Wood ants, mound ants, carpenter ants, red ants and field ants belong to the genus Formica. As the name implies, wood ants are not wood eating ants. Instead they particularly live in places where wood is abundant. They weave small pieces of woods to make their nests. They live mainly in forest but can also be found in woodlands, grasslands and shrublands where food and shelter is abundant. See wood ants pictures for physical comparisons.
Like in any other caste-system societies, wood ants do have different roles to manage inside the nest. However, they are only categorized into three: female ants, male ants and the queen ants. Female ants are considered as worker ants. This is the largest group in their system. There are specific groups assigned to search for food outside, to repair the nest, feed and look after the broods, and many more. There are also groups assigned to protect the nest from invaders. Wood ants secrete formic acid from which they use to attack their common predators. The male and queen ants are their reproductives. They mate during warm summer days. After mating, the male ant dies while the queen ant either bites their wings off or flies back to the nest. There are approximately hundreds of queen ants in a mature wood ant nest.
Wood ants have an unusual behavior. They are parasitic. Queen ants that bite off their wings cannot establish their own colony. Instead it seeks for an established colony. For an instance, a queen ant can easily overrule a brown ant’s colony. After ousting the queen ant of the brown colony the brown ant workers will work for her. The workers will take care for the young brown ants. When the young ones grow up, they would come to believe that they came from the queen wood ant. This is also referred to as temporary social parasitism. There are also instances that workers invade other colonies to look for worker ants of other species join their workforce.
Their home is called a nest. Their nests are usually thatched in the soil which is made up of dead leaves, twigs, and other forms of wood. They pile the materials and intertwine to make a nest. Usually, a nest can be as high as one meter which extends underground through thousands of tunnels. The nest consists of different areas. There are specific areas for food storage, young broods, road links and even cemeteries.
In addition to, nests can also be found thatched to the following areas: small craters, under stones and logs, in stumps, in trees, and so on. They go out during warm weather to look for food and hide during winter seasons. Their nest is very vital to keep them warm during cold weathers.
Wood ants usually feed on small insects. However, they can also feed on bigger insects as long as they can manage to apprehend. For an instance, they can feed on slow caterpillars crawling on the ground. They also search the bark of the trees for flies. Aphid (greenfly) is one of their favorite meals. Wood ants love the drops of sugary liquid called honeydew. They can easily force the aphids to secrete honeydews by gently stroking the aphid’s body with their antennas. Apart from this, if aphids are abundant, they can also feed on the insect for food.
Humans and Wood Ants
Wood ants are facing threats because they lack shelter. A large part of the earth’s woodlands are already destroyed. This is due to human intervention: illegal logging, pollution, and other means resulting to environmental damages. Wood ants are minute part in our ecosystem. However, they play an important role to maintain its balance. We all know that wood ants invade colonies, build their colonies, feed on insects and then die out. Now, how are they really special?
Well, the absence of wood ants in the food chain will result in a massive number of its prey. This may not be sensed immediately as it would take years. Wood ants preys are mostly herbivore insects. When herbivore insects reach maximum population, there would be an imbalance in the nature. Forests will be severely damaged by these insects. As a result, the forest which is very vital for