Ants Have Conquered the World Already

Ants.The truth is ants have already conquered the world. They exist nearly everywhere on the planet, the only exceptions being Antarctica, the Arctic, and a handful of islands. Ants account for an average of 15 to 20 percent of animal biomass, sometimes up to 25 percent in sub tropic regions.

Tawny crazy ants are heading to conquer Houston next, and are expected to breach the city in a matter of weeks. They were discovered in Texas, where Mr Raspberry the exterminator first found them in 2002. Since then they have spread in their billions to over 20 counties, and Houston is next.

The rise of the ant to ecological dominance is believed to have occurred around 100 million years ago, when the flowering plant provided more complicated habitats on the ground. Research looked at fossilized ants in amber and found them to be less diversified before this time.

The K-T is an alleged event causing the extinction of dinosaurs around 65 million years ago. The ants survived, and again adapted their dietary requirements. Surviving an apocalypse is perhaps a fitting starting point to provide a clue as to the hardiness, and adaptability of the ant.

It was from this point on that the ant rose to occupy nearly every country in the world, with over 20,000 species estimated to be crawling on Earth. Most countries have at least one native species of ant, but even those that have none of their own often harbor invasive species. Hawaii for example has over 50 species of ants, and none of them are proven to be native. Ants are notoriously invasive.

To put this into perspective, the Argentinean ant, Linepithema humile, had a native range barely stretching outside of the country, but managed to invade at least 15 countries in the space of a century. The Argentinean ants have nearly conquered the world already, and so far have occupied six of the seven continents on the planet.

Much of the success of the modern ant is attributed to the adaptability of ants, and their ability to carry out a number of highly advanced social behaviors with a colony mentality. Ants have often been described as a super-organism, with vast numbers working together for a collective goal, forming what is collectively one entity. This allows them to display and learn social behaviours such as forming foraging lines, attacking larger predators or prey together, and upholding the duties of the nest. Ants are also able to communicate effectively with each other, emitting pheromones to give off the appropriate signal to other ants.

The particular ant that is to invade Houston in the next few weeks, the tawny crazy ant, has a highly advanced anti-venom poison, which it uses to neutralize the stings of its rival, the fire ant. It displays the usual ecological dominance characteristic of a strong ant species.

The crazy ant will probably not be stopped. If it was, another ant would rule the insect kingdom. Although the crazy ants do not bite or sting, they could cause annoyance and get in electricity wiring. Pesticides are not effective and instead citizens are advised to remove mulch and dead wood from the garden to minimize the attraction for the ants.

Whether or not the invasion of the crazy ant continues, one thing is for sure; ants have conquered the world already. Resistance is futile.

By Matthew Warburton

Sources:
PNAS
PNAS
TechTimes
LiveScience
io9

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