Ants aerate the soil, which helps plants grow. Katherine L. Stuble, a doctoral student at the University of Tennessee, studied ant community behavior in relation to global warming. She examined coexistence among ant species in eastern deciduous forests and tried to find out what effects warming may have on ant foraging activity. Her findings show that some ants increased overall foraging activity when temperatures increased while others were not affected by the temperature and continued foraging as usual. Stuble believes that the context of their location determines whether or not they are affected by rising temperatures. Her analysis concludes that the thermal tolerance of the ant species determines the relative effects of temperature on foraging rates. Some can take the heat, but others can’t. Isn’t that somewhat similar to humans? Stuble also discovered that when ants alter their foraging habits it can affect their habitual activity, and interfere with their contribution to seed dispersals. Plant reproductive cycles will have a hard time finding completion without the help of the little bugs. So, it looks like whatever impact climate change will have on the ant population, it will likely impact plants and us.
There are more than 700,000 ant specimens still waiting to be classified by scientists. That’s like families with thousands of babies waiting in line to be baptized. The most common ant we tend to find in our gardens, or occasionally in our homes is the nocturnal Black Garden Ant (Lasius niger). They are found all over Europe, parts of Asia, Mexico, Canada and the United States. The bulk of their diet, taken from plants, is known as insect honey dew. Their presence chases away caterpillars who cause a lot of leaf damage, so it is believed that ant predation decreases caterpillar abundance, which in turn decreases leaf damage.
As a child, I loved watching tiny ants march up and down my mother’s garden. They were everywhere, traveling in convoy, one after the other; carrying leaves, injured ants, crumbs, and even spiders! I learned that I’d be covered by them if I left sticky bits clinging to my hands or clothes after a meal, or if I stepped into their trail.
I also discovered Army Ants (Lepisiota gracilicornis abdominalis )who found no interest in attacking me unless I stepped on them or messed around their nest. We kept them out of the house with eucalyptus leaves, which was very effective.
One night, I switched on my bedroom light to discover the ceiling covered with Army Ants. My sister thought it was the end of us and tried to sweep them away the army. But there were too many marching across our floor, and hovering above our heads like a massive moving blanket. Once our panic subsided, we noticed they weren’t really interested in us and they were clearing off from the ceiling. We returned to bed exhausted, heads covered up under the sheets, anxious of ant bites that never happened. When the sun came up there was not a single ant in sight. It was a strange and mysterious experience.
In 2016, ants made sensational headlines when a postdoctoral researcher at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences discovered the Lepisiota canescens in Ethiopia and observed its capacity for creating super colonies. A super colony is a site that accommodates multiple nests with many queens. I can imagine why the researcher came to the conclusion that this particular species could invade our globe. Now that could be both fascinating and startling!