When I woke up one morning, I noticed a string of dashes on my bedroom wall. The line ran from the ceiling to the wall behind my bed and then disappeared under it. As I watched, I saw one of the dashes move. It was a small red ant walking up the line. Soon, another one followed and then another, till it grew into an army of ants marching up the wall.
I noticed that while walking in a line the ants were cleaning the wall paint underneath them and, in the process, making a path. And there is a very good reason for them walking in a line.
Ants are social insects. They live in big colonies and have a very organized social life. Red ants make their nests inside the walls of our houses. They generally travel large distances in search for food. In absence of any maps or navigation aids, they have to rely on other mechanisms to find their way around.
Scenting their way
As they walk the ants leave behind a scent that they use to trace their way back to their nests just as in the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, the children left a trail of pebbles to find their way home from the jungle. The scent that the ants leave behind is called pheromone. The ants walk in a line because they follow the scent left behind by the leader.
If you want to test out this fact, use an eraser and rub it across the path that the ants are taking. The ants will stop precisely at the point where you have rubbed off the smell with the eraser. Directionless, they move in all directions.
So the next time you see a single ant crawling chaotically on the floor, you know what it is looking for.
• There are more than 12,000 species of ants all over the world.
• An ant can lift 20 times its own body weight. If a second grader was as strong as an ant, she would be able to pick up a car!
• Some queen ants can live for many years and have millions of babies!
• Ants don’t have ears. Ants ‘hear’ by feeling vibrations in the ground through their feet.
• When ants fight, it is usually to the death!
• When foraging, ants leave a pheromone trail so that they know where they’ve been.
• Queen ants have wings, which they shed when they start a new nest.
• Ants don’t have lungs. Oxygen enters through tiny holes all over the body and carbon dioxide leaves through the same holes.
• When the queen of the colony dies, the colony can only survive a few months. Queens are rarely replaced and the workers are not able to reproduce.