In life, one often tends to overlook the little things and yet, some of them can be of the utmost importance. Ants, for instance.
Ants are indispensable for the ecosystems. There are some 22,000 ant species known worldwide, it is said. We do not know how many of these one can find in Mallorca, but plenty there are if one bothers to look out for them. There are more ants on this island of Mallorca than humans, including the 12,000,000 plus visiting guests that Mallorca welcomes every year. A hundred times more. There may be more than that on our land alone, the Son Alegre finca.
Ants form colonies that range in size from a few dozen predatory individuals living in small natural cavities to highly organised colonies that may occupy large territories and consist of millions of individuals. Larger colonies consist mostly of sterile, wingless females forming castes of “workers”, “soldiers”, or other specialised groups. Nearly all ant colonies also have some fertile males called “drones” and one or more fertile females called “queens”. The colonies sometimes are described as super-organisms because the ants appear to operate as a unified entity, collectively working together to support the colony.
(quoted from Wikipedia, thank you very much)
Our ants are working on our land day in and day out, all year long. Now, after this year’s grape harvest has been completed, they are coming out in force, building new nests and a plenitude of new mounds. Below the surface and far from the human eye, the ant colonies are very complex. There are some simple excavations of only a few tunnels and chambers, but there are also far more complex systems with many chambers of various sizes, and interconnecting tunnels. The environment within an ant nest is strictly controlled by the ants. They can open and close various entrances to provide more or less air circulation. The lower parts of the nest tend to be cooler and perhaps damper and ants will often move their brood from various parts of the nest if it gets too cool, too warm, wet or dry for the larvæ. This is why it is vitally important not to dig into an ant nest purely out of curiosity. We let our ants simply get on with their job of airing our soil and distributing organic matter to where it is most needed.
Our motive is to let nature be undisturbed in the best possible way. The more we respect the holistic interaction of the microcosm of our vine plants with the native flora, often mistakenly called weeds, and their interaction with native insects, be that bees, ants, bugs or any other tiny creature, not to forget the Ladybird, the more thriving and healthy our grapes will grow. Nature always knows best.
Some interesting facts about ants you might be interested in:
- Ants are extremely good at adapting to various climatic conditions as is evident by the fact that they are one of the longest surviving species. They have been around for the past 150 million years, and by the looks of it, seems like they are set for another 150 million!
- Over 12000 known species of ants exist in the world. Experts conjecture that there are approximately 12000 species yet to be identified and named.
- Ants are very intelligent beings. It is usual for humans to train animals, but in case of ants, it has been noticed that older ants train the younger ants in whatever task they are supposed to do. The only instance when an animal has been known to train another of its own kind!
- A few species of ants have “trap-jaws” which can only be described as “super jaws”. These jaws can snap shut at tremendous speeds (records show 140mph!), in fact, the fasted amongst all animals. They use it as catapults, as well as to fling themselves in the backward direction.
- Ants can run at amazing speeds. To give you an idea, if an ant was the size of a horse, it would be able to run as fast as a racehorse!
- Some ants are given the job of looking after the queen’s eggs, and they do it diligently! Every morning these ants pick up the larvae and put them in the topmost chamber of the anthill to keep them warm, while every night they move them to the lowermost chamber so that they do not freeze!
- When the queen ant flies off to start her own colony, she collects sperm from different males. She needs as many as 2 – 3 million sperms to start a new colony!
- They are pretty colorful creatures. They appear in shades of green, red, and brown. Some species also exhibit blue and purple colors, while a few tropical ant species have a metallic shine.
- Ants normally range from 2 to 7 mm in length. The carpenter ant is an exception to the rule, as it can stretch to 2 cm, or even an inch.
- Adult ants are unable to swallow solid food. They depend on the juice they are able to squeeze out from pieces of food. This liquid food is also passed on to the larvæ.
- Some worker ants are given the responsibility of guarding the queen. They act as the queen’s personal bodyguards.
- One of the largest species of ant is the Giant Forest Ant (Camponotus gigas). The soldiers of this species grow as long as 28 – 30 mm. Also, the ants of this species engage in ritual battles which can continue for months!
- An ant’s antenna is a multipurpose device. It can be used to touch things to know what they are, as well as to smell things!
- So helpful are these creatures, that they eat for each other! Well, almost. They have two stomachs, one for themselves and the other to store food that they can share with other ants! They also have a tiny pocket in their mouths in which they can store food for other ants!
- An ant has the largest brain amongst insects. It is said that the processing power of an ant’s brain and a Macintosh II computer might be similar.
- It is the sting of the ant that is painful rather than the bite. Most ants have slightly venomous stings. Fire ants are most feared, because they have extremely venomous stings which can cause severe itching.
- Ants are mostly omnivorous, that is, they eat other insects, seeds, oils and bread.
- An ant can lift about 20 times its own body weight. But that is an average estimate. Some ants can even carry loads 50 times their body weight!
- The life span of ants increases according to the hierarchy. Since the fertile males are at the lowest rung (their only job being that of providing sperm to the queen), they live only for a few weeks. Worker ants are a little higher up, so they live for 2 – 3 years. Queen ants live the longest, with a lifespan of almost 25 – 30 years!
- Not all ant colonies have to have a queen. Some colonies function without one, while some others have more than one queen. If the queens do not think they can co-exist peacefully, one queen will leave the colony along with a few worker ants to start her own colony.
- A Tropical Leafcutter ant uses its sharp outer jaw to cut leaves and make them into pulp. The pulp is later used to make fungus gardens. These gardens are looked after and harvested for food. So just to burst our bubble, we humans did not invent farming. Ants did it way before us.
- Worker ants are further categorized into subsets based on the work they are allotted. Some are given the job of constructing the nest, some are given the responsibility of taking the rubbish from the nest and putting it into the rubbish dump, while some are supposed to teach the newer breed food gathering tactics.
- Some ants (soldier ants) are given the task of guarding the nest, protecting it from predators, and warning the others about impending danger. These ants use the technique of vibrations to warn others. They will bang their heads against the walls of the nest, and the vibrations created because of the banging warn the others who are inside, about the approaching danger.
- The soldier ants have modified heads to help them with their job. They can block the entrance to their colonies by putting their heads in them, and only allow their fellow worker ants to enter!
- When a worker ant finds a source of food, it leaves a trail of scent to attract other ants in the colony to it. Since ants have poor vision, they rely heavily on this trail of scent to guide them to the food.
- Leafcutter ants are threatened by a parasite which lays eggs in the crevices of their head. So what do they do when they go out? They carry smaller ants on their heads, whose only work is to fend off any attacks from this nasty parasite. Talk about looking out for each other!
- Each colony of ants have their own unique smell. If an ant leaves it colony, it will lose the smell of that colony after a few days, and will be treated as an enemy if it returns after that. Any ant that does not have the smell of a colony will be treated as an enemy by that colony and attacked!
- Leafcutter ants rank second only to humans, when it comes to forming intricate and huge societies. They can build 100 m wide nests in a matter of a few years! And they live in societies containing 8 – 10 million individuals.
(This information is quoted from www.buzzle.com. Thank you very much.)
We honestly don’t think we could run our land or our business without the good help of these little creatures, the ants, our little friends. Thank you all so much, little ants.