All about Ants: Coexisting with Some Of Nature’s Most Amazing Creatures
LIVING in the tropical climate of Costa Rica means coexisting with some of the most successful creatures on earth: the ants.These amazing insects of the widespread family Formicidae live in highly organized colonies containing wingless female workers of various castes, a winged queen and, during the breeding season, winged males. They range in length from one millimeter to seven centimeters.Ants are survivors. Engulfed by plant resin 90 million years ago, an ant worker in amber was the first known specimen from the Cretaceous period. This 1966 find demonstrates that ants populated prehistoric jungles and savannas long before humans entered the picture.Ants don’t look like bodybuilders, but they are strong like Superman, able to carry objects up to 20 times heavier than their own body weight. While they don’t have a contract with the telephone company and don’t surf the World Wide Web, they do have their own wireless communication system that uses chemical trails for orientation and recruitment of prey.LIKE it or not, ants are our roommates. They are stowaways in our daily lives, invading our privacy without asking for permission. But think how monotonous it would be without them, especially here in the tropics. Imagine no more frantic round-the-clock checking for nests, chasing and cleaning up after them, working as if we had ants in our pants. Whether you are from Munich, Germany, or Lancaster, Pennsylvania, you are familiar with ants and probably have suffered an infestation at one time or another. Those who live in the tropics and are unwilling to share food, water, shelter and the beauty of their gardens with these insects are doomed to a losing battle.Beware: In the fight against these almost blind, six-legged adversaries, cannons, swords and pistols are useless. To overcome a biblical plague, a cache of secret weapons may include the irresistible suction of vacuum cleaners, the hot storm of hair dryers, soapy water, vinegar and homemade concoctions of boric acid and sugar. And last but not least, we must develop the stoic intrepidness and patience worthy of a samurai.SOME of us use venomous liquids to discourage these impudent intruders from the kitchen floor and counter. Others believe insecticide sprays will correct the situation – a poor strategy when it comes to ant management, as the insects may simply disperse and populate new colonies, literally multiplying the problem. And what about eating them? As unbelievable as it sounds, in Brazil the price for roasted ants was officially regulated until 1959.Take it easy: Whatever you do, these little critters will be back to haunt you. They may gather around the tiniest drop of orange juice, negligently dripped on the counter, like gazelles at a water hole. They might discover the freshly baked pecan pie you forgot to hide in the refrigerator while you chat unawares with a friend on the phone. Bewitched by the saccharine- containing liquid, they may even crawl into your mouthwash while you are napping in the hammock.Think like an ant: Where would you nest in order to save your brood from rain, wind and predators? Right! From top to bottom, a house makes a perfect nesting ground. Some ants especially love the protective darkness of alarm control boxes, telephones, table leaves, book-laden shelves or the brand new CD player, where they can lay their eggs between meditative Gregorian chants and the raspy voice of Janis Joplin.OUTSIDE, the situation is even more amazing. Chocolate-brown zompopas (leafcutter ants) turn out to be underground gardeners. The foliage you miss from your hibiscus bushes and orange trees serves as the basis for their nutrition. They feed on a fungus they cultivate on composted leaf material in their large nests – where up to five million workers can live. What sounds so simple is the result of a complex co-evolution between fungus and ant. Since the fungus plays a key role in the life of leafcutters, the founding queen carries a piece of it in her buccal (mouth) pouch when she leaves her nest to mate. With this precious dowry in her luggage, she can start a new colony somewhere else, and is able to lay up to 150 million eggs during her life span.While you comfortably enjoy a cup of tea on the terrace, out of the blue, Neotropical army ants may march onto the scene, destroying your contemplation. You should welcome them with open arms, however, for these marauders are carnivores – the biggest predators of other ants.Like black streams, they will pour out of their bivouac to forage in columns. Comparable to a wolf pack, but with 50,000 miniature wolves, a swarm raid is the epitome of group predation and alarms the whole insect world. Spiders, even lizards, flee the scene. Smaller ants run for their lives, carrying as many eggs as possible.But army ants don’t give up. They climb trees and walls to plunder hanging bee and wasp nests. Biting quickly and fiercely, they have the fastest recruiting system known to any social insect, directing 100 or more ants from a raid column to a food source within one minute.ANTS beat us with their greater adaptability, strength and sheer force of numbers, and they live everywhere. An estimated 9,500 species of ants exist, in all climate zones except Antarctica. One of the largest known ant colonies was found near the coast of Hokkaido in Japan, and was estimated to have comprised 306 million worker ants and one million queens, living in 45,000 interconnected nests over an area of 2.7 square kilometers (one square mile).The question can be raised: To whom does this planet belong? A Recipe for Ant Repellent Here is a homemade remedy for many sweet-loving ants.Ingredients:1 level tsp. boric acid2 oz. water2 oz. corn syrup or honeyDirections:Combine ingredients and heat mixture until boric acid completely dissolves. Allow mixture to cool. Use an eyedropper to place a dab of liquid in areas where ants feed.