The Fascinating History and Behavior of Ants
Ants are older than believed, having originated about 168 million years ago. The resilient insects found in terrestrial ecosystems began to diversify about 100 million years ago. They evidently arose during the Cretaceous period.
The earliest known fossils fall into two groups. There is the primitive Mesozoic which is under Sphecomyrminae subfamily. The next group is extant of the subfamily Formicine and the Poneromorph group of subfamilies. They comprise of the large and diverse Ponerinae and other prominent subfamilies.
The workers known as sphecomyrmine genus were a pattern of the ant and wasp traits. There were specimens found in the deposits of Late Cretaceous amber in North America, Siberia, and Asia. Hence, they are found in the northern supercontinent of Laurasia. Other ants’ deposits like Paleogene and sphecomyrmines are rare. Among the many thousands of Cretaceous insect’s specimens examined from New Jersey, Burma and Canada only seven of them have enough characteristics to qualify being called sphecomyrmine workers.
From the biology of these ancient ants, it is right to say that they lived in mesic forests with rich insect faunas and rich florals although the exact timing causes of their extension in the last 10 to 20 million years are not well known.
In the history of sphecomyrmines, there was the occurrence of a wider radiation beyond the stem genus Sphecomyrma. Among the oldest fossils include Gerontoformia from the early Cenomanian to the uppermost Albian amber of France which was dated to 100 million years ago. Due to the imperfect preservation, there is no placed reference to fossils or subfamilies, but it is evident they contain a mix of sphecomyrmine and more derivative traits. It is easy to compare and prove the ages for the Burmese amber which contains myrmicine and sphecomyrmines.
People see ants as fascinating creatures, but there is nothing extraordinary in their proportions or appearance. Their history and culture make them more attractive. Of all animals, their life appears closest to the human life. They have similarities in the ways in which they organize their lives. They are doubtlessly the most successful of all social insects in the order Hymenoptera which includes bees and wasps.
These primitive creatures have evolved into about 5000-10000 species well known today which vary among themselves. They are found in all continents and all habitats but are mostly in the Arctic. Their success is termed by the fact that there is about one quadrillion living ants on earth.
All the species of ants are very social. They live in a well-organized community and colonies which can hold up to 20 million of them. They are then organized into a complex system that may contain over two castes and sub-castes which can be arranged into about three groups that are the queens, kings, and workers.
The queen is the largest among the other ants, and it has wings until after mating when it sheds off the wings. The queen’s responsibility in a colony is laying eggs. Some colonies may have one queen while others have up to five thousand of them. Although they develop from the ordinary eggs, no one is sure of what exactly causes them to develop into queens. Some scientists think that it happens because of altered diet in the pupae and larvae stages. Queens have an extended life too for about 25 years, and during the period, they can lay millions of eggs.
The male ants have wings as well, and their primary purpose is to mate with the queens. Their lives in the colony are short lived since after the mating process is done during summer, they die. The males are formed from unfertilized eggs.
The colonies are mostly made of the wingless females which are non-productive. They are also known as the workers, and their task is to sustain the colony. They build, repair, defend the nest, and care for the queens and the young. In the polymorphic species, the workers come in different sizes, and the worker’s sub casts are the most recognized. Some larger workers are known as soldiers, and their work is carrying heavy loads and foraging food as the little workers look after the queen and larvae.
During summer or maybe once or twice in a year, each colony is full of excitement as the young ones start to make escapes within the colonies. The soldiers will guard the door and ensure that the winged young larvae are escorted to the open by workers.
Ants are very organized, and their history is fascinating. Their environmental history through time must be accounted as one of the great epics of evolution. Significant gaps remain in the fossil record, especially about the radiation time. Their exact life cycles and natural history which bear an indelible stamp in history remains unexplored.