About their coexistence, the search for food, and their air-conditioned palace

Traffic is crowded on the little street across the kitchen. The little black dots race from A to B, seemingly random, but somehow arranged. When it gets warm, the ants leave their burrow and forage for food is the order of the day. Neither the front door nor the garden fence will keep little fishermen and gatherers away. “The ants are sometimes a little tired when they’re looking for candy,” says Laura Breitkreuz of the German Confederation for the Conservation of Nature (NAPO). Above all, they are wonderful animals.

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Your Highness: The ant queen lays about 100 eggs per day

An ant colony is perfectly organized – it should be, because depending on the ant species, anywhere from a few hundred to several million reptiles live in a colony. There are more than 14,000 different species of ants worldwide, and about 190 species are found in Central Europe. “When we talk about ants in Germany, we often mean the black garden ant. Here, for example, it is the most common ant species in our cities,” says Breitkreuz.

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Individual “citizens” of the state are divided into so-called castes: the animals look different and each has its own task. In every state there are sexually active animals: females and males produce offspring. Both have wings and mate in the air. Then the males die. Females store millions of sperm and, as queens, spend the rest of their lives laying eggs. And that’s a very long time, explains the Naboo employee. “The record for a black garden ant queen is 29 years of age, during which she lays about 100 eggs per day.” But every aristocratic country needs not only queens, it also needs diligent helpers who make sure the store is running. Likewise with ants.

Animals under protection

Ants play an important role in the ecosystem. They loosen the soil through their tunnel systems, bringing in biomass and thus enhancing soil fertility. Wood ant numbers have been in sharp decline for decades; Thus their existence is increasingly threatened”, explains the Bavarian Ant Conservation Agency. Forest animals are under the protection of nature – they may not be killed and their buildings may not be destroyed.

Midwife, bodyguard, architect: career options for females

The so-called workers do not reproduce. They are midwives, kindergarten teachers, cooks, bodyguards, architects, construction workers: they feed and clean sons, build shelters, defend them, bring food. In some species of these insects, the role of each animal in the shape of their bodies can also be seen: for example, nest-defendering animals have a larger head and also have a more pronounced jaw.

Who decides the tasks of each individual worker? “The system is complex, and different aspects contribute to that,” Pritcruz says. For example, the season in which the animals hatch, their food and certain glandular secretions that workers provide to the larvae. Age also plays a role: while older animals do “more dangerous” tasks outside, younger ones work more safely in the den. But what does an anthill look like from the inside?

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Palace: Anthel keeps reptiles warm

Just like many people, ants do not want to do without air conditioning or heating in their homes. Therefore, depending on the climate and location, they build their buildings either flat or tall. The higher the anthill, the larger the surface. This way the house heats up faster. From April to October there are 20 to 30 degrees in the anthill. If it should get too hot, it will be redone. Animals open their nests in several places, and this has the same effect as opening a window: air is exchanged. Once it gets cooler, the workers make sure it’s warm: outside, the sun’s rays warm their little, dark bodies. Then they bring this heat to the nest.

The higher the building, the greater the volume of the roof – and the warmer the interior.

The building itself consists of underground passages and rooms connected to each other. There is a separate room for each of the different larval incubation stages, so the young are separated by age groups. In one of the rooms the queen lays her eggs, there are litter rooms, tomb chambers where dead ants are stored, pantries. These stores must be filled. Their search for food also leads small reptiles to homes and apartments.

Building the Path: Through the Path of Smell to Food

Usually anyone who drives to a restaurant is looking for the shortest route. The navigation system helps us humans – a technology that ant colonies can easily keep up with: many workers navigate around the burrow in search of food. With the smell, they mark the way not only on the way there, but also on the way back. The ant that came back first found the shortest way to food. Other ants follow the trail of the smell – the navigation system. This creates an ant trail.

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According to expert Breitkreuz, such a route cannot be prevented with poison. The poison is more likely to endanger people and beneficial insects. And killing individual animals also makes no sense, after all, much will follow. Laura Breitkreuz advises: “Just clean the ant path well and draw a line on the street with lavender, peppermint or lemon oil.” This has the same effect when the car’s navigation system loses contact.

The ant's path was broken by a chalk line.

The ant’s path was broken by a chalk line.

Living with ants doesn’t have to be complicated. And if you spot an anthill during your next walk in the woods, you should definitely spend some time observing the animals. Because there is now so much going on in the Ames house – and there is so much to discover.

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