ANTS – Hymenopteara: Formicidae


Ants have been on my mind a lot lately! There are a lot of reasons –

1. A colony took up residence on my makeshift balcony garden in 2009. In 2010 the garden evolved and so did their colony/nest.
2. They eat crumbs from Kiki and Nerica’s food bowls (my dogs.) Sometimes the dogs lick their bowls clean so I give them bread crumbs and if they are lucky cornbread crumbs.
3. They were recently (July) in the height of their mating season on my balcony and their was either a genocide or they die after sex. I have since learned they die after mating.
4. There was a new batch introduced to my balcony when I received a bunch of old plant pots from some friends who were moving. They are a different type of ant. They actually have taken up residence and live in plant pots and not in the big beds like the others. It seems that if they are not careful and enter the other’s nests then they might become slaves since ants do this to one another.
5. As a result of the increased population, they have decided to enter my apartment to search for more food – oooooouuuuuu – but I can only move them back outside because I just cannot kill the little buggers. The other thing is they have unwittingly forced me to clean up even the tiniest of crumbs that are hardly viewable to the naked eye! As the weather is becoming cooler and after the accidental death of a few, they no longer enter….yipee!

Ant (noun) A small insect that lives in a large community of insects exactly like itself. Commonly found raiding trash cans in droves. “Don’t touch the trash, there’s a see of ants in there!” – urban dictionary

Lessons from nature.

Jennifer Murray on the farm
So on another note, when a particular insect or animal comes into my life (meaning that they seem to be appearing a lot to me) there are a few things that I do. First – check my Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Smallbook to investigate the symbology they have for me in the moment, Second – search the internet for any information that I can find on the creature in question. Third – discuss these things with my comrade in arms and long time friend Jennifer. Jennifer is a lover of nature, birder, chicken keeper and organic farmer on Long Island, New York.

In the quest  for lessons from nature and particularly ants, some of their notable characteristics include the following:

  • They display tremendous strength and determination. It is estimated that on the average they are able to carry 5x their own body weight.
  • They help one another and display altruistic qualities. They work for the good of one another and they will even sacrifice their lives for the greater good of their community.
  • They will not take from the mouth of others, yet they will give to others.

Facts about ants.

Other things or facts that we know about ants are that –

Not only are they one of the most abundant species known to us.  Ants are social creatures. In my research, some sources stated that their are both solitary and group minded ants. However, according to Jochen Bihn a scientist and passionate lover of ants, he believes that there are no true solitary ants. He writes that usually “solitary” ants are from a community and are only out foraging and their behaviour is somewhat different when they are alone. You can also view incredible photos of ants that he has collected in his favourites at his flickr page entitled “ants in my pants”  here.  Ants in my pants makes me laugh since my parents would ask me when I was restless if in fact there were ants in my pants.

They are quite like humans in their chosen work.  Some of their occupations are as gatherers & growers. Generally, they do cut seeds so they will not germinate, yet they also disperse seeds as well. Some species of ants farm by growing fungus and while others have a symbiotic relationship with aphids and milk them for their nectar. Some are leaf cutters, etc. What they do depends on their environment. In my own personal experience with them, I have noted their planting of grasses especially which they have used in supporting their architectural adventures.  Yes, these little fellows are quite the architects and builders.

Ants as architects & builders dig tunnels, build vaulted ceilings and more. After a nest was abandoned a group of scientists studied the ants work by examining how they created a ventilation system and then poured cement in the structure and then excavated the site. Here is a clip that shows this project.

Video is gone from youtube now but found this one that shows a metal casting –

As you can see from the video above that ants are team players, tireless workers and quite strong. They have 2 jaws. One is used to carry food back to the nest and to dig and the other one to eat.

According to two time Pulitzer prize winner and the subject of a NOVA documentary entitled Lord of the Ants, Doctor E.O. Wilson a world renowned entomologist through years of study has stated that whilst ants generally share some similar characteristics, the social habits of the different varieties of ants, in fact, display different behaviours and depending upon where they are in the world have different cultures altogether. Read more about E.O. Wilson here.

The Ant Man – E.O. Wilson ⋆ Conscious Life Space

I don’t think that he would be offended by my comparison of him to an ant. So how the heck can I say he is like an ant? Well, ants have 2 jaws – 1 to eat with and the other to carry food back to the nest.

There are many many resources on the internet concerning ants, as they are not only fascinating, they are a gardener’s friend. In the meantime, I will leave you with a fond memory of the children’s song about ants and you can make up the rhymes as you go…apparently there are “official” public domain lyrics on a website but as I remember it, this is how it goes…

The ants come marching 1 by 1 – hurrah! hurrah!
The ants come marching 1 by 1 – hurrah, hurrah!
The ants come marching 1 by 1 – the little one stops to have some fun,
and they all go marching down into the ground – to get out of the rain….

The ants come marching 2 by 2 hurrah, hurrah!
The ants come marching 2 by 2 hurrah, hurrah!
The ants come marching 2 by 2 – the little one stops to tie his shoe,
and they all go marching down – into the ground – to get out of the rain…ad infinitum!

What do you think about ants?


This article was originally published by the editor on her former balcony garden site.

  • William

    As for there being no true solitary ant, twice in the last week I discovered a solitary ant guarding a small clutch of eggs in a little hollow under an object on the ground. Same ant species both times, no other ants around, no hills, no holes. This is in the SW of WA state.

    • yoyogrow

      I have seen a few alone too, but never guarding anything. Well certainly he/she will have a lot of friends when the eggs hatch 🙂 One of the things that was really interesting to me with the 2nd type/batch of ants that came to live on my balcony in pots was that they did not live in the dirt, only in the empty pots and they gathered under a bin where my dogs toys are kept outside. They were storing crumbs and other food there (although I dont know how they will survive the winter when it comes?) I am a little curious if the solitary ants appeared to be a normal size ant or could they have been the queen? Since they are also very rarely alone, I hope that it does not mean that they are having problems like the bees, snakes, bats and other species that are dying off in droves.

  • obnga

    Solitary ants really don’t exist; however, there is a close relative of ants called velvet wasps. They are just wingless wasps. They look very similar to ants, but do not form colonies.

    • yoyogrow

      obnga – thanks for the comment. I never heard of the velvet wasps before. So if anyone wants to know more about velvet wasps, check out this link here.

      This spring there have been a ton of ants. I know this since disturbing them while reworking the layout this spring. They were thriving in the soil, which suffered some neglect. The whole garden suffered neglect due to some severe weather extremes (winter 2011-2012 and summer 2012) combined with 2 full years of large construction projects directly across from me. A lot of plants died.

      The little guys were angry when I was moving stuff around, and a couple got in my garden glove when moving dirt and their strong jaws were felt on my flesh. For such little creatures, they really are powerful.