If you’ve ever seen a flooded ant colony, you know just how organized these insects can be, especially when evacuating the queen and her eggs. Ant colonies can range from small outposts to sprawling settlements, and they usually consist of one queen and many, many workers, along with other brood members such as pupae and larvae. Workers however are the bulk of the nest, and they take care of a variety of tasks, including construction, maintenance, defence and foraging. All the workers in a nest are sterile females, and both winged males and winged fertile females will leave the nest in search of a new colony location. Males are also about the same size as worker ants, but they are more likely to resemble wasps rather than ants.
Depending on the species, the workers will either all be the same size, or vary greatly. In the first case, the species is defined as monomorphic, and in the second, either dimorphic, if there are two different sizes, or polymorphic if there is a continuous variation in size. Polymorphic and dimorphic species also have allometry, where the mandibles of the larger workers are disproportionately large compared to those of small workers.
If you notice any ants in your home or yard, you are likely seeing workers. They are the ones that venture outside of the nest to forace. The caste system in an ant colony also has subdivisions, with specialized workers handling certain tasks. This specialization can be mild or extreme, where certain subdivisions develop morphologically different than other members of the same caste. An example of this would be worker ants that develop the ability to store liquid food in their body and serve the role of a liquid container.
Workers may also have different roles at different ages. Young workers are more likely to be assigned to duties within the nest, where they tend to the eggs, pupae and larvae. As the workers get older, their activities may switch to construction and excavation, and when a worker is old enough, it becomes a forager, venturing outside the nest in search for food. This is not always the case however. In certain colonies a worker will be responsible for a single activity its entire life, or perform any duty in the colony as it is needed. In dimorphic and polymorphic species, the role of a worker is likely to be determined by its size, with smaller workers foraging, and the larger ones tending to the nest.
Ants can be fascinating, but certain species can be pests that are actually harmful. If you notice any ants walking around your home, it’s best to contact a pest control company as soon as possible. Get in touch with us today if you suspect that you have an ant infestation.