar to how most mammals aren't aquatic either, but yet wales decided to go back home into the oceans. Another big reason is that the aquatic ecological niches are simply - and for a long time already - filled. Going back into the ocean successfully would need a species to do something other aquatic animals, especially crustaceans, can't do, else they would compete against a class of animals that's got home bonus.
There's a nice blog post about this by an aquatic entomologist: https://thedragonflywoman.com/2012/05/25/marine-insects/

VictualSquid posted:

Have my favourite survivalist ant classic.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kg4vVYKc90


I love ants

ninjewtsu posted:

How do ants react to rain? What goes on in the nest during a rainstorm? Doesn't it mess up all their pheromone trails?

Is there any ant prey that have developed sophisticated anti-ant defense mechanisms?

Rain is not a huge problem for ants, as already described they are able to keep the water off their bodies quite easily, surface tension is the bigger problem there and also more or less easy to solve given a few adaptations like hair on the exoskeleton. As they always - even for those maritime guys over there - keep the nest more or less dry due to how they construct it, internally it doesn't do a lot of damage and cannot wash away the chemicals they use. Also, many chemicals they do produce and use as pheromones, eg. long chains of carbon mixtures like Undecane, does not solve in water at all, it doesn't really get washed away either. Ant tracks are lost (but simply rebuilt later on based on their mental map, memory and also just by coincidence and re-discovering something they like) and they might need to scout again afterwards, but ants do that all the time anyways, so it's hardly a bother. Around an active ant nest, you will always see a scout or ten moving around, exploring and checking out what's up, at least if the nest is big enough. If isn't yet, they do not really care what's outside, as they carry in whatever they need and are thus not really affected by it.

ninjewtsu posted:

Is there any ant prey that have developed sophisticated anti-ant defense mechanisms?
There are plenty of insects that can hurt ants dramatically, for example most beetles have some sort of defense secretion around to spray all over the place, which either stinks and irritates the ant's ability to smell, or directly hurts them by dissolving the exoskeleton. Some also have stingers with venom that get injected straight into their bodies.
Due to the number of enemies insects usually have, including ants, by far most prey developed a catch-all mechanism to defend against ants as well as beetles or other insects, so specialized anti-ant weaponry is not really necessary if the more generalized ones already function quite well for that job. Usually it's other ants that developed ant-specific weapons, like those slaver ants with their big, scythe-shaped mandibles to specifically target another ant's head, or the ability for some ants to use their own venom, to which they are immune, sprayed all over their body, to become immune against another ant's venom, too.

In general though, ant attacks are not really specialized for the most part (biting, tearing apart and venom(+acid sometimes)) and thus most anti-ant measures also are not really specialized, as both parties have an interest to get into a more general approach on how to deal with enemies due to their sheer variance and numbers.

Shrecknet posted:

How did they get the name Myrmidon? Because that's loving sick for a taxology and if I'd named them it'd be something like "antis antos"
Now that's a fun one. The ancient Greek word myrmex (μύρμηξ) simply means ant and the Myrmidones were the kids from the King of Phtia, Myrmidon, a son of Zeus and Eurymedusa, the princess of Phtia. She was lured into having sex with Zeus, as so many women in that mythology, because Zeus transformed himself into an ant and climbed on top of her, which apparently caused her to feel very attracted and have sex with the ant. The resulting babies were the μύρμηκες mrmēkes, the ant-men.
There are various other interpretations of how that name came to be, including Zeus gifting a bunch of new inhabitants for Aegina and since there simply were no new inhabitants around to gift, he simply created them out of ants living nearby (as noted in Ovid's Metamorphoses). Either way, the idea is that those guys either came from an ant or straight up were ants before, so they got called the Myrmidons.

StrixNebulosa
Feb 14, 2012

You cheated not only the game, but yourself.
But most of all, you cheated BABA


Why don't ants ever hold still? Unless they're feeding or checking on something they're always in motion. Why?

