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Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..




Let's be honest, you should use that smiley more often.

Hello, I'm GAG and recently have been plugging the small questions thread with words about a topic everyone here thinks about a lot: Ants. Unless you're living in an ANTarctic research station, you will know and see them a lot. Even if you do, you will still be victim of the most terrible ant related puns next to the ones about bees.

So I study and keep ants. It's a weird and nerdy hobby, but it's a one I do with passion. I've been in the ant business for around 8 years now when I started reading as a teenage, for four years I am keeping ants as pets, my current colony is now one and a half years old.
I'm doing professional ant related studies along with colleagues for about three years and if that sounds weird to you, I can tell you it makes great sense, because I didn't even study biology but actually philosophy and am working for a university in that field preparing for the most annoying PhD imaginable, yet I somehow always find myself sleeping on a couch in the biological institute after debating about ants for too long. I may count as weird even for the standards of my actual profession.

Anyways, here are my ladies, photo is from last summer. Can't believe how few they were then, it's hundreds now:

The big boss in that picture is what it's all about. That's Brunhilde, named by the posters of my home forum in BYOB, she's my liege and I love and serve her with all of my heart. The ants you see around her are obviously her subjects, the rice they are sitting isn't actually rice, it's baby ants. Little larvae slowly turning into an adult ant while being protected in a complicated cocoon made out of silk they produce themselves.
The species is Lasius Niger, or Black Garden Ant. It's not exotic, if you live anywhere on this planet that offers a somewhat temperate climate, I can almost guarantee you can find this exact species either in, on, below or nearby your house. If you don't, well you probably find another ant species that fought those and conquered their territory. 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. Both in regards to ants as well as in general.

In BYOB I also have a by now huge pet effort post mega thread, that you are welcome to check out for the most nerdiest words you ever could read in comic sans, where I go into a lot of scientific detail which you probably do not expect to see in BYOB, but no worries, I photoshopped hats on most of the ant photos. Also I posted a bunch of times in PI about ants, as you figured, I somehow never can stop talking about them. I even have a gangtag for them, also made by yobbers.

If you check that thread you may already see that ants offer an insane variety of lifestyles that I already wrote about, not to mention those I didn't write about yet. There are ants who eat honey and hunt insects, ants who make actual bread out of corn, ants who breed cattle, ants who farm a very specific fungus underground using cellulose and antibacterial chemicals, nomadic ants that are so numerous they could swallow your entire body with millions of them, there are MANY ants who actually and no joke keep slaves, there are also many, many ants who are parasitic and exist as parasites towards other ant species.
The family of ants, Formicidae, is one of the most diverse and most adaptive group of animals we know, they existed in their modern form for roughly 200 million years - there are some species that hardly changed since then. Their ability to think as a colony and develop a hivemind and solve even the most complex tasks that even us humans with all of our great brain size we brag about all the time can hardly solve. Ants figured out air conditioning 50 million years ago, they produced insecticides millions of years before the first human learned to stand on two feet and they developed a biological society that exceeds human population in both age, number, ability to adapt and, let's be honest, outlook for the future.

If you ever wondered about ants, whether what they do, why they do what they do, why they look like this and not differently, what an ant hivemind is about, how you can get rid of ants invading your home or stealing your picnic and why on earth anyone would ever bother to write so many nerdy words about some insects, ask away. Apart from that latter question, no idea on that one, I may have a problem.

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Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



StrixNebulosa posted:

I cannot wait to see more about this thread, as ants are cool. I have a conflicted relationship though as my only interaction with them in real life is the war: my mom vs the ants in her kitchen. She sets up a poison dish next to the sink every summer when they pop up and I wish we had a way to make them just... leave. We might be messy but not THAT messy

Also: while I like watching AntsCanada on youtube, it has been weird watching his videos go from a dude with a camera and a lot of ants to a voiceover using the same format with hyper-clickbait everything. Just show me your ants without all those cuts and weird experiments, dude.
In general I always recommend to not go too all-in with ant poison. The spray is one thing, it kills one or a few ants (horribly painful, you don't want to see what it does to them in detail and I saw it under a microscope a few times), but the food poison often used as bait is straight up horrible. There are ant species out there that require this, no questions asked, some are pests that you need to fight with all we have as else they could make some areas virtually uninhabitable, but by far most ant species don't do that and using poison to kill them there is not useful, it's counterproductive and hurts your entire local ecosystem.
That food poison they put into honey gets eaten by the ants, carried into their nest via their social stomach and spread over the entire colony to kill the nest. So far, that is what we want. What we don't want but what inevitably happens is when poisoned or dead ants are eaten by hedgehogs, birds, other insects, that then also get poisoned. Those things tend to be stuck in the food net for quite a long time and they can hurt entire insect populations nearby, which in return hurts bird and mammal populations, too.
There are some more peaceful solutions to ants coming into a kitchen than poison, also some that have longer lasting effect than killing a nest, and also in some areas of the world we should just expect it to happen and be fine with it, unless it turns into an actual problem. It's not like anyone would start spraying poison all over a house because there were two flies chilling on a counter. The same should go for a low number (!) of scouting ants.

Also yeah, AC turned into an annoying shitshow where he does things to his pets just to generate clicks and post the most annoying titles imaginable. He really knows his poo poo and should focus on that, it's such a great topic to make videos about, but sadly he chose to go another way and focus on making money with it, no matter how.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Helith posted:

You mentioned ant hibernation in your answer to me in the small questions thread, tell me about ant hibernation because I didn’t know they did that. I thought they just died off and new ants emerged in the spring.

Also I grew up in the UK and I well remember ‘flying ant day’ each year.

Ah yes, ant hibernation. Many people believe eusocial species in particular or simply most insects die out each year and come back in spring, but that's almost entirely only a thing for wasps. Even bees sleep over the winter.
For hibernation purposes there are practically just two kinds of ants: Those that have to do it and those that are incapable of doing it. Those who have to do it, really have to do so, even if they are inside and it stays warm. Those who are incapable of doing it live in hot areas of the world, where the temperature never goes below ~8°C (disregarding a short spike for a few hours). Their entire body and energy system is made around whether or not they have to hibernate during winter and it greatly affects their social structure, ability to reproduce, speed of growth and ability to survive harsh months.

For exotic ants this is an easy deal: You never pause, you never sleep, you are always active. If it's cold, you stay in the nest more often, you cuddle with your buddies and this way you stay warm (of course as with all insects, ants are unable to produce heat from their bodies like mammals do), but you continue to thrive, maybe at a lower speed. In order to make this possible, you food intake has to be absolutely immense. The food requirements for a growing ant colony is by far greater than their biomass implies, they need to hunt, collect and eat constantly. Day, night, warm, cold, doesn't matter, they're out there collecting food. The result is the greatest success in ant biology: Multiple nuptial flights throughout the year, top speed reproduction cycles (the most extreme case has from an egg to adult ant in one week, for my ant species this takes 2 months), being able to adapt to new development in a matter of days, sometimes hours.
Some species, like the genus Atta, developed highly complicated mechanism to always have food around even if there's no insects to be found, by cutting down leaves of plants and feeding it to a fungus they plant and keep in the nest and then feed off the fungus. Those are the ants many of you American friends probably know and see a lot, they are extremely successful.

For non-exotic ants, this is fundamentally different. You have roughly 7 to 8 months of activity, as when the temperature drops below 8°C, you can no longer be active. Other insects disappear, bees no longer carry around honey that you can steal, aphids die off so you can't suck on their asses (literally) for sweet juice. In short, as soon as it goes cold, going on as before is impossible.
To survive anyways, the ants restructured their entire rhythm throughout the year: A queen gets pregnant around July, when it's hot. She starts building a colony immediately afterwards, it takes around two months until the first babies that she produces out of eating her own muscles hatch, meaning it's September/October. Around october, she automatically and without influence from the temperature will stop laying eggs, the usually very small colony (around 2 to 5 ants) spend all energy they have to collect food and make sure everyone is well-fed. Then, at the start of November, they seal off their nest with soil or wood or whatever they find, leave the eggs be and kill and eat the larvae and pupae and go to sleep. No activity at all, at least until February. Then, they start scheduling a single guard, a single ant that sits on the entrance of the nest and has to stay awake, they swap that guard out twice a day. It is supposed to warn the sleeping ants if another animal that already is active again comes in, also it continuously checks the temperature. At the end of February until mid march, when the temperature slowly rises to above 10°C for a few hours a day, they careful start scouting again, collect any food they can find and slowly regenerate the resources they lost during winter. As soon as it stays warm for a while, they go back to their business, feed the queen back up and she starts producing eggs around April again. She now has time until October to produce as many ants as possible to be safe for the next winter. She will never create alates (males and new queens) in that first year, as it is too risky, she focuses on nothing but new worker ants to grow the nest as quickly as possible. As soon as October comes around again, the cycle repeats and everyone goes back to sleep, now with more ants than before - and they have no moral obligation not to kill and eat a dead or sick ant if it's necessary, including their babies - and just in the second year, if all goes well, the colony is big and strong enough to start producing alates and spread the genome.
90% of those queens never make it to their first winter and even 80% of the founded and functioning nests do not survive the first year due to this cycle. Afterwards - and those are the ants you usually see - the nest is usually very successful and can stay around until the queen dies. If it's a species that supports more than one queen (we call this polygynous, monogynous for single queens), that colony is virtually immortal and will continue this cycle endlessly. There are colonies in the world that are believed to be hundreds of years old.
That's what they do. They trade in the ability to feed all the time for sustainability and the ability to live in cool to extremely cold areas.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



I have never played SimAnt because that came out before I was born actually, but I did buy Empires of the Undergrowth just five minutes ago after reading about it and seeing a goon talking about what it is, I am very pumped to play it and see if it's cool and whether they are biologically correct! (they are not, because they portray Leafcutter Ants as one species with many castes, which is untrue, it's an entire genus - Atta - and their caste variation internally and externally is way less extreme).
I need to see if my old rear end computer can run it though.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



sullat posted:

Why do they swarm on the sidewalk in front of my house? Every once in a while there are a few thousand running around there.

