Why Formicids (ants) are awesome

If you get down to it, ants are basically super tiny people that happen to have an exoskeleton. They live in cities of up to several hundred million, with individual ants taking specific jobs, and they even essentially have a monarchical government (don't hold it against them; we humans have only just recently started experimenting with other forms of government). If a mere social structure doesn't impress you, however, read on to find out why ants are awesome.

Reason #1: Ants are farmers.

Photographer: Christian R. LinderIf you thought only humans raised food crops, think again. Some ant species cultivate fungi, caring for and then harvesting them. To ensure good yields, the ants harbor specialized bacteria that helps the fungi thrive, and they also propagate the fungi. When a fledgling queen leaves to start her own colony, she'll take a piece of fungus with her, much like taking a packet of seeds. Ants even defend their crops against would-be thieves, wielding their pincers like pitchforks.

Reason #2: Ants keep pets.

Image credit: Paul Wheaton

Image credit: Paul Wheaton

If you were an ant, you'd think of aphids as adorable green cows. Like shepherds, ants stand guard as the aphids graze on plants during the day, ready to protect the aphids from predators. When the aphids finish off one plant, the ants carry them to another. In exchange for their security work, the ants receive honeydew, which aphids produce; the ants use their antennae to stroke ("milk") the aphids and collect their sugary prize. During the winter, some ants keep aphid eggs in their colonies for hatching, and a fledgling queens will carry eggs when they travel to start new colonies. Ants will even raid enemy colonies to capture aphids.

Reason #3: Ant colonies get huge.

The largest colony stretches along Europe's Mediterranean for 6,000 km, followed by a 900-mile long colony in California and a 2.7 km2 colony in Japan. But that's not the end of the story. It turns out these three colonies—on different continents and separated by oceansare actually the same colony. As absurd as it sounds, ants are highly territorial; ants from different colones will battle to the death. But when you place ants from these three colonies together, they rub antennae and get along just fine! Researchers believe these ants were transported across the globe by humans. So when they meet up, it's just a reunion between cousins, and who doesn't have a weird American/European cousin somewhere on the other side of the globe?

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