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



They do! They do a lot, actually, just not when you can see them. Right now I see dozens of ants sleeping or just sitting around, doing absolutely nothing inside the nest. When they feel safe and comfortable, they do not do much as long as there isn't work to do and ants also sleep from time to time, just not in a manner that we'd expect.
When you see ants though, they are outside of the nest or the nest has been opened (unless you cover it with red foil like ant keepers do it in their setups) and thus they are there for a reason and busy in some way. Being outside the nest means danger, which means you gotta keep moving and do your job as quickly as possible, even if everything is calm and quiet. Also, most ant species detect their surroundings mostly via smell and their eyes, but for the former they have to move their antennae a lot and cover a lot of ground in order to smell even the smallest things around them and the latter, Oculus Compositus for nerd speak, do not function well when things are not in motion. Since rocks and the ground usually shouldn't move, they do in order to see them properly. Not moving while outside the nest is not only inefficient, it's double dangerous, as you spend dangerous time and you impair your own senses, making all those possible dangers harder to detect in time.

It's a good indicator for an ant keeper if the ants are calm, not moving at all or only doing so slowly while inside the nest, assuming you are able to look into your setup without disturbing them. That means they are chill and happy and comfortable, even though there soon will be work to do again and movement will happen again, too.

The Lone Badger
Sep 24, 2007



Is there a greater biomass of ants or beetles in the world?

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Obviously that's impossible to tell for sure, as biomass in general is not something you can determine on such a scale, but it seems more likely that there are more ants than beetles on earth. Beetles have by far a greater number of individual species with an estimated more than 400 000 different species, every year has hundreds of new ones found and they are, excluding Prokaryotes, the most numerous order or any animal, but still their absolute numbers of individuals is probably less dramatic than it is for ants and other eusocial animals. In general it's estimated that eusocial animals make around 12 to 15% of total eukaryote animal biomass on earth due to the sheer number of individuals per colony/hive and so it seems likely that in pure biomass honey bees, ants and termites all individually outnumber beetles.
That is a wild guess though, of course excluding plants and microorganisms entirely, which on their own make up an estimated 95% of living biomass on earth anyways.

ninjewtsu
Oct 9, 2012



what are ant emotions like? obviously they have a fear response and can be stressed, but are happy ants a thing? is that something that's considered per ant or per colony? can ants develop mental disorders, like are there ant colonies with PTSD or some kind of ant equivalent? what is ant neurology like

Hipster_Doofus
Dec 20, 2003

Lovin' every minute of it.

StrixNebulosa posted:

Holy cow, I didn't think I'd see an ant swim today. How the hell do they do that? I've been taught/seen all my life that you need broad surfaces to stroke water with, and ants have just spindly little legs. I know they're tiny so that probably works, but also like, how?!

Hah, funny. My first thought was "A swimming ant... well now I really have seen everything."

Except of course I haven't, because this thread is still going.

Goons Are Great posted:

Holy mother of hell

Lol even the OP and his myrmecologist friend are getting their minds blown.

Goons Are Great posted:

That is a wild guess though, of course excluding plants and microorganisms entirely, which on their own make up an estimated 95% of living biomass on earth anyways.

Jesus

YggiDee
Sep 12, 2007




Fallen Rib

This thread is dope and reading about different kinds of parasitic ants is the most interesting thing I've seen all week!

Carillon
May 9, 2014





Goons Are Great posted:

When you see ants though, they are outside of the nest or the nest has been opened (unless you cover it with red foil like ant keepers do it in their setups) and thus they are there for a reason and busy in some way. Being outside the nest means danger, which means you gotta keep moving and do your job as quickly as possible, even if everything is calm and quiet.

What's the decision making process that determines what an ants job is? I can see how one ant seeing a stick opening the nest and releasing alarm pheromones would work, but why does one decide to take care of the livestock and another hunt? Is it specialized where one worker ant only really does one thing?

Also is there a collective hive memory?

