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- Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the mid-Cretaceous period between 110 and 130 million years ago and diversified after the rise of flowering plants.
- Ants form colonies that range in size from a few dozen predatory individuals living in small natural cavities to highly organised colonies that may occupy large territories and consist of millions of individuals.
- Larger colonies consist mostly of sterile, wingless females forming castes of “workers”, “soldiers”, or other specialised groups.
- Nearly all ant colonies also have some fertile males called “drones” and one or more fertile females called “queens”.
- The colonies are described as superorganisms because the ants appear to operate as a unified entity, collectively working together to support the colony.
- Their long co-evolution with other species has led to mimetic, commensal, parasitic, and mutualistic relationships.
- They were scarce in comparison to the populations of other insects, representing only about 1% of the entire insect population.
- Ants occupy a wide range of ecological niches, and are able to exploit a wide range of food resources either as direct or indirect herbivores, predators, and scavengers.
- Ants are distinct in their morphology from other insects in having elbowed antennae, metapleural glands, and a strong constriction of their second abdominal segment into a node-like petiole.
- Workers of many species have their egg-laying structures modified into stings that are used for subduing prey and defending their nests.
- This polymorphism in morphology and behaviour of workers initially was thought to be determined by environmental factors such as nutrition and hormones that led to different developmental paths; however, genetic differences between worker castes have been noted in Acromyrmex sp.
- The Australian jack jumper ant (Myrmecia pilosula) has only a single pair of chromosomes (with the males having just one chromosome as they are haploid), the lowest number known for any animal, making it an interesting subject for studies in the genetics and developmental biology of social insects.
- The use of pheromones as chemical signals is more developed in ants, such as the red harvester ant, than in other hymenopteran groups.
- Workers of Cataulacus muticus, an arboreal species that lives in plant hollows, respond to flooding by drinking water inside the nest, and excreting it outside.
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