August 4 – All In The Family

Today’s factismal: An ant queen can live for thirty years but the fertile male ants known as drones die after just a few (very happy) weeks.

Ants are among the most successful of all critters on Earth. They’ve been around since the Cretaceous, and unlike the dinosaurs, they are still around today. Most ants aren’t very fussy about what they eat (what science-types call “generalistic omnivores”), though a few species (such as the all-female Mycocepurus smithii that grows fungus for food) are very picky indeed. They live in a wide range of environments that include deserts (Cataglyphis bicolor), rainforests (Ectatomma tuberculatum), prairies (Lasius neoniger), and sidewalks (Tetramorium caespitum); about the only places that they won’t live is on ice or under the sea. They are so successful that they make up about one-quarter of all animals on land by weight.

Leaf cutter ants in Thailand (My camera)

Leaf cutter ants in Thailand
(My camera)

Though they are frequently used as villains in bad science fiction movies (e.g., Them!, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Phase IV), they would prefer not to attack people (we’re too big to eat and we taste nasty). And ants do a lot of good in the ecology. They help to reduce the amount of detritus in their environment by turning it into fertilizer via their alimentary tracks and aerate soil by digging their colonies. If you’d like to learn more about these fascinating critters, then head over to AntWeb where they’ve got the goods on the formidable formicidae!

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