Sprue
Feb 20, 2006

please send nudes


thanks for sharing so much about ants I have a couple questions one you mentioned that the Queen's eat their wing muscles when they're ready to start a nest and I'm wondering if you mean like they na off chunks of their own body and eat it or if you mean they eat the muscle like we burn fat. The other one was you mentioned that ants don't have body temperature but that they're nest is warm and I was wondering how they do this. I know that some bees vibrate their wings to create heat in the winter and I'm wondering if the ants do that are if they have some other mechanism of creating heat. it seems like a massive expenditure of energy with caloric energy to vibrate all winter and burn all that energy when you're not bringing more food into the colonies especially when it's a young calling and there's a link to our five adult ants in addition to the queen.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



ninjewtsu posted:

what are ant emotions like? obviously they have a fear response and can be stressed, but are happy ants a thing? is that something that's considered per ant or per colony? can ants develop mental disorders, like are there ant colonies with PTSD or some kind of ant equivalent? what is ant neurology like

That's again very much into the topic of animal cognition, which is an entire enormous field and mostly covered with a lot of question marks, but I'll move into it for a brief moment here. In general, when it comes to determine the inner world of a living organism, we have to admit that we can never know for sure what's going on, all we can do is observe behavior and try to draw conclusions from that end, which however will always, without exception, change it with human colors, as we are unable to separate our thoughts from the biological limits our own human brains set onto us.
There is a very famous paper in philosophy of mind by Thomas Nagel published in 1974, called "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" you can find it here: https://books.google.de/books?id=fBGPBRX3JsQC&pg=PA165&redir_esc=y
It goes into a few basic philosophical questions regarding the mind-body problem (in philosophy this is the question whether our mind and our body are two separate entities, as well as if so how their relations to each other are, plus many more questions coming along with it) and the question behind consciousness.
An easy approach to this question is looking at qualia and how we humans observe stuff and what it may mean for us. The basic example for every philosophy student in their first year is color: When you see a color, you see something that you cannot describe, you cannot get away from, you and only you can be sure that you see it in this specific way. There is no way to determine the "redness" of an object. We call this phenomenal properties of the first degree.

Given that it's impossible for us to transfer qualia among different humans or even be sure another human observes a quale the same way we do, doing so towards another animal is utterly impossible.
Now, anyone working or engaging in philosophy of mind might want to murder me right now for equating qualia with emotions, but I just wanted to illustrate how hard it is to transfer these things between individuals, let alone across different species, genera, families, order or let alone classes. We can never know whether an ant is happy, just as we cannot know whether a dog is happy when he sees us, but we can interpret a dog waving his tail and jumping on us as some sort of happiness compared to what we feel happiness like - in a similar way an ant can get very exciting when a new egg is born and they carry it around and everyone wants to hold it for a moment (this happens). Is it just them sharing a work that has to be done, or is it them being happy about a new sister being born? No idea, just as well as the dog maybe is just excited about a human entering his domain in an entirely non-emotional way.

As such, any kind of disorder or even the concept of stress is basically not to be grasped for us, as it always may just be us interpreting non-human stuff in a very human way. The very concept of us calling the mother of ants a "queen" is already doing so - because she is not a queen in any sense of the word. She is their mother and as such responsible for creating new brood, but she has no ability to order anyone around, she is not considered special among the ants other than for egg-laying purposes and she will be attacked, forced to move or dragged into a dark corner when the other ants consider it necessary. However, we humans looked at her being taken care of (which is normal given that she never leaves the nest and thus has to be fed) and assumed she had some sort of sovereign power, while she clearly hasn't. Ants do not have a hierarchy at all, we humans however always have one and thus we assumed it must be the case for them, too.
This is anthropomorphism and it's a real problem when researching animal cognition, or any kind of cognition, even including artificial intelligence research. We always think that other lifeforms must think similar to us, but there is nothing to suggest this is true.

ninjewtsu posted:

what is ant neurology like
Now, ant neurology is easier to grasp, as we can at least cut open an ant and look at the nerves and their basic nervous system. I went into greater details in this BYOB post I linked above, but the basic frame is this:
We have a centralized nervous system, our brain and our spine is what controls pretty much everything across our body, without them we cannot live in any way that we would consider living as a human.
Ants, as all insects and many other animals like spiders, molluscs or squids, do not have a centralized nervous system, or only in a very different way. They have so called ganglia located across the body, those are points where many nervous connection come together and share information. Ants specifically have multiple of those, the largest two are the supraesophagal ganglion and the suboesophageal ganglion, located between the thorax and the caput on the front end of an ant, one on the upper and one on the lower side. From those the entire so-called ventral nerve cord is growing through the entire animal, with many smaller ganglia being the centerpieces.
As such, in the most literal sense of the word, ants and all invertebrates, do not have a centralized nervous system, but a decentralized one and they are, technically, able to live without some parts of it, too. This is one reason, why a fly or an ant, too, is seemingly still alive and well when you cut through their bodies and remove the head. They lose much of their system and obviously the injury is lethal, but the nervous cords are still intact and working normally, so in some sense they are still alive.
A clear gun shot in the head of an ant, for example, assuming you use properly sized bullets, would probably not even really kill an ant. It would destroy their eyes, probably their sense to smell and many other important things, but it wouldn't really instantly kill them, as you didn't hit vital parts of the nervous system. Assuming the wounds are treated, the ant would be unable to sense its surroundings for the most part, but technically not die from this.

Just as a brief introduction of how this works, obviously this is by far more complicated and there the details are even more baffling than this.

Carillon posted:

What's the decision making process that determines what an ants job is? I can see how one ant seeing a stick opening the nest and releasing alarm pheromones would work, but why does one decide to take care of the livestock and another hunt? Is it specialized where one worker ant only really does one thing?

Also is there a collective hive memory?
This depends on the species and the differences between the castes and their specializations. Most things ants do are based on trial-and-error. A smaller ant with weak and soft mandibles will be terrible at hunting, but great at cleaning and carrying around the brood - it will be faster and more efficient in doing so, resulting in it taking over. In terms of decision making, I'd also refer to my linked post in BYOB above, but I'll quote the relevant part:

Goons Are Great posted:

An ant observes its surroundings, finds a pool of honey via smell. It takes a taste and sees, ok, yes, this is loving good honey. It fills up its social stomach and moves back to the colony, pooping out pheromones on the way, barfing the honey into other ant's mouths. Those ants then question, where did he get this great honey? One of them will quickly find the pheromone trail and also move to the honey, doing the same thing as the first ant did, using almost the same path but skipping a few stones and twigs on the way, being quicker that way. More ants come and do this, they now have the choice between the first, longer trail or the second, shorter trail. They cannot know which is which, the pheromone does not include that information. So instead, they just take one by random. The ant that took the shorter path will be back home earlier, barfing into other ants mouth earlier and will be back at the honey more quickly. This means she can re-visit her chosen shorter path more quickly, too, increasing the density of the pheromone trail. This happens over and over again and in a matter of minutes, they will have a fully fledged ant path, quickly moving honey around.

This basic method of a communicating with each other via the environment, combined with patterns used randomly and the basic use of statistics is how ants do most of their work. One ant starts carrying sand to a spot, another ant finds the moved sand and thinks, yeah, this is a great spot, and also moves sand there. More ants see this and more sand is moved. This goes on until a full ant hill is formed.

You see, this is the magic behind all of this. We humans are strictly bound to our individual thinking, trusting our own senses and communicating both directly and indirectly with each other, but our sense of individuality requires us to implement hierarchy and organize us from top to bottom or bottom to top. For ants, this does not happen. They do not have any kind of real queen, real overmind or boss, there is no major ant that tells the minors what to do, there is no telepathic communication required at all. Every single ant is hardwired to support and serve their colony, as for them, their life is equal to the life of the colony. They will never harm their own colony deliberately and will always do what's best for it - they will figure out the quality of their action by the simple use of trial-and-error, repeating those actions that seem to work and avoiding those that don't.
This is the true hivemind behind this, the actual collective intelligence that makes up the highly complex and intelligent behavior we see in ant colonies but not in individual ants. The colony has highly complex properties, some of which we only know in human intelligence, like having a deep understanding of its surroundings, an abstract mental image of how the world around them used to look vs. how it looks now, enabling them to figure out what changed in what way and properly react to it. To come back to the original thesis, the single ant is basically a neuron, limited in its capabilities to think and sense its surrounding, but every single ant forms a higher structure, basically a neural network, that enables them to do something the individual animal could never even think about doing on its own. In that model, pheromone spots are like the ganglia they have in their bodies, where they come together and coordinate more directly with the nest itself being the center of the structure.
Additionally, it is not set in stone what an ant does. The inner colony work and brood is usually reserved for minors, generally weak or slow ants and young ones that hatched recently and have not yet a fully hardened exoskeleton. If they grow stronger and seem ready, they often switch jobs and go outside to hunt or scout, too, and later come back to do brood or queen stuff again. The caste determines their ability to act much more strictly, but internally of a caste, like a media worker ant, is not really bound to it and does whatever is currently necessary.

