Ants Are The World’s True Conquerors. Here’s Why.

Published October 23, 2015
Updated October 16, 2015
Important Ants Yellow Face

Image Source: Flickr

Sorry, insect haters: the ankle-biting ants you’ve likely grown to loathe over the years are not only a necessary component of the global ecosystem, but are as old as dinosaurs, more numerous than you ever thought, and even “slave” masters.

Over 12,000 known species of ants can be found around the world, with many others presumed to exist, but not yet discovered. Thanks to human migration, home for an ant is just about anywhere, save for Antarctica and a few small islands. Most of them, like the Argentinian ant, have spread from their origins in South America to the rest of the world.

These petite world travelers have been populating the Earth since the mid-Cretaceous period, when they crawled alongside dinosaurs. Unlike their giant lizard counterparts, though, ants have not only survived on into the present, but thrived. Currently, the living population of ants at any time across the world is believed to total 10,000,000,000,000,000, or ten thousand trillion ants.

Important Ants Red Body

Image Source: Flickr

Given their survival and organizational skills — some of which recall human society — ants offer themselves as subjects of intense and varied research. “Ants live in structured and organized societies, as other animals like termites, bees and wasps do”, says Dr. Luis Herrera, Zoology Professor at the Universidad de Navarra, in Spain.

These insects work and live socially, creating colonies — also called formicaries — that can host millions of individuals. Ants work differently pending their species, but typically each colony will have soldiers, workers, queens (which have the same function of queen wasps: to lay eggs), and drones (male ants that exist for the sole purpose of reproduction).

This labor division has also been observed in the way they feed the larvae: some ants bring food into the colony, others move the food to the feeders, and lastly, the feeders feed the larvae. All of this sounds very sophisticated, and it is. That is, of course, if we forget the fact that ants occasionally steal larvae and young ants from other colonies to make them work at their own colony. That’s modern-day ant slavery.

Teresa Cantero
Teresa is a freelance journalist and former Fulbright scholar now based in Spain. She has an M.S. in Global Affairs from New York University and a Bachelors in Journalism from the Universidad de Navarra.