Do Ants Have Lungs? 11 Surprising Ant-Related Questions Answered
Do ants have lungs and blood? How can they lift things that are much bigger than them? Why do they keep bumping into each other? Discover the answers to these questions and find out more truly amazing facts about the lives of these tiny, crafty insects.
Ants are quite common. You’ve more likely seen thousands upon thousands of these tiny insects. But how much do you know about them?
Here are the definitive answers to questions that could be popping in your mind every time you see ants.
1. How Many Ants Are There in the World?
That's similar to asking how many sand grains there are. And the answer would depend on who you ask.
Some say there's 100 trillion. Others claim it's 10,000 trillion. The truth is no one exactly knows how many individual ants there are, and there's no realistic estimate.
What's certain is that there are more than 10,000 known species of ants and a lot more is still waiting to be discovered.
2. Do Ants Have Lungs?
No. Ants don't breathe the same way humans do.
Like all other insects, ants are too small to accommodate a complex respiratory system. But they have their own system of transporting air around their bodies.
Ants take in oxygen through spiracles – tiny openings spread throughout their body walls. The air then travels through air-filled tubes that branch through the whole body known as tracheae. They distribute air directly to the ants' cells. Carbon dioxide leaves their bodies through the same tubes and openings as well.
If the concentration of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere is higher, ants (and all insects) would be much larger than they are now.
3. Does Ants Have Blood?
Not really. But they have something similar to blood called haemolymph.
In humans and other vertebrates (animals with backbones), the main function of blood is to transport important stuff like nutrients and air around the body. Blood is red because of the red blood cells, which are carriers of oxygen delivered around the body.
In contrast, haemolymph doesn't have red blood cells so it appears greenish or yellowish. It doesn't flow through blood vessels, but fills the hollow spaces in the ant's body. It transports nutrients but not oxygen and carbon dioxide.
4. What Are the Most Common Types of Ants?
Here are some of the most common types of ants that can be found in North America.
light to dark brown; workers are 1/16" long
workers make long food trails so their nests are difficult to track
Black house ant
black and shiny; workers are 1/8" long
scavenges in garbage and kitchens potentially spreading diseases
black color but some are black and reds; workers are 1/4" long
prefers moist wood or hollow parts of tree trunks; cannot sting
coppery brown with a darker abdomen; workers are 1/8" to 1/4" long
reacts aggressively if aggravated; inflicts a painful sting
color varies from orange to reddish, dark brown or brownish black
nests into the ground down to 15 feet deep; doesn't invade homes
Odorous house ant
brown or black; without stinger
nests in or around houses; releases a rancid butter or rotten coconut smell when squished
yellow-brown with distinctly darker abdomen; workers are 1/16" to 1/12" long
prefers to nest in heated buildings with humid conditions
females with orange bodies; black and winged males
commonly seen in kitchens and bathrooms; prefers sweet things
pale yellow to brown; antennae have enlarged end segments
nests in tiny cavities such as wall voids and loose floor molding or under debris on soil
5. Why Are Ants so Strong?
Ants possess strength that humans can only dream of. They're amazing weightlifters, having the ability to carry 10 to 50 times their body weight. One species, the Asian weaver ant, can even lift up to a hundred times its own weight.
Believe it or not, the secret to their "superhuman" strength is their small size. An ant's volume (the amount of space its body takes up) is quite small relative to its surface area (the total area of the surface of its body). Muscle strength is usually associated with surface area. Thus, the high surface-area-to-volume ratio of their bodies gives ants their exceptional strength.
Ants also have another advantage over larger animals – their exoskeletons. Because this type of skeletal system doesn't need to be supported by the muscles, they have extra strength that can be used to lift other things.
6. Why Do They Like Sweet Things?
Ants feed on whatever is around. Their diet may include non-organic matters, grains, fruits, dead insects, and other species of ants.
The sugar ants and Argentine ants are most attracted to sweet items. The theory is that these ants like sweets because the sugar in those sweet things gives them a "sugar high" or great amount of energy.
Certain types of ants will also feed on sugars but they have different favorites:
- Carpenter ant - sugary secretion from aphids known as honeydew
- Fire ant - dead insects, earthworms, and small vertebrates
- Harvester ant - seeds of grasses
- Pharaoh's ant - high protein foods
- Thief ant - meat, fat, and oil
A new study reveals that plant-eating ants living in salt-poor areas will choose salty food over sweet things, given the choice.
7. What Happens to the Ant Colony When the Queen Dies?
In an ant colony, the most important member is the queen because she's the only one that can reproduce. When she dies, be it through human interaction, rebellion, old age, or tragic natural circumstances, the colony will slowly die off as no other ants will be born.
But there are some ant species that defy the norm.
In a colony of Indian jumping ants, the queen emits a chemical that keeps the female workers sterile and submissive to make sure that only she can lay eggs. When the queen dies, a battle among female workers ensues.
A small group emerges victorious and replaces the queen. The physiology and behavior of each member of this winning group changes. They mate with the males and reproduce, so the colony is able to survive.
8. Why Do Ants Walking in Opposite Directions Bump Into Each Other?
There are several hypotheses attempting to explain this weird behavior of ants. One of them is to make sure that they're part of the same colony.
By sniffing each other, ants know whether they're siblings. If they're not, the ant that's wandered into another colony's trail backs away, running for its life, as ants don't treat intruders well.
Another theory suggests that they do it to ask for or share food. Ants have two stomachs, one of which is for holding food that's meant to be shared.
9. How Do Colonies Living in Anthills Survive the Rain?
Although rain seems like a big threat to ants, it actually isn't. These crafty insects designed their nests in such a way that it could keep them safe and dry. Here are some of the defense features of anthills:
- Anthills are made of water-absorbent sand or dirt that dries quickly. Their convex shape also causes water to bead, running off the side instead of seeping downwards.
- The ants' chambers are located at least a foot beneath the ground so if water enters, it doesn't go far. Their network of tunnels also functions like storm drains, keeping water from pooling.
- Some tunnels can trap air and have entrances coming from below. This design prevents water from coming in.
- Ants can survive getting caught in the rain outside as their extremely light weight allows them to walk on water.
10. Do Ants Really Practice Farming?
Yes. Scientists discovered that ants have been farming for more than 60 million years.
Today, about 240 ant species in the Caribbean and the Americas are known to farm fungi. These ants build climate-controlled fungi gardens underground. They weed and water them. They gather bits of vegetation to nourish their crop. They even use chemicals to keep the fungi safe from harmful pests and bacteria.
There are also ants engaged in some form of "animal husbandry" and the most common is with aphids. These ants let them get in their nests during heavy rains and protect them from predators. In return, the aphids provide them with a regular supply of honeydew.
11. Are Ants Edible?
Yes, and they're actually healthy. They're high in protein, calcium, and iron but low on carbohydrates and fat. In fact, scientists and the U.N. are urging people to eat ants and other insects.
In Thailand and Laos, the Asian weaver ant is served as a salad mixed with chili, spring onion, mint leaves, and fish sauce. These ants have become a delicacy that they're even more expensive than meat.
Mexicans have a dish called escamoles, which is dubbed as the Mexican caviar. It's made with the brood of a certain type of ant living in the roots of agave. Throughout Latin America, the queens of leaf-cutter ants are widely consumed.
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