Hard to tell. Ants swarm for various reasons, the most likely ones are them having food around leading to the construction of ant roads where they carry the stuff back home, or them hunting together. Most ant species will hardly care for the size of the prey, as long as they have enough numbers to have a good chance of moving it or parts of it, so as soon as something big and edible comes around, they'll start to swarm. Ant scouts detect such things, go while spraying a trail of pheromones and then recruiting ants from the nest to follow them back to the source.

Another likely reason is other ants. When ants are neither scouting nor hunting nor gathering food, they are usually in a war with other ants that live nearby
As the drums of war trigger the majority of ants to leave the nest and fight for the colony, this results in huge rear end battles with many swarms of ants trying to outnumber each other. Usually ends with devastating losses on both sides and no real winner, but if someone does win the losing colony gets eaten if not evacuated quickly enough. Ants have a biological and genetic motivation to die for the safety of the own colony and to keep their own genome alive, which is why they won't care for massive losses even against the exact same ant species. There are some exceptions to this where two unrelated colonies can merge to one mega colony and how that happens is largely a mystery, but the usual status quo for all feral ant colonies is a constant state of war with other ants.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Gophermaster posted:

I have ants that live in my garden and my flower boxes. For several years now they have been content to live there, but this year all the flowers in the one box they live in have died. What causes this, and do I need to remove the colony to grow flowers there?

Unlikely that they have something to do with that. Adult ants are in general unable to eat solid food and cannot process cellulose in anyway, so they wouldn't eat them or dig out the roots or something like that. Leafcutter ants might cut them down, but usually they stick to plants that produce more stuff than flowers and even then you should see the cuts first, they wouldn't just die.

Now, it might be possible that they tried to breed aphids on the flowers, a lot of ant species do that. They collect them from elsewhere, place them on plants nearby the nest, protect and breed them, so they suck out the plants and the ants suck up the plant poop the aphids produce naturally. This can cause entire gardens to die slowly, but you would be able to spot the aphid farms easily weeks before that happens. Also, usually the ants replant new stuff there and carry the aphids over to keep them going, so it shouldn't just die, but sometimes they don't control their cattle well enough, causing them to burn through the plants.

I'd say try again and keep an eye on the plants for aphids or wounds of any kind, but it might as well be that other insects or any kind of plant disease caused them to die. Removing the colony would only solve it if the ants definitely are the problem there and if they are not, it's actually more dangerous as the ants usually keep plants nearby the nest intact and protect them against bugs etc. in order to not lose the cover and safety.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Thanatosian posted:

Wait, what? Really?

Oh yes! This is called social parasitism and is incredibly complex and as old as eusocialitiy. There is no biological realm where parasites do not exist, as they are as old as life itself.

Basically there are three strategies involved: In Strategy 1, violence, a pregnant queen enters an existing ant colony, disguised as a normal worker, and compels via pheromones or forces via violence the actual colony workers to leave her be, kill the existing queen ant and start laying eggs, who as soon as they hatch fight the other workers, steal their food and forcefully takeover the colony.

In strategy 2, fraud, a pregnant queen disguises herself as another queen of the same colony and sneaks in. She lives next to the other queen and acts like her, but spreads a pheromone that makes her more appealing to serve than the actual queen, until the latter will die off starvation and in general being neglected, or the existing workers even kill their own original mommy to serve the parasite. The parasite lays eggs constantly and gets them raised by the victim workers, until they grow up, outnumber the original (obviously not anymore growing) worker population and take over the entire colony by killing the remaining victim ants. A

Strategy 3, true parasitism, is the most complex and brutal one and only accessible for a few very special ant species. Those species are lacking a worker caste all together, they are exclusively made out of queens and males, nothing else will ever be born.
A pregnant queen is able to become virtually invisible for the victim ants via extremely complex pheromones and just walks into the victim colony. She searches for the or one of the existing queens and hooks herself up to her back, pushing her onto the ground and hindering her movement. Via chemicals she forces the workers to feed and take care of her, always making sure the original queen is staying out of the picture, but always still alive. She then can start laying eggs for baby queens and males which get taken care of by the existing workers and spread her genome that way. The males will meet with new queens and the cycle repeats itself.
Those parasitic queens no longer have legs or even a mouth, they can only move for a certain time by crawling like a worm and will stay on the back of the victim for the rest of their lives. They are so successful at being parasites that they were able to reduce almost all functions that enable them to take care of themselves and require a host to survive.

I made a more detailed post about social parasites in my byob thread, feel free to check it out if you want to be scared what nature can evolve to and for some nasty pictures of an ant species so parasitic that they are unable to exist without their hosts: https://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3886441&pagenumber=5&perpage=40#post494310981

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Carillon posted:

In strategy 1 and 2 why then kill off the remaining workers? If they're already serving the parasitic queen why not keep them around indefinitely?

Also how effective are those chemicals? What's the chance they're detected or it doesn't work?

Especially in strategy 1, which is the most common and least developed one, it's not a clean cut. Sometimes a parasitic queen isn't able to mimic the required nest smell (it's the only way for ants to determine whether or not another ant is related) at all, many species have no organs for this. They just kill the first host worker they see, bath in their blood (hemolymph actually, ants like all insects have no blood) and try to disguise their actual smell by appearing somewhat neutral, or they even cover their body with host worker ants to do so.
Sometimes this still doesn't work and the queen, using her stronger mandibles, naturally armored exoskeleton and generally much bigger size, and goes on a killing spree among the host. They kill every ant they see until they reach the queen and kill her, too. This confuses the host colony entirely, as they find a queen which smells queen-like, but obviously isn't her queen, so they ignore her or at least don't help her, and they in general don't get a coordinated attack organized to get rid of her. Those kinds of social parasites are highly violent and adaptable and any kind of worker that comes too close to them gets killed, which simply ignites fear among the ants who don't get what's up.

In general, temporary social parasites kill the remaining host workers just as a safety measure. There always is some faction among the hosts that seem to see through the disguise, the parasitic queen gets attacked quite often and you also don't want to risk a single host worker ant realizing she's been tricked and starts to go on a killing spree among your helpless brood. A single worker ant could easily destroy hundreds of parasitic eggs, so it's safer to remove the host entirely as soon as possible and live on your own ones.

The effectiveness of those chemicals are highly variable. This kind of takeover rarely works, easily 90% of parasite queens don't make it to a suitable host nest and replacing a queen without being killed. Even if they do, the first few days are very dangerous, many queens still get killed then, leaving the nest entirely vacant of any queen which dooms them to die out. The way ants use pheromones is a highly researched but still hardly understood topic, we don't even understand the concept of nest smell as the chemicals used are evidently the same, yet an ant can distinguish between colonies even if another ant she met is from the same mother but living in another colony. Somehow every colony has their very own specific smell and mimicking that is very tough.

The only ant species so far that is close to a 100% success rate, equally unknown how the hell that's possible given the complexity of every pheromone, is Tetramorium inquilinum, the one without legs and a proper mouth. Those guy land nearby a host nest and are pretty much always accepted as new queen the second they do that. They don't even need to find the host queen, the workers carry them to her and hook her up. It's a mystery how anything can be so successful in tricking thousands of individuals via a smell, but we do know that those queens have a very special and massively expanded pheromone apparatus in their gaster with which they accomplish that. One theory is that they don't actually trick the ants, but produce something similar to an air born drug that causes the ants to thirst for that smell and they just fall for the parasite due to being obsessed with that smell, but it's just a theory.
If, for those guys, this trick doesn't work, which is rare but it does happen, the parasite queen is doomed to starve to death outside the chosen colony. The fact that a species like that was able to adapt like this is evidence for their tremendous and statistically impossible success.

Goons Are Great fucked around with this message at 23:39 on Jul 7, 2020

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



It's nuptial flight season!

