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Ants - small but mighty

Most of us donít think Ants are very useful and some people even put down ant poison in their gardens to kill them. The truth is that ants are an important part of Natureís rubbish collection and recycling teams. They wander around our gardens scavenging for dead insects and bits of old food to take back to their nests. They are very tidy little animals.

Imagine this if you can, a hundred people are given the job of lifting a huge dead animal weighing thirteen tons up a vertical cliff. The cliff is almost vertical and half a mile high. The people are not allowed to use any tools, ropes or cranes. They must lift this great weight just with their own arms.

Of course such a job is impossible. At least itís impossible for people, but ants can do it! Size for size, ants are many times stronger than people. They also have the advantage of six legs instead of two, strong jaws for gripping and carrying and little sharp claws that can grip on to an apparently smooth surface.

I was in the garden one evening picking Mangoes when I noticed the ants on the back wall of the house. They were pulling a dead cockroach up the wall towards their nest behind an electrical switch four feet above the ground.

I took some photographs, then watched the ants for almost half an hour as they slowly inched their way up the wall. The amazing thing about the whole operation was that no single ant or ants appeared to be in control. They all seemed to know instinctively what to do. Imagine a hundred people doing such a difficult job without someone telling them what to do.

How do they do that? Well, all the ants in a colony hatch from eggs laid by a single Queen Ant, and she may carry on laying eggs for seventeen years. All the ants then are brothers and sisters, well they would be, but worker ants are sterile. They are neither male nor female.

Each of these worker ants is capable of learning and then passing that learning on to others. This is why so many ants can work together, each one knows what the others are doing. Ants also feed and groom each other. As they do this they pass on chemical messages. These too help them work together, for touch and smell are much more important to ants than sight. Thereís much more to ants than we might think!

Most of us donít think Ants are very useful and some people even put down ant poison in their gardens to kill them. The truth is that ants are an important part of Natureís rubbish collection and recycling teams. They wander around our gardens scavenging for dead insects and bits of old food to take back to their nests. They are very tidy little animals.

There are an amazing number of Ants in the world. One survey in America counted more than twelve million Ants of one type alone in ten acres. That works out at 768 million Ants in one square mile! Now if that many people were laid down in a square mile, they would make a pile over a hundred feet tall - as many people as the population of Africa, and North and Central America put together! You can imagine how many dead insects such a huge number of ants must clean up.

Back to the ants on the wall. They did a remarkable job getting the Cockroach up to their nest, but they did get one thing wrong. The hole into their nest was just about wide enough for two or three ants to pass through at the same time. There was no way the big dead Cockroach could go through the entrance. It was about ten times too big.

The whole business had been quite futile, a total waste of time!

It was getting dark by the time the ants reached the top, and the Mosquitoes were biting, so I went indoors. The next morning I returned to see what had happened to the Cockroach. To my surprise, the ants were still at it. They were lifting the cockroach up the wall all over again.

I felt quite sorry for them!

© R. Attrill 2006