It is very likely that the colony has its own memory, as they are able to react differently on stuff they have already seen. Basic example from my own formicarium: I usually offer their protein food, currently mainly crickets, in a small bowl in a specific spot in their outworld. As I have to remove those body parts they no longer want to eat in order to avoid it rotting away, they are used to seeing an enormous metal monster taking away the bowl and placing it back there and thus they do no longer freak out over it. They also check the bowl regularly for new food.
When I move the bowl randomly, they are confused and start looking for it. If it's placed elsewhere, they'll start checking it as well as before, as they remember it being that bowl and it's used for food and they do not freak out if I remove it again with my tweezer either, however they do freak out if I do the exact same movement on anything else but that bowl.

This means they must have some sort of mental image from how their surrounding is supposed to look like, are able to remember a piece of equipment being used for something specific (beyond smell and sensing it, as this works even if I swap it with an identical bowl that has not yet been used for food, to avoid them being able to smell the old insects that were on it) and can properly react to it.

Sprue posted:

thanks for sharing so much about ants I have a couple questions one you mentioned that the Queen's eat their wing muscles when they're ready to start a nest and I'm wondering if you mean like they na off chunks of their own body and eat it or if you mean they eat the muscle like we burn fat. The other one was you mentioned that ants don't have body temperature but that they're nest is warm and I was wondering how they do this. I know that some bees vibrate their wings to create heat in the winter and I'm wondering if the ants do that are if they have some other mechanism of creating heat. it seems like a massive expenditure of energy with caloric energy to vibrate all winter and burn all that energy when you're not bringing more food into the colonies especially when it's a young calling and there's a link to our five adult ants in addition to the queen.

Queens (in contrast to males) can remove their wings easily, as there is a specific weak spot on the lower end of the wing that makes it possible to break it away relatively easy. Afterwards they bite or break off the remaining root it was sitting in and eat that, the muscles for the wings are below their exoskeleton so that one will just be digested by their body, just as we humans also start digesting our muscles when we are lacking proteins in our food, or just don't eat at all. They require those proteins to produce the eggs and the babies inside of them and their body will go through great length to provide those proteins no matter the costs.
Heat is generated mostly passively by making sure the nest is in a good spot with lots of sun landing on it and they do it actively by having worker ants work as sun collectors. They go outside in a sunny spot and let it heat them up massively. Then they quickly rush inside and spend some time in the coldest chambers to release the heat again. They also are able to generate a bit of heat using their legs by rubbing them together, but mostly they do it via the sun. Another option is to lay out twigs, stones, whatever they find and get that into the sun to heat it up, then carry it into the nest again and use them as heaters. As ants are small, usually they can achieve their optimal temperature quite easily this way and during winter, they stop doing so altogether and let the cold get in, while they sleep during hibernation. Larvae cannot survive this, so they eat them before going to sleep, but all other ants are usually able to do so and in order to limit the heat leaving the nest, they seal it up prior to the long sleep with soil, sand, wood, whatever they find so the nest temperature does not go below ~4-6C at best. I was able to have my ants sleep in my fridge due to this and they made it through without any losses!

Vietnamwees
May 8, 2008


I think I've heard a song whose title was close to this threads, though it wasnt talking about ants...

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Gunshow Poophole
Sep 14, 2008

OMBUDSMAN
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Clapping Larry

i fukkin love ants

had a colony of carpenter ants that live I guess somewhere outside, have some sort of crisis last week and try to migrate wholly across my kitchen. hundreds of them. carrying wee eggs

I did my best to not gently caress with them but they fanned out everywhere and I ended up sort of slow genociding them throughout the day. it was not great

one of the best pics I ever took with my macro lens is a weaver ant

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