The magical time of the year is here, in Europe and the temperate regions of America and Asia!
If you live in those regions, very broadly everything north of the 40th parallel, which is i think roughly north of Wyoming and of course the respective states around that line of latitude for the US, North of Central Italy in Europe and Northern turkey and Northern China for Asia, you can now bear witness to this magical time of the year and observe ants from many species doing sex and founding new kingdoms all over the place!
It's of course not globally synchronized and depends on the weather, but from now on until maybe mid August alate ants, the winged sexual individuals from the respective species will leave their home nest and fly out to mate with an average of 12 to 15 lovers in mid air. It is the most exciting, most dangerous and most complicated time for every queen ant and it's the only active time for all male ants before they inevitably die due to the fatal wounds they will suffer from mating.

The queens were never prepared for this, they had no training, they never used their wings ever before, they have no idea what wind or rain is and they will fly up to 20km to meet with distant males and mix up their genomes healthily. Most queens will not survive this journey, by far more than 90 to 95% will die, but those who can make it have the unique chance to form a new ant kingdom that can last for up to 20 years for monogynous species or practically endless for polygynous ones.

I already met some fresh queens today at the train station:



Presumably garden ants, one of them still winged, both fresh queens that probably had sex just today, as you can see from their incredibly faces.
The winged ones are either resting and haven't had sex yet, the unwinged ones are definitely done with their duty and carry massive amounts of sperm inside a special organ called the spermatheca, in which they will store the semen of the many males they hosed today for the rest of their lives.
Once they broke off their wings, they will start looking for a suitable small hole somewhere, or dig one, to hide in. Afterwards all evolutionary speaking "modern" queens will seal the hole and start eating their own wing muscles that they no longer need to gain proteins from which, over the coming few days, they will construct little eggs.
The less evolved species still have more independence during the founding phase, where the queen will do the same but also leave the nest from time to time to hunt - a dangerous endeavor.

If you ever wanted to setup an ant farm on your own, this is now your chance! Queens are easy to spot and collect, just keep an eye on weirdly looking winged or non-winged bugs. You can easily spot them due to their unusual size compared to the wings, the (for most insects you see outside currently) unusually long body, very obvious abdomen (belly and butt) or simply because they look like large ants. Feel free to post photos of queens you meet currently itt, I'm very eager to see many of them.
If you do want to collect one to setup your very own ant farm, I can write up a few tips to get started if anyone is interested, but make sure to check your local regulations as some species are endangered and protected (especially in Europe) and you could get into legal trouble for collecting them. If you do it right, however, no harm would be done and you could release them again afterwards with no problems.
Most specie however are fine and you can collect them freely, just don't arbitrarily try to kill them and be nice, those girls are having the most important and most difficult time of their life.

I'll collect a few queens carefully and will offer them a safe home until they are ready to be released in the wilderness again in autumn, just as I did last year. You can read my posts on those in my byob thread, too, probably gonna post about it again this time.

ANTS!!!

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Note that setting up an ant farm is super easy, involves practically no investment at all and if you take queens that are mating currently at your location, you can release them again if you find out keeping ants is not for you with practically zero consequences whatsoever for you or the ants.
It is, however, still a living animal that requires occasional care, interest and love from you as a keeper, ant colonies can grow very old, and it comes along with the necessity to deal with them needing food, water and space. The setup is very easy and can easily be seen as a trial period for you to see if you want to get into it. Local ant species can be released back into the wild at any time.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Smirr posted:

Hey, Goons Are Great, when I was outside in Nippes a couple of hours ago, the streets were absolutely overflowing with ant queens. Like seriously at least one every two meters, for all of the 2 km of my walk. I had seen one (1) ant queen before in my life, so I kinda knew what I was looking at, but the insane amount of them made me doubt myself. So I asked a question about it offsite, and aphid_licker linked me to this thread. And, what a weird coincidence! So yeah, for Cologne at least, I can confirm that it's firmly in the BONE ZONE (if you're an ant).

Oh hell yeah I filmed these ladies up there at the Hauptbahnhof, the reason I made this post today was because I observed that several local genera, especially Lasius, is having nuptial flight today and those ants you saw are most likely Lasius, too! They are super numerous and successful here and almost every year they and a few smaller genera are the starting point for nuptial flight season in Western and Central Europe, so that's super exciting and I can't wait to find more ant species at the Dom and around my house and everywhere.

cheetah7071 posted:

this makes me think that there is some not-yet-understood benefit to the host species to having a parasite queen hanging around. The distinction between parasitism and symbiosis is extremely fuzzy, generally speaking.

Of course it could just be that it is true pure parasitism and the parasite species just has the temporary upper hand in the genetic arms race, and things will be a little less lopsided in a few hundred or thousand generations. Or maybe the parasite itself will evolve a benefit to the host colony and the relationship will become symbiotic. Exciting stuff, either way.
Quite possible!
Given that in this strategy the host colony does not die out and "only" suffers the physical damage the parasite inflicts on the host queen plus the resources she steals for herself, it is quite possible that those colonies in some way are more successful than others. The parasite will not allow the host queen to die and the ants that are tricked into submission are known to be more active and eager to serve her queen, which is not the usual way these things go down. Perhaps there is more stuff happening underneath that made the co-evolution between host and parasite beneficial for both species.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



ninjewtsu posted:

I loving love ant facts and will be following this thread closely

A couple ant questions I had:

So my understanding is that if you kill an ant, that releases pheromones that make all the other ants go nuts, and this is why if you poke an anthill with a stick or whatever they all come swarming out. But the violent parasite queens kill ants and bathe in their fluids, wouldn't this send the ant colony into a frenzy, instead of making them believe the queen is one of their own? Or is my understanding of this wildly misinformed from some dumb poo poo I read as a kid? How exactly do ant colonies detect when they're under attack?

Ah, well it's not as automated as it seems. Spraying pheromones is always an active process, not a passive one and so ants don't explode in alarm pheromones the second they die. Even if they would, ants do not immediately go into a frenzy when they smell it, they investigate first and only if more ants also release the same pheromones it starts to get interesting - ants smell extremely well, way better than dogs and other mammals, and intensity is key.
If you poke an ant nest, one or a few ants notice and come out and if they see a threat, they will immediately release alarm pheromones from their butt and send out alarm sounds via ultrasound (most ant species also can do that by the way, even though ants do not have ears but specialized organs for it) and quickly move back and forth in a small area that they go over multiple times in a matter of one or two seconds due to their speed. When they do that, this area gets covered in pheromones and everytime they walk over the same spot again, the smell intensifies. If you do that with multiple ants, it doesn't take more than three seconds than have a certain area basically stinking like alarm, which gets noticed by even more ants causing an even stronger smell. That's how alarm happens and that's also why ants keep on marching and patrolling around the nest for minutes after the threat has left in what seems to be panic (it's not fear, it's rather anger) as they try to cover as much ground as possible to find what caused the alarm. They need to do that because pheromones are very effective in communication, but not very detailed. There is no "There is a giant piece of wood attacking" pheromone, there's only a "We're under attack by non-prey" one. That plus hearing ants screaming for help via ultrasound is the basis of causing an alarm inside a nest.

What parasitic queens do is they try to kill a host ant as quickly as possible to avoid causing an alarm, which is why they target the gaster at first or straight up the head to burst it entirely with one bite. As their mandibles usually is around half of the size of the victim, that's quite an easy task and they can kill an ant before it releases an alarm and especially before it can intensify the smell. Once dead, they immediately drag the corpse away to do their blood bathing business in the case that an ant does smell or hear her sister dying nearby. It doesn't always work out and an alarm equals the parasite has to flee, but often enough it works out.

ninjewtsu posted:

Also, I dunno if you can help me with this one, but when I was a kid on family trips to Thailand, I have very distinct memories of the ants there. They were red ants (not quite as bright as fire ants I don't think, but similar), and about the same tiny size as the ants I've otherwise always been familiar with, except they seemed to have a second caste of worker ant that was way larger than the others, maybe 3-5x as much. I remember those guys very well because their bites would hurt like hell. There wasn't anything particularly different about them vs the other ants outside of their much larger size (I think their mandibles would've been disproportionately large as well?). I think instead of grainy ant hills their nests were more solid, like they'd been constructed out of mud, but I'm not so sure my memory isn't lying to me on that one. Would you happen to know what species these ants could've been? Now that I'm an adult and have an interest in ants outside of waging child war, I'd really like to know if there was anything particularly notable about the ants that gave me so much grief as a child, but a couple quick googles has not helped me identify them. If it helps, it would've been in northern-central thailand (rural village between Bangkok and phichit, much closer to phichit than bangkok)
Of course that's very hard to tell and Thailand has a rich ant background with many species, but if they basically looked similar like the ones you know from home in size and solid ant hills (most likely less mud than compressed wood mixed with soil) that sounds like Camponotus sp. or a similar Formicinae. You might know these guys as carpenter ants.
They are very common and most species live in tropical areas like those, where they have special adaptations and abilities that make them appear special towards those we know from temperate regions. They tend to grow rather big (up to 25mm for the largest ones, but there are also species with 3 to 5mm in worker size) and are known for different caste specializations.

