I love ants.
Ants are just so great. The absolute best. They’re cute and interesting and amazing and just so much fun to be around. Especially in the Tropics, where there are just so dang many of them.
They’re helpful, too. They’re often an important, if not the most important, function of recycling nutrients in an ecosystem. Though the individuals may be tiny, their sheer numbers, organization, and hard work means they can scour a habitat for organic material to collect and break down into more basic components. It’s a remarkable process. The colony works collectively as a superorganism, with drones using antennae taps and pheremone trails to plot out forage paths in patterns so efficient, modern delivery companies are basing algorithms on them to minimize travel routes. The ants really do cover some ground, and they get everywhere.
Of course, not all ants are foragers exactly. Some are farmers! I’ve mentioned leafcutter ants a few times, those stupendous little wonders who clip plant matter into compost for a fungus which they harvest as food. In Costa Rica, the majority of plant consumption is done by leafcutters, not larger herbivores, and the underground fungal gardens can create huge pockets of aerated, nutrient-rich soil once the ants move on. The species has been growing the fungus far longer than humans have been practicing agriculture, making them the world’s oldest farmers. Take that, neolithic hominids!
Some ants are predators, such as army ants. I’ve mentioned these a few times as well. However, they tend to feed on other insects, including large annoying wasps. That’s helpful! Should these ants invade human space, they often scour the area clear of all pests and clear out the remains before leaving. Locally, they are known as “house cleaners” since no scrap of remotely edible material escapes them.
Fascinating, diligent, and useful–ants truly are amazing. It’s so great to think about all the ways they benefit our lives and our entire world. I could go on and on, enumerating their qualities all day, but today I’ll sum up my thoughts thusly:
I love ants.