How do ants communicate?

Communication is a complex process that is fundamental for all animal species on the planet, since many factors depend on it, such as reproduction, food and the preservation of life against possible dangers..

This is how in the animal world complex and diverse ways have been developed for different groups to communicate, for example, through sounds, movements, particular colors, physical contact and even by sending chemical signals that carry some specific information. In this AnimalWised article, we want to talk to you specifically about how ants communicate, a diverse group of social insects.

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  1. Some generalities about ants
  2. The complex social system of ants
  3. Types of communication between ants

Some generalities about ants

Ants are arthropods that belong to the class Insecta, order Hymenoptera, and the family Formicidae. They inhabit a wide variety of ecosystems, with the exception of aquatic and polar areas, and it is estimated that form between 15-20% of terrestrial animal biomass.

As for its way of feeding, it can be omnivorous or herbivorous, as we explain in this other article about ¿What do ants eat? Thus, we find that many are predatory, an action that together they develop very efficiently, they can also be selective in terms of the plants they consume and additionally they can feed in a specialized way on fungi that they grow in their nests.

It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 species globally, playing a fundamental role within ecosystems, being biological controllers that participate in the cycling of nutrients and in the aeration of soils. However, they can also cause certain problems when they grow uncontrollably in places of crops or urban spaces..

The complex social system of ants

Ants develop a complex system of structure, which is why they have been called social insects par excellence, even they are identified as eusocial, that corresponds to the highest level of social organization, which they share with different insects and with other small groups of animals.

The social success of ants is due to their cooperation and organization for the distribution of work, this being a fundamental aspect. These insects have specialized in the tasks they carry out inside and outside the colony, thus minimizing the possibility of making mistakes and optimizing energy consumption. Thus, some are specialized in maintaining and caring for the larvae, others in the construction of the nest, there are also those that participate in foraging (search and selection of food), those that protect the colony, the queens and the males mainly in charge of the group reproductive process.

The understanding of the social structure of ants must be carried out from two points of view: on the one hand, from the point of view of individuality, that is, observing that specialization to carry out activities is a key aspect within the group, and on the other, always keeping in mind that these insects work together as an organized whole, forming a unit.

Types of communication between ants

Ants have a complex communication system, which indicates that this is done through different ways, which can be physical or chemical. East complex system of social interaction between them, it occurs despite their tiny brain, which plays an important role and connects with the other communication structures. In general, the communication process of ants occurs through a network of systems, such as the olfactory, the visual and the tactile.

The first is essential for these insects and is highly perfected; the second, although less developed, is also effective, given the functionality of their eyes that allows them to see what is happening in their environment; the third is equally important, due to the physical interaction that they constantly carry out in their various activities. Besides this, ants are able to perceive sounds and vibrations thus making it more complex and optimizing your communication process.

Physical communication between ants

One form of physical communication in ants consists of what specialists have called antenate, which happens when they leave their nests, come to meet and stop for a few moments to touch with their antennae. It is known that the olfactory receptors of ants are in their antennae, so the physical contact is intended to transmit some type of information from one to another.

Also among them they can perform trophalaxis, which consists of the word of mouth food exchange. However, this exchange is not limited to food, but they can also exchange fluids loaded with chemical signals that also transfer various types of information.

Chemical communication between ants

The smell of ants is essential, since it allows them to be recognized by the members of the colony to which they belong, so that if this recognition is not given, the entrance to the nest is prevented and an attack may even be generated. Ants have been observed that after getting wet or dirty, they do a kind of cleaning of the body with their legs, which suggests that they perform this act to recover their characteristic smell, which as we have indicated is of the utmost importance to stay with their family group. Studies indicate that the particular odor of each colony is the product of its genes, physiology and diet. This is produced by chemicals called pheromones, of which there are various types and concentrations, being compounds produced by the animal to emit different types of messages.

In this sense, chemical communication occurs without these animals touching, so that, when the molecules travel through the air, they are perceived and identified by the receptors that the ants have on their antennae, emitting specific information that is processed in their brain. Also this trace can become impregnated in the ground as the ant moves from one place to another, thus an ant, when locating an important source of food, can return to the nest leaving a chemical footprint so that the others know how to get to this place. , that is why it is common to see ants walking in line, which indicates part of their group behavior.

These substances that emit chemical signals are identified by members of the colony and are produced in various parts of the body of ants. Is about cuticular hydrocarbons, a series of organic compounds that allows them to identify each other and to know if an individual is a queen, a male or a worker. Likewise, these pheromones offer information on dangers, food location, reproduction, recruitment and signs..

Each colony has a characteristic odor, which is transmitted to all members through the permanent contact they have when exchanging food, grooming each other and the constant friction they establish. This smell is quickly learned by individuals from the moment of birth.

Communication by sounds, vibrations and movements in ants

Ants not only communicate by touching or emitting pheromones, they also do so through sound generation so that it indicates a type of information. It has been shown that not only adults emit these sounds, but that even those that are in the larval stage with a higher degree of maturation can do so, which indicates that they already perceive what is happening around them.

But there is also another type of communication between these animals and it is through the emission of vibrations on the substrate, which can be perceived by other ants that are distant. This form of communication could be very effective when the transmission of information through pheromones can be altered or limited by some chemical agent present in the environment..

Another way of communication observed in ants is the realization of species of dances or movements sides of the head that they also use for communication purposes.

Ants are a clear example that size has nothing to do with the capabilities that an animal can have. These small and apparently harmless insects, due to their organization, generate activities that could be surprising, such as saving themselves in case of floods by forming species of floating rafts by joining their bodies in a highly organized way, which allows them to reach lands dry. In addition, they are fierce when it comes to defending themselves, for which they can bite, spray or inject chemicals such as formic acid. The ant stings they can be in some cases highly painful and very few types of ants are dangerous to humans.

On the other hand, they have the ability to learn, so that a worker can guide another with less experience to the place where the food is found, making the latter manage to remember the journey traveled to get there by herself on other occasions.

All these examples mentioned occur thanks to the complex communication system of ants, which is essential for their survival..

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