For the big ants you observed there are two possibilities, but I'm almost certain to know which one it is: For one, all ant species have, to a wildly varying degree, the ability to form sub castes in the colony, we call those minor, media and major (in science it's then called for a single worker Camponotus cf. Herculeanus Media for example). Media is the normal, to be expected size, abilities and usual job those ants have, so if you read an ant species worker grows 5mm big, a media worker should be roughly 5mm.
Minor worker you probably see less. They make up to a third of the colony and usually stay inside, they are the same caste (worker) and species like the other, but still they do not exceed roughly 50% of the Media size. They have small, relatively soft mandibles and are only meant to take care of the brood with their soft and vulnerable skin and to clean up the nest. They have an enlarged mouth, a specialized tongue and specific lips (biologically speaking, ant mouths work wildly different from your sweaty mammal lips) with which they can clean very well and cover the brood in antibiotic saliva, also they can release digestion chemicals onto food that lies in the nest to liquify food so that everyone can eat easier.
Then there's also Major workers. Those go as big as 3 times the Media size, can make up to 10% of the colony, they have enlarged mandibles and hardly are seen inside the nest. They exist to break down food, kill hostile ants, carry large food around, break down wood or other materials normal workers can't work with and are never seen with brood, as they would kill them by accident immediately.

All ant species have this kind of specialization, but to a massively varying degree. Many temperate species have major workers that are hardly any bigger (maybe 10 to 20% tops) than the media ones, still if the species is determined and they exceed the expected size, we call them major. However, they usually do not have special jobs as all workers can more or less do the same stuff, so specialization is not necessary.
Ants specifically raise babies as minor, media or major by closely monitoring and adjusting the food intake a given ant individual gets. As with most insects, ants are unable to grow outside of their larva stage and thus if the colony demands new minors, their food intake while they're larvae is massively reduced - they can't grow as much and stay small. If they need majors, they cover the larva in food, it grows ever larger and ends up a major. Usually brood workers - which usually are minors - specifically spend the day figuring out who shall become what specialization, if the species has a distinct kind of specialization installed.

Now, additionally to this worker caste specialization, there also are two more castes ants can produce independently from this: Pygmae and soldiers.
Pygmae are extremely small (less than 30% of media size) ants with hardened mandibles and basically super tiny workers. They are the first babies a new queen will hatch, the lack of proteins during this time forces her to basically have starving kids as she has nothing to give them, resulting in super small ants that are extremely fast and can hide better.
Soldiers are a specialized caste for war. They grow absolutely enormous (up to 800% of media size), have armored and hardened mandibles, an extra thick and usually venom resisting exoskeleton, often an entirely different shape of the head, sometimes more than one set of mandibles and have specific muscle groups that other castes do not have. They usually have a ridiculously big stinger or venom sprayer and produce lakes of venom compared to their smaller sisters. These ants are unable to help around the nest, they exist solely for war and to hunt and if several of those fight each other during ant war it looks exactly like throwing Ultralisks at each other with Zergs around it in Starcraft, here check this out:

That's a Acanthomyrmex sp. queen in the center surrounded by soldiers during an attack on the nest.

What you saw were either major ants, if they really looked like regular ants just bigger, or soldiers if they did look quite different and basically were tanks on six legs.

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.

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.

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

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..





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

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.

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

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.

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 mýrmēkes, 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.

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.

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.

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 ~4-6°C at best. I was able to have my ants sleep in my fridge due to this and they made it through without any losses!

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



No worries, chances are they are still alive and were just moving, which takes a while. If you see ants carrying brood, it's best to just let them be, they'll be gone very soon and are just trying to move stuff as quickly as possible. They won't steal food or hurt anyone during that.
They probably still settled elsewhere and they sort of expect to suffer casualties, so you probably didn't eradicate them over it!

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Per posted:

Can you talk a bit more about sleep. How often/for how long do ants sleep? Can they force themselves to stay up much longer than usual if needed?
In general most invertebrates or actually even most non-mammals sleep regularly, but not like we do in big blocks of sleep bound together over many hours, but split up over many, many moments of sleep across the day, combined with times of simple inactivity. Arachnids for example, especially Tarantulas and Scorpions (I also own a scorpion, hence why I take this example) are famous for their incredible inactivity throughout the day, just sitting there, doing literally nothing until hunger kicks in, they sleep a lot during that time, but not all the time, as you can observe when they react to you coming in, or moving a rock or whatever. Inaction is usually almost equal to sleep for many animals, especially invertebrates, so sitting around doing nothing is almost as good as sleep and a lot safer, as you can still react to stuff.
Ants do it just like that, too, they usually just sit around when exhausted and do nothing, which you can see inside the nest a lot. During those periods of low activity they also fall asleep from time to time, usually not for more than a few minutes, wake up again without doing anything, then fall asleep again etc.
They can adjust this almost freely in all directions, including sleeping and sitting around a lot when there's nothing to do, or being active for many hours at a time without any break. As long as the overall energy level is fine and there is enough food intake to generate energy (as with many invertebrates, ants cannot get fat or store food inside their bodies, so eating is a vital necessity and key to their ability to be active), they can but don't really have to sleep, however will still take every opportunity they can get just in case there is a time where this choice is no longer given.

Per posted:

How old do individual ants become?
The oldest ever recorded ant queen made it to 29 years in a Formicarium, that one was a Lasius Niger queen. An individual worker ant usually can get two to five years old, highly depending on the species, their activity and their ability to hibernate during winter. Tropical worker ants rarely made it beyond 8 to 12 months (however they also only take a few weeks from egg to adult ant), temperate ants (who require one or two months for egg to adult) with a winter break usually have more time with a few years each.
Entirely generalized and on average, with huge ranges between the species and disregarding the time before they are adults and disregarding non-natural causes (predators, diseases etc.):
For temperate queens: ~5-8 years (once they made it through their first year, that is)
For temperate workers: 2-4 years
For tropical queens: 1-3 years
For tropical workers: 8-24 months
Male adult ants absolutely always only live for one to ~5 weeks tops and always either die from the injury they suffer during mating with a queen, or will be killed by their sisters if they didn't leave the nest.

Monogynious colonies with only one queen always only can get as old as their queen, plus maybe a few months or a year or two before they inevitably die out due to the lack of new babies, polygynious colonies with more than one queen are always theoretically immortal, as long as at least one queen stays alive or they acquire the ability to get a new one.
In contrast to bees, ants are unable to replace a queen once she died, there is no ant gelée royale that creates new queens and paired with a monogynious' colony intolerance towards other ant queens, they pretty much never make it beyond their queen's lifetime. There are few exceptions where a queenless colony gets absorbed by another monogynious colony without massive killing, but in general it doesn't happen.
Polygynious colonies always have some sort of ability to become polygynious in the first place, often by having more than one queen in the founding phase (this also happens for monogynious ones, but there a single queen will at some point start killing the others and whoever wins the bloodshed gets the kingdom), or by being able to absorb foreign queens into their nest and even merge with other existing colonies to form a supercolony. Another option for some species is that new born queens fly out to mate with foreign males, but then come back home and instead of founding a new kingdom they join their existing one as another queen. Those colonies thus have ways to replace fallen queens and can live forever. There are (super)colonies out there that are estimated to live for hundreds of years, despite their queens each only making it for a few years.

The largest and oldest supercolony we know of is from the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile. This colony is an estimated 400 years old and spreads from Galicia in northern Spain to Venice in Italy in Europe across an almost uninterrupted area of around 6000 kilometers, although in 2011 it was discovered that this specific supercolony is actually a part of a global megacolony spreading (with gaps in between) from California to Texas, Mississipi to Florida, scattered across a few islands in the Atlantic to Europe across said European supercolony to Italy, then with a huge gap from Iran, across Afghanistan and Pakistan to northern China and then ending up in Japan.
Originally from Argentina, this ant was brought to Europe and North America by ship and then made its way through Asia over the past few hundred years. It's the largest and probably oldest society of animals living together apart from human settlements and is made up of many billions of ants and hundreds of millions of queen, although any and all numbers regarding this colony are nothing but a wild guess and it's impossible to count.

Per posted:

When was the ants' use of pheromones discovered? Was it a huge game changer in myrmecology, like the Rosetta stone in Egyptology?

The science behind pheromones is not an old one, even though it was assumed chemicals had something to do in insect behavior for a few hundred years, we never had any proof of that. The pheromone itself was discovered in 1959 by German biochemist Adolf Butenandt who extracted the pheromone Bombykol from Bombyx mori, a Chinese butterfly. The term pheromone was then coined by German zoologist Martin Lüscher and German chemist Peter Karlson, who defined it as "a substance, that is excreted by an individual and causes a specific reaction in another individual from the same species" (note that by this original definition the already noted propaganda pheromone used by slaver ants is thus not a pheromone, but a repellant).
In general it was basically the holy grail of insect behavior to have scientific proof that they do it via chemicals, although it was assumed to be true for a long time already, and thus it had an enormous impact in Myrmecology, yes. Since then the majority of scientific research on pheromones was done on insects and especially ants, wasps and bees, as their numbers and dependence on pheromones made it comparably easy to research. Other pheromones used by non-insects, like fish, mollusks and also mammals, were hardly looked into and thus the science behind those is still very new and hardly understood. However, at least for ants, we have a relatively good idea what's going on and the discovery and evidence that they use pheromones has ever since been a huge milestone in Myrmecology and also has been used widely for practical uses, like breeding ants, influencing their behavior and fighting ant pests.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



The Lone Badger posted:

How do monogynious colonies go about founding new colonies? Does the newborn queen lay her own escort, or does she take a tithe of her mother's workers?

