As industrious and hard working as the ant has been lauded to be, it has it’s own freeloaders and lazy, opportunistic individuals.
Introducingthe “Rodeo Ant”. This shiny, little reddish ant belongs to the species,Solenopsis, and is appropriately named, because it rides on the back of larger individuals (different ant species) and steals food and leaves it’s offspring (eggs) to be tended by it’s larger rides workers.
Two new rodeo ant species, recently described by University of Texas at Austin entomologists appear to beparasites, stealing food from their mounts and tricking them into babysitting the rider’s eggs. These lazy cowgirls just hang on, by their teeth, until their ride wanders back to the established nest, then hops off, makes itself at home and begins steeling food and depositing eggs where the colony’s workers will tend and raise up the young. It is thought that these rodeo rider ants are accepted by the invaded colony’s workers because they match their hosts in hairiness, textures and smell, blending in and going undetected.
These female rustlers are not your typical ant. They are solitary queens living a solitary life, unlike the majority ofant queens, that hold dominion over a large colony of workers, that forage for food, guard their home and tend to her royal highness’s eggs.
The little riders hang on withmouthparts that have evolved a tight fit around the waist of a larger species’ queen. The smaller hangers-on are queens themselves, and workers and males of this species have yet to be discovered.
So Queen-on-Queen rodeos let this tinier parasitic queen skip all the costs of creating her own “Queendom” and just live off food scammed from the bigger queen’s colony.
Secret number one, is keeping it clean. Cleaning themselves, each other and their nest means that ants have a greater chance of survival. This frequent communal cleansing removes disease organisms therefore reducing exposure to deadly pathogens.
Secret number two, is some ant species use home-crafted “antibiotics” called Antimicrobials— chemical compounds that kill pathogens and boost their immunity. Ants apply these compounds to their own bodies, to their nest mates and to their nests. Sharing these antimicrobials among the colony is an important part of the insects’ communal life.
An individual’s health is dependent upon the health of the colony and vice versa.
The ants’ strategy when it comes to fighting disease is reminiscent of how we humans prevent outbreaks: early action is often decisive when it comes to successfully containing epidemics.
If, however, the ants fail to cure a nestmate, more drastic (inhumane in our view) measures are used to protect the colony. They throw the sick individuals out of the nest, preventing the spread of disease. It has been observed that in most cases only the young are forcibly exiled. Adult workers seem to accept their fate and leave on their own.
Research indicates that the most potent antimicrobials are produced by one of the smallest ants— Solenopsis molesta,
also known asthe thief ant(which lives in some of the smallest colonies) and also by the desert fire ant,,Solenopsis xyloni , whose colonies can contain hundreds of thousands of individuals.
It is crucial for any successful society to develop a means, beyond individual resistance, of controlling the spread of disease. Some of our largest cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco need to take advice from the insect world (excluding forced exile of course) and clean up the mess, take care of the masses of humanity living on the streets and reduce sickness and the spread of disease. If ants can do it so can we!
Huckleberry Finn was an amature raft builder and river rafter, when compared to Red Imported Fire ants.
As fire ants are flooded out of their underground nests, they hold onto each other for dear life, forming a fire ant flotilla that allows them to survive. Actually, they hold themselves together by linking mandibles (mouth parts) to the legs of other ants and locking leg to leg to mouth to leg.
Instead of scattering, with every ant for him or herself, red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) have the unique ability to gather together as a colony and form living rafts on the surface of rising flood waters.
Their rafts are so tightly woven together, that water cannot penetrate the raft. This structure also holds a layer of air, called a plastron layer, tightly around the raft.The plastron layer (air bubble) facilitates buoyancy and keeps ants on the bottom of the raft (those underwater) alive. This unique “air bubble” and a waxy coating on their bodies allows these ants to stay afloat for weeks if necessary, so that they have a fighting chance to reach dry land and save their colony.
To make sure the colony survives, the queens and their eggs (there can be one or more queens in a colony), are given the driest accommodations on the raft, near the center. The raft itself is in constant motion, with ants moving across the top and joining the stationary layer on the bottom. In this way the raft is kept in tip top condition.
Scientists don’t really know why some ants get to be the bottom raft crew, but it seems that there is some indication that this is not a voluntary position.
The colony must survive. So while floating down the river on natures currents, these ants are constantly searching for new and safe places to set up housekeeping.
So, what do these ants do when they finally hit dry land? Abandon ship of course!
All ashore that going ashore!
The South American or Red Imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) was initially introduced into Southern California in 1998 (Orange County) and is a major concern as an invasive species. It is similar in general appearance to our native southern fire ant (S. xyloni), except the head and thorax of the red imported fire ant is a little darker and their dirt excavations for colony sites are much larger, almost the size of gopher mounds!
The sting of both species of fire ant is about the same pain level, and leaves a raised reddish welt, especially in tender areas. A single bite or sting is not pleasant but watch out for a whole colony may decide to attack at once if a threat to the colony is perceived and this can be a definite health concern as they can inflict significant damage and a whole lot of fiery pain.
With the amount of rain and snow, in California this year, and the extensive number of areas destroyed by fire, flooding is a major problem for we humans and animals alike. You can be sure, as we deal with disastrous flooding, Fire Ants will be industriously building rafts, and river rafting their way to safety and, like Christopher Colombus, new lands to colonize.