Not at all, ants never take stuff with them when they leave the colony and apart from noted supercolony behavior where they return home, they always leave their home for good and take nothing and no one with them.
Regular, claustral founding monogynious species always do it a rather simple, but also a very hard way:
Once they are fertilized with at least one, usually up to 15 males (for genetic reasons I can go into details later for), they land somewhere where they feel somewhat safe and remove their wings, as they became redundant and annoy in their coming quest. They then search the surroundings for a specific spot, at best a small, humid hole in a wall or beneath a stone, anything that's wet and dark. If they can't find one, they search for a suitable spot and start digging such a hole.
Whatever they find, they seal it up with whatever to make sure it's secure, humidity can stay up in there and it's at best somewhat water resistant, so they don't get flooded with the first few rain drops.
The queen then starts digesting her wing muscles and tears apart any leftovers the wings were attached to and eat it and she starts producing eggs, which will be laid after a day or two in that hole. Then she waits, approximately one or two weeks for regular temperate species, until the babies hatch as small, white, vulnerable larvae. She feeds them with whatever she might have left from before leaving her home nest (if anything) and licks them with antibiotic saliva to keep them clean, stacks them on top of each other, separates them from other eggs she has laid in between and, if necessary, feeds the eggs that haven't hatched yet to the larvae so they can get anything to eat. After a while, probably around two to four weeks, or if in danger of starvation, the larvae will enter their pupae stage (either with a cocoon for less developed and into naked pupae for the most advanced and "newest" ant species) for another one to two weeks. Afterwards the pygmae, the first workers, hatch and immediately start giving back the love she has given them during their baby stage, by cleaning her, sorting the nest and after a day of hardening the exoskeleton, they open up the sealed hole and search for anything remotely edible to carry it home and nourish their mom. A new colony is born this way and this goes on until they go into hibernation in October/November for temperate ants, or never for tropical ones.

This is the way for so called claustral species, which is the most modern variant in ant evolution, the queen never leaves the nest and rather eats herself or some of her babies instead of leaving the safety of the nest. There also are semi-claustral species around, usually evolutionary older species with less adaptations, where the queen does leave the nest and goes out to hunt for herself during that time, leaving the eggs behind. A very dangerous endeavor, which is why it was reduced by evolution over time, except for species where it wasn't necessary to do so or which were able to develop alternatives (like a thick exoskeleton, enhanced and stronger mandibles and in general better combat abilities).
Polygynious species do essentially the same, either claustral or semi-claustral or even both mixed in one go, only with more than one queen in such a founding tube. As noted, sometimes also monogynious species lay the cornerstones for their new colonies together, however at some point they will kill each other, or wait until the first workers that hatched will do so for them. This is usually a more effective way to get started, as then the winner can eat the loser without leaving the nest.

Organza Quiz posted:

Huh, this got me thinking about the difference between sleep and death (bear with me okay...). Like for mammals there's a huge difference between being asleep and being... switched off, since we have tons of internal functions that tick along and require energy even when we're not conscious. You mentioned already that ants take in oxygen passively and I think something about their blood-equivalent pretty much just being around inside their body rather than being pumped through vessels like mammal blood? How much of their internal body processes are actual processes that require energy to keep working? It seems like if they aren't moving they can basically just be in standby mode like a machine.

That is entirely true and for arachnids even more so than for insects.
They all do have a heart, it's not one like we have, but a long tube, that slowly moves the liquid (that floats around freely in the body, there are no vessels like we have it and thus also no blood pressure as we know it) around by pumping. That, of course, requires energy. Breathing (for insects, not for arachnids, who have a special sort of lung called book lung) is almost entirely passive, they only suck in a certain amount of air by compressing the holes and some other functions that do that. Their nervous system is of course also active and requires energy to function, too, but to a lesser and especially to a more decentralized degree than it is the case for us.
Many animals can lower their energy consumption drastically by not moving, which is the biggest consumer in their body in general as they also have no energy wasted for thermoregulation at all and everything else is depending on how much they move.

The species of scorpions, for example, that I have here next to the ant nest, are known to be able to not eat anything for up to one and a half years before they die of starvation, by not moving at all, digging into the sand and even keep the ability to hunt for potential food while doing so. They always are alive (you can measure it) and they also sleep a lot, but as their usage of energy is so efficient compared to ours, they do not need a lot of intake to stay alive and well. Insects can do the same thing to a lesser degree - not because they wouldn't biologically be able to do so, but because it just never developed like that due to the lack of need. Ants usually find a lot of food and can sustain themselves easily, so they are not particularly careful in how they spend their resources, they just get more whenever needed. This enables an active and extremely adaptable lifestyle, while keeping the efficiency of an insect energy consumption.

aphid_licker posted:

There's this colony of probably lasius niger where I park my bike and today they were going absolutely apeshit. Big commotion and a chain of winged ants hustling up the steel bike stand to take flight. It was amazing.

Do they somehow coordinate when to take flight so they meet other ants in the air or is it just eh season is right, weather is good, someone else is probably also launching? Also is there sexual selection taking place in flight where they do a little dance before mating or does it just work via the number of fliers you manage to produce where if you produce a lot you are probably doing well?

This is honestly one of the greatest mysteries in Myrmecology! No one knows for sure how they coordinate their nuptial flights, often we just assume that it's the right weather that triggers a lot of alates to fly off at once, but this is contradicted by their ability to take flight even in bad weather when other colonies of the same species a few kilometers further away (in good weather) do it then. Might just be coincidence, might be some form of communication we have yet to discover, might be that they coordinate based on something else that we did not think of yet, maybe it's a mixture of it all - we do not know.
We do know that all ants from a given species fly off at the same day and time sometime during the year and meet each other using strong sexual pheromones, which is something they do to overwhelm predators by supersaturate their needs with too many individuals at once and it is definitely coordinated at that point. There often are specific ant-friendly mating grounds they all fly to and meet each other and have sex all over the place, most likely that spot is discovered by the first few queens and males arriving naturally (as in, they like this spot) and then release pheromones en mass.

There is a strong sexual selection happening during that, too, as queens at the same time attract males using a viagra-like substance to make them horny as gently caress and then flee from them as fast as they can, which they usually are very good at as the queens are much larger and stronger than the males. The males then start chasing this queen and once they reached her, she also starts biting and clawing them away, often killing massive amounts of horny males while doing so, so that only the strongest and fastest males get the chance to move their abdomen towards their and then literally explode while releasing sperm, which also has to land in a small, covered genital on the queen's abdomen. Only those males that get the ability to touch their butt and press their sperm accordingly really can share their genes with the queen and even then, once they lost the major part of their abdomen, they fall down and bleed out due to the injuries caused by the queen and the fatal injury they suffered from coming.
Being an ant male is not an easy and a very thankless job.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



StrixNebulosa posted:

God this is so cool. The only thing things I know of that have this same kind of mega-colony thing going on are mushrooms/fungi and even then I only know generalities. Can you tell me more about this super/megacolony?

That specific mega colony is the only global one ever found so far, but there is a clear chance of more than this being possible and even likely. Even Darwin already found out that some ants across various continents even are very friendly to each other and it threw him into a skeptical crisis as it endangered his entire theory of evolution to observe this. Until his death he did not find an answer to ants in general and why anything of this was even remotely possible in evolution and it took us to 2011 to find an explanation for a megacolony of this size to ever be possible, too. Chances are there are many more out there and way more interconnected than initially assumed.

In general it's not unlikely for an ant species to travel across the globe, especially if it's a resilient and adaptive pest like the Argentine ant. Pharaoh ants are another example of globally existing ants that can live anywhere, various evolutionary and genetical phenomena and simple coincidence make it entirely possible for the same genetic properties to be spread out across continents.

This, however, is different. In 2011 researchers from Tokyo found that they could even put American ants and Japanese ant next to each other and they wouldn't only not attack each other, they would recognize and feed their sisters, no war, no regular colonial absorption, no temporary peace or parasitic behavior, but actual allies. Hell, Japanese ants formed hunting packs with European ones and they hunted insects the European ants can't even know as they don't even exist in Europe.
You see, this does not happen. Like, ever. Ants hate foreign ants, except when they are related to each other and those two ants are definitely (and it's been proven via genetics) not related to each other. Yet, they share the same colony smell and recognize each other and are allies. This happened across the globe from this specific collection of supercolonies, making it obvious that this is one global megacolony.

Since then researchers have found that they do not exist independently from each other but they meet, too. Using hotspots and breaks, the males and queens of the one supercolony fly towards each other, building colonies in between and across generations they spend many years and many generations of new colonies founded, to meet. Once they did, it was even observed how queens from Afghanistan fly to Pakistan and take a break until they fly further east to China, extending their nuptial flight over many weeks and months if weather allows.
They communicate and exchange genes with each other over at least three continents in a network we aren't even remotely able to understand yet, let alone speculating how this came to be.

Turns out, we humans aren't the only animals that do stuff like this.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Sharks Eat Bear posted:

Are there examples of commensal or symbiotic relationships with other life forms? I know of the famous ant-acacia tree relationship, but it seems like relatively recent research suggests that might not be as mutual as initially thought? https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131106-ants-tree-acacia-food-mutualism/

Oh, there are tons of symbiotic and commensal relations with and around ants!
The fungus living and being farmed by leafcutter ants is symbiotic with them and they are now unable to live elsewhere. A lot of springtails also live in symbiotic or commensal relationship, as they eat up the ants' garbage and in exchange often let them live with them (even I have springtails in my out world). Aphids being herded by ants also are symbiotic, as they nourish the ants with honeydew and the ants protect them and offer or even plant new plants for them.
Less known commensals are a lot of (non-parasitic) mites which spend a certain time of their lives on top of ants to move around and use them as busses, without hurting them.
Atelura formicaria even get their name from living with ants (Formica) where they eat their garbage and sometimes steal a bit of food while the ants feed each other, as they sneak between them and suck up the juices real quick. Those are very careful around ants and move extremely fast, as they want to avoid touching ants due to them being aggressive towards them.
Some beetles, like Flower chafers, lay their eggs nearby ant nests and the larvae often live in or around the ants to feed from stuff they no longer need, but they leave their ant hosts as adults. Most of those larvae also excrete a juice that the ants like, so they bring them garbage and get food in return, very efficient little guys.

There also are some beetles that produce a drug-like substance that the ants get addicted of. It's not really parasitism, but also not really neutral, as the substance is by now proven to cause the ants to basically get drunk and change their behavior drastically, and they really really love it. Up to a point where they take better care of their drug dealer beetle than their own brood. What keeps them in check is the ants tendency to carry the bettle eggs and pupae into the dry spots of the nest, which is good for ant pupae but bad for the beetles that dry out and die. Some Myrmecologists believe that if it wasn't for this accidental killing, many ant species would be extinct by now due to their addiction to the drug.

Again something that isn't unique for humans!

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Gunshow Poophole posted:

My girlfriend at the time bought me The Superorganism for Christmas like ten years ago

She's my wife now

That's so nice

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



It's not a specific species, but two entire genera that do this: Genus Atta and Acromyrmex.
Similar to their incredibly complex caste system of up to 29 different types of workers specialized in one of the step to enable the fungus farming to work, how exactly they get the spores is largely a mystery.
It is likely that a queen takes a few spores with her when leaving their home nest and bring it over that way, or they steal it from other nearby leafcutter ants. Maybe there is some other complex relationship involved, but the exact nature is largely a mystery.
All of those species are monogynious and do not take any workers with them and they create new colonies on their own, so it can't be that. Could be that they eat some parts of the fungus and keep it in their (usually not used for trophollaxis) social stomach and get spores on new substrate, too. There are some hints indicating behavior like this, but research is still on going there and so far we don't know how they do it.

This goes for various symbiotic relationships with ants. Sometimes a new plant that only exists in symbiosis with ants shows up in or around their nest out of seemingly nowhere and as they are unable to live without the ants it's unknown how they got there. Devil's garden ants are another good example of this, where the ants mix up herbicides to clear a good portion on the middle of the rain forest to plant a specific other plant that can no longer exist on its own. The ants then live inside of the plants and keep the place sprayed with plant poison so that only their plant, that has no ability to compete in the jungle on its own, can grow.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Repellant of various sorts usually work very well. Smell-based substances they don't like make them stay away quite easily. There are species specific pheromones available as well as generalized mixtures of those. Also simply stinky chemicals can annoy them into staying away, the easiest one of those is regular vinegar. If she cleans the ground regularly and spreads vinegar or vinegar based cleaning agents afterwards, the ants will not like that as it irritates their smell. Usually they go up to the point where the vinegar is and then stand on it before running away again.

Usually after a while they won't bother coming anymore once they realize that smell is there to stay. Paired with the regular anti-ant measures of not having any food nearby that place it should stay ant free easily, at worst with some single scouts checking if the smell is still there.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Per posted:

Can you talk a bit about ant food? Is a balanced diet important to a colony? If you only feed your ant farm, say, sugar for a long time will it somehow suffer malnutrition?

That's relatively easy!
Humans and most mammals or in general animals essentially need the three macronutrients carbohydrate, proteins and fats, plus some micronutrients like vitamins that are only required in trace amounts.
Carbohydrate is used for quickly gaining energy from stuff you mostly do not need to digest anymore, mostly sugar like Glucose, fats are the longer term energy deliverers that require a lot of digestion and proteins are needed to create new cells and structure those that we already have.

This is mostly true for all animals, including ants. They require carbohydrate like sugar (for example from honey or honeydew) for basic energy generation and proteins to generate new stuff, mostly eggs and muscles. Since the latter does not happen in any noticeable way for adult ants, they hardly require proteins for their own and thus focus it for the queen, which has to lay eggs and requires truckloads of proteins every day, and larvae that require them en mass to grow.
Fats are basically not used by ants and many insects in general, as the process of breaking them apart is difficult and usually requires symbiosis with endobacteria in the colon, which hardly happens for most ant species, plus they cannot use fat as a way to store energy either as they have no way to store or digest it.

That means as long as you give a single adult non-queen ant nothing but sugar water or honey, it will mostly be fine. They also require some micronutrients of course in small amounts which for pure sugar would be missing, but honey already fills them up nicely.
I feed my ants regular honey and every other day they get either a few fruit flies as I used to breed those and by now upgraded to crickets due to their increasing hunger. They don't really require anything else and get everything they need from this diet. They cannot digest cellulose at all, so salad or plants are not an option, they just take what they need and suck it out of their prey.

There are some exceptions to this like with baker ants who collect seeds from their surroundings and bake bread from them, leafcutters I have already noted who eat their fungus and also the sweet plant juice (mostly made out of starch, worker leafcutters almost entirely live from that and only to a small percentage eat from the fungus itself, which is reserved for the larvae and queen due to the high amount of proteins), as well as vampire ants who suck out blood (actually hemolymph) from their and others larvae, but the general diet is pretty much just that.

Sometimes ants like the one animal more than the other, like my ants do not really like meal worms but love flies and crickets, but that's just a preference based on what they're made of (meal worms contain a lot of fat) and not really a thing due to their special need for specific nutrients.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Hmm. Depends what you define as unusual.

Basically it comes down to whether a species constructs a nest or rather digs one/uses whatever space they can find for efficiency. Ant hills are classic for most wood ants, usually built out of wood, stones, leafs, whatever they find on the ground. Ants that live nearby humans tend to use whatever they can find as nest. Plastic bottles, inside cracks of concrete walls, in car seats or inside mattresses. Or those ants mentioned itt before that live inside of a mailbox.
My ants lived inside a test tube out of glass for two years now, then they tried to move below a water filled sponge inside of a bowl, now they live inside a concrete block I carved chambers into.
Some tropical ants like to live inside of living plants, sometimes as de facto parasites that hurt the plants, sometimes in symbiosis when they also take care of them.
Abandoned bee or wasp hives are also a nice place for many species, as well as mole hills or even inside of rotting fruits. In Southern Africa it was described how ants constructed vast nests across dozens of coffee berries, each berry containing one chamber for the colony.

In general it depends on the size of the species and their needs. Most ant species grow around 5 to 8mm on length (media workers), the largest ants we know can get up to 55mm though. They have wildly varying needs for humidity, nest size, surroundings etc. And will use whatever they can to make the best out of it. Many but not all ants are excellent at digging, others like to stack up stuff and live inside of that stuff, others just use holes in whatever material works.
As long as the humidity is right for the species, it's safe and dark, at best with a small entrance that they can seal easily, most ants will use that, as they are very adaptive. Those species that managed to survive and even thrive in human settlements, like many Lasius or Tetramorium species, will happily use our trash or what we build to live inside of it.

Before you ask, yes, I've once read about ants living inside condoms, too.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Organza Quiz posted:

Once when I was a teenager a friend came over to use our scanner, which we hadn't used for a few months, and we opened it up to discover it was now an ant nest! I was sad I wasn't allowed to keep letting them live there, sure we had ants wandering around the study randomly but it was a perfect ant farm, you could just open it up to see the ants living under the glass, queen and eggs and everything.

Heh, that happens yeah. I once wanted to add a bit of wood into the ant out world while my ants were asleep during hibernation and took a few twigs from outside. I washed them off but didn't break them up, a day later I saw tons of ants being confused and crawling around. Turns out, inside the twig there was an entire ant nest that was also sleeping during winter. I woke them up, but brought them back outside afterwards. Gotta be careful what to take, sometimes ants can be inside of it!

The Lone Badger posted:

In nests constructed for observation are there frequencies that they can't see that you can use to illuminate and watch them without them freaking out? Or do you just tend to look for brief periods before closing over the glass again?

In general, no, there is no specific time of the day during which ants are or aren't active. They schedule precise shifts for morning, noon, afternoon, evening and night times, with each ant having their duty to fulfill throughout the day. That often changes and if necessary they get active at any moment, but there's never a moment where all or even most ants are asleep or resting. That plus the fact that all ants are very photophobic while nesting makes it impossible for an ant keeper to check them out without them noticing and freaking out about it.
Depending on what setups you use, you can just keep them in the dark and only open them up briefly to check what's up. That works fine and isn't really harmful, but it does put the ants into a certain amount of stress every now and then, as as soon as too much light enters their nest, they believe it has been opened up, triggering an immediate evacuation order across the colony. If you're fast enough, they just wander around quickly and prepare to move brood before doing so, but it's still something they do. They get somewhat used to it if you do so for brief moments, but once it's open for too long they'll freak out inevitably.
An alternative (or addendum) to this is to cover the nest (additionally, at best) with red foil or use red lamps to shine into the nest while doing so. Ants are unable to see the color red due to the way how their eyes work, for them it is just as invisible as ultraviolet light is invisible for us, so they cannot tell if they are being shined at or not. However, ants do not have two eyes, but four actually. Two oculus compositus, the two eyes you can see, and another pair of so called ocelli, or eye spots, sitting on top of their head. Those eyes are the same that for example jellyfish use, they can only determine whether it's dark or bright.
This means if you use red light or cover the nest with red foil, as you can see in my setup, too, it remains dark, but the ocelli reveal that they are somewhat being shined at, resulting for them in a lighter-than-usual grey. They do notice this and sometimes react to it if you do it for too long or get too bright, but on a much lower level and without resulting in fear and panic among the ants. This is usually the way to go for ant keepers.

In my setup, I have this block made out of autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) that stores heat well without heating up too much, allows air to pass through very well allowing a good ventilation inside the nest while being too strong for them to bite through. The glass I have covered with dark red foil, which makes it almost entirely dark for them (and, to be honest, for me, too, I need quite some light to really see stuff from outside as you can't see much this way during daytime):


However, I also installed a tiny red LED connected to a small battery, so that I can illuminate the nest from inside and, especially when it's dark, see really well what's going on:


They usually do not react to me lighting them up like this, so I can safely assume it's cool for them, as long as I don't keep the light on for too long.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Those might also be queens! Queens can vary in size drastically, it's only that in comparison to their media workers they usually are around twice the size. Given that some ant species don't even exceed 1 or 2mm in length, the queens don't go bigger than 5mm either.
Might as well be males though, you're right there, they usually are much smaller than queens and around the size of workers, always winged of course. Given we are in nuptial flight season, both seems likely here.

Depending on what monitor you're using, they might get attracted by the light shining from it. Alates get attracted by ultraviolet light and some monitors or settings you can use tend to have a lot of those. Maybe they crashed into your room by accident, a few other followed and now they are going to the only spot they feel attracted to. This could go for both males and virgin queens.
It's unlikely they came there to die, as then they would have already done so. After mating males do not live longer than maybe an hour or two, injured and hardly able to move, so they probably got lost. You should be able to catch them in a glass or something and throw them out, they should be able to get back on track in a bit. Chances are they lost their opportunity to mate and will just starve to death (males are unable to feed themselves, they have no mouth and only a small opening other workers can fill food into) or die from predators, especially other ants they meet during their journey.

Feel free to post pictures if you want! Doesn't really matter if it's queens or males as this goes for both, but might be interesting to see. Males are not a common sight for most people.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



The Slack Lagoon posted:

I posted in DIY about ant control for in the house, and I was pointed to this thread. Ideally I'd like to avoid poison, as we have a dog and also I used to spray herbicides for work, and I'd rather not use such harsh chemicals if I can avoid it.

Do you have any recommendations for how to deal with them? I believe they are carpenter ants (I'm in Massachusetts). It looks like they may be coming in from outside, but it's hard to tell since they are coming in through a crack in the floor moulding, so I'm not sure if they have a nest in that wall or are just coming in. There had been a few all summer, but the last week they got really bad - I assume they are looking for water?

I thought about tossing some diatomaceous earth into the gap between the floor board and moulding.

The absolute top priority here is to remove their motivation to come in in the first place. Even the best poison is useless if they are starving and find food inside. Try to find what they are looking for and remove it, seal it, clean it etc. Ants will literally move mountains to get what they want if they need it.
If they enter in notable numbers (beyond, say, 20 ants at the same time tops, usually way less for most species), they do have a reason for that, even if seems impossible.

To locate this, it's best to follow the tracks they build, observe them closely, try for a while not to disturb them to see their natural route they are taking. Pick one specific ant and follow it where ever it goes for starters.
If you want to be really good or if it's really difficult to keep track, offer them a tiny bit of honey or sugar water and color that with food coloring in a color that does not fit at all to their exoskeleton (fluorescent stuff works!). This color will then start shining through their abdomen after eating, making tracking easier. Since the ants will share the food you offered with other ants, this way you can "infect" an entire colony with color, without hurting them.

Once you removed whatever they are after, you can get started on removing the means of them coming in, too. First off, simply shoo away the ants still walking around, just trampling will do. Then clean their pheromone tracks with (if the floor allows) hot water mixed with vinegar based cleaning agents. Clean it from start to finish, else they can find the ends of the route again. If necessary, you can brush up the entire floor they're infesting this way, it will certainly repel them for a bit due to the stinking nature of vinegar.
Afterwards you can seal the entrances. If it's carpenter ants, this might be difficult depending on where it is, as they can chew through a lot. Wood, plastic, silicone based stuff, they could get through. The point however is that they should not have a reason to do so - putting in effort in chewing through for nothing is a pointless endeavor they won't take.

The last and maybe also the first step to ensure they not only have no reason to get in, but also a reason to stay out, is to offer them some food outside, if this is possible for you based on your living situation. Some landlords or neighbors don't like to see ants being fed, if anyone nearby is afraid of ants or insects etc this might also be a problem, but I can assure you that it will not make their population explode or cause a whole new infestation, it's just a way to motivate them to take this easier food rather than taking the risk of entering your potentially dangerous home. I'm not talking about liters of honey, depending on their numbers a simple bottle top filled with some honey, a small plate with a few milliliters, some you can pour it into works fine. They don't need much.

For most ant species at your place this should be more than enough to make them go away. Carpenter ants are not a pest species and usually easy to get rid of. All of this can be done in a matter of a few hours or maybe a day or two (if you're coloring them, as they need a while to eat), costs you nearly nothing and should be effective. Also you avoid the biochemical horror that is widespread ant poison for your entire local fauna.

StrixNebulosa posted:

Making myself dizzy as I bent over and stared at ants in my back yard was worth it, they're so industrious and cool to look at. Also I'm back from town with two books: "Journey to the Ants" and "The Earth Dwellers: Adventures in the Land of Ants", thank you local library.

Questions:

- How do you ID ants? I live in New York, USA and the ones in my back yard are numerous (SO many little dirt mounds around my yard), are black, and tiny. Now that I'm looking for the mounds they are EVERYWHERE.

Very good choices! Ants are amazing.

-This is not always an easy task and takes quite some training. Often enough I ask my Myrmecologist friend for help and even for professionals it's often just a cf. species.
The general guidelines are size, body shape and structure, numbers, behavior and color, in this order.
Taxonomically speaking you can go from top to bottom to get closer at identifying a species of any animal. Let's do this for this ant:

First off, obviously it's an ant (trust me, there are cases where this is not obvious, as shown with the spiders doing ant mimikry that were posted itt earlier). This means we can automatically narrow it down to a biological family:
Domain: Eucaryota
Supergroup: Opisthokontha
Kingdom: Metazoa
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Now "only" order and species are missing in the big ladder of taxonomy, but we can use the levels in between to further narrow it down. The easiest here is the subfamily: Ants have four of those, Formicinae, Myrmicinae, Ponerinae and Dolichoderinae. All of those subfamilies have unique properties that define them, for the ant above the most important property is the small part between the thorax and abdomen, this tiny and thin thing, shaped like a scale, called Petiolus. Additionally, the abdomen is separated in five segments. This is something only the subfamily Formicinae has, so we can narrow it down to that. Disregarding the picture, if you could find out that they also have Formic acid, this also would be a defining feature for this subfamily, especially combined with the massively enlarged venom organ and the ability to spray it rather than inject it via a stinger.

The size of 8mm for this worker is a hint towards rather large wood ants (Formica) or Carpenter ants (Camponotus). If we can further observe their nest, which is a big ant hill in the middle of a forest in Central Europe, combined with their strong, enlarged mandibles, it hints towards wood ants again. Finally, we can observe them stealing slaves in their nests, which would be a defining feature for the suborder Raptiformica, slaver ants. In the end we can finish this off with their red-brown coloring, the differentiation of colors between head and abdomen and the general dark red color, along with those properties listed above, it makes it quite clear that this worker is from a Formica cf. Sanguinea, the blood-red ant. At this point the genus Formica is pretty obvious and a clear case, at worst the species is to be questioned, hence the cf. (Latin confer, compare) which indicates that the species is not 100% certain, but very likely, while the genus is clear.

So you basically go from top to bottom, looking for various defining features at each stage to narrow it down carefully. You can train this by learning the defining features slowly and try to apply it by looking at ants. Note that species determination is often difficult and might even require a fully fledged lab or even genetical analysis to get rid of the cf.

StrixNebulosa posted:

- What happens to an ant nest if you step on the mound? I assume they just go "ah this entrance has been collapsed" and use another?

Pretty much, yeah. At first it's alarm to check what's going on and hunt down potential invaders, afterwards they just rebuild or make an alternative, usually very fast. It's not something they lose their head over, and as long as you don't hit some brood, it's nothing they will really panic over.



ninjewtsu posted:

How many queens does an ant colony make each mating season? Is that mostly determined by how much food they get?
Mostly, yes, also the species. Some are more fecunt than others.
Usually a colony will start producing alates once they reached one or two hundred workers in total, starting at maybe 10 queens and probably thrice that in males.
Once grown up with, depending on the species, 1000-2000 workers, each season will usually develop a few dozen queens and about twice that in males.

ninjewtsu posted:

If two queens from the same parent colony both survive mating and set up nests somewhat close to each other, do the colonies recognize each other as being from the same parent colony?
Yes and that also happens quite often. It usually leads to a less aggressive approach to each other for a while, polygynious colonies often merge at this stage to one supercolony
Else they will inevitably start an ant war once one side feels confident with their numbers and will not stop until one colony is wiped out.

Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Akbar posted:

My girlfriend and I hung up a clothesline between two trees in our backyard. Things were going fine for a few months but now the clothesline is overrun by ants (little black ones) and they crawl all over the clothes we hang up. I tried spraying/soaking the line with a vinegar solution but they came back, happy as ever. How can we reclaim our clothesline?

Difficult one, as they probably don't go there for a reason other than exploring. Technically maybe the washing powder you use might be attractive for them, changing could theoretically help, but that's a wild guess, as they might just like the humidity and temperature the clothes have. You could try to stop them from climbing up in the first place, depending on where you put the clothesline on. A small pool of water can already stop them from climbing up, a lot of vinegar especially around that spot they climb up on just when you put the clothes there might also work, something like that. Any chance you can try to stop them there already? Might be easier than trying to repel them on such a large surface.

ninjewtsu posted:

Are there any quick nobrainer recommendations you would make for someone considering getting their own ant farm?

Oh that's easy and just the right time for this, as getting queens now is super easy!
In terms of equipment you basically need nothing but a small tube, bottle, whatever goes, at best a test tube. Costs a few cents and can be bought en mass.
Then you also need some sort of box, obviously a specific glass formicarium is best, but a properly setup plastic box can already do the trick, too, at least in the beginning.

If you start at the very first step, just a queen, you just need a test tube, or something similar, a bit of cotton wool, water and either red foil or just some paper you can put around the test tube. That's literally it and will do for at least the first two, three months depending on the species. If you get a hibernating species, it might be even be enough for the rest of the year - last year I managed to do just that with a new queen I collected during nuptial flight.

I can go into details in how to start an ant farm if you want, I recently collected three queens during nuptial flight and can demonstrate it easily with them, but it depends on what you want to start.
Any particular species you have in mind? Any special idea you want to follow through? Do you want to get started with pet ants or rather colonize your garden with them? Is it something you just want to try out for now, or are you interested in actually keeping ants permanently as pets?
The general setup is easy to do in about 5 minutes and costs maybe a dollar at worst. Getting the ants is usually the tricky part, but if you're living in the right area currently mating, it should be easy to do and entirely free. If not, buying queens collected by hobbyists and professionals is right now easier than any other time of the year and usually does not cost more than the shipping and a few bucks. My queen, for example, is right now available on eBay or a sophisticated ant store for 2.90 euros.

SouthShoreSamurai posted:

First: Very cool thread. Gonna watch that Attenborough documentary soon.

2nd: Also in Mass, and also looking for how to battle the ants. In my case, they aren't really coming into the house. Instead, they have absolutely infested my yard. I have over an acre of usable land, and it seriously looks like there's anthills across literally 90% of it.

I've been here about 3 years, and they have been never been remotely close to this bad. I'll also admit that in previous years I tried the ant-bait to kill them off... It clearly didn't work.

I don't mind the ants particularly, except that my yard is all anthills and no grass now.

Oof, I'm sorry to say but this might be a lost cause. Unless you poison and ruin your entire garden and make it uninhabitable for invertebrates for a long time and spend a poo poo load of money, it might be close to impossible to tackle this.
A single ant hill, for example by Formica species, already can contain dozens, if not hundreds of queens and they grow by order of magnitudes every year. We are probably talking about millions of ants here in total at that size of your land.

Depending on the species, your location and government regulations regarding that species (I assume these are more or less interconnected into one or multiple supercolonies at this point, and/or in a permanent ant war with each other), you might be lucky that it's also an endangered species - many ant hill building ones are. In that case there is a certain chance of getting government help in relocating them, in Europe it's known that this can happen to relocate endangered species from private property somewhere safe.
If not, or if there is no such institution, if it's anywhere close as bad as you describe, I see no chance to get rid of them. Unless you break down every single ant hill and kill every single of the probably many, maybe thousands of queens plus also end their nuptial flight that is happening right now (if you're in the northern hemisphere that is), which would involve searching for the probably thousands of new queens currently hiding below rocks and inside holes and across the various nests, there's just no possible way to eradicate the ants. Unless, like, you get yourself a bulldozer and crush down the entire place, which I assume you don't want to do.

Ants that have such a grip on their territory are an unstoppable force, even for us humans and our industrial methods, the only option left is to destroy their space entirely and rebuild from ground up - and even then it will just be a matter of time until either those ants or just any other species that takes advantage of the resulting power vacuum to come back in once more.
Even nowadays we have not found a way to control ants like that. Only if you're willing to spend serious money and get into species specific pheromone warfare you get a fighting chance of removing them specifically without bulldozing everything down, and the science behind that is still new and insecure and certainly not healthy for the entire local surrounding and other wildlife.

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Goons Are Great
Jan 1, 1970

Well yeah, but honestly..



Akbar posted:

It might be hard keeping them from getting up there since they seem pretty established on the two trees anchoring the clothesline, but maybe some diatomaceous earth around the bases of the trees could work? I'm not really sure why they crawl on it since it's not a huge distance between the trees and I don't really see them ferrying food across it, but I'd appreciate insight into why they're behaving this way. It's a cloth line if that helps.

I'd really assume they're just exploring. It's uncommon in nature to have a small, flying path on a tree, so they check it out. They most likely are nesting in or very closely around the tree and so they're very curious about new stuff that happens there. Cloth is super chill and easy to climb up as an ant, even wind can't push them down from it.
Once they climbed up and find wet clothes, they probably enjoy to stay there as it's nice and humid and the moving clothes can't hurt them, so a bit of wind almost makes this like a shower to them. Ants take baths like this regularly and like to snuck between wet leafs or similar things to be cleaned and get wet.

You could try doing that diatomaceous earth, but if they're nesting somewhere in the tree, that probably won't work. The easiest way would probably to look around for an alternative anchor for the clothesline, or see if you can anchor it further up, so fewer ants find out about it. I'd doubt they are setting up tracks or releasing pheromones there, so most ants don't come there by following a trail, but by sheer coincidence of finding it and being curious. If you can get it somewhat out of their reach, it should already reduce the number of ants climbing significantly.
A different tree or a new anchor entirely should do the trick without any problem, wouldn't believe they're trying to haunt your clothes there.

The Slack Lagoon posted:

Thanks for this. There are certainly quite a few ants, but they don't seem to really follow the same paths - does that mean they are trying to food food/water? It's been pretty dry and hot here, so I was thinking that could be it I believe they are coming in from outside but I'm not 100% sure

If they're not forming any tracks, they're scouting - even better then! Those can be removed easier.
If they didn't come in before but do so now, they're definitely searching for food or water, probably quite desperately if it's big numbers. If you're lucky, offering them some honey and water outside, with a bit distance from the spot they might come in at, or in general nearby their nest if you can find it (just take any big gathering of ants), they might fill their pressing need for water and food.
If it's too dry, aphids nearby die or move away, which deprives the ants from an important food source. Combined with a lack of water this puts a lot of stress onto the colony and they might be starving, hence why they are willing to take the risk to get into your house for no apparent reason. Ants are usually a bit scared of big, empty spaces - like any room we build - and thus wouldn't put in the effort of scouting there if they wouldn't believe or simply hope that there's food to be found.

Maybe you can offer them stuff outside, attract those that are in to go there instead and then seal off some cracks they might be coming in from.
If they're nesting inside you have a different problem entirely, but I'd doubt that, as then you should have to deal with them for a long time already. Even a small nest that's growing still has a regular ants moving around nearby all the time, so it should be quite obvious for a good while.

Goons Are Great fucked around with this message at 09:30 on Jul 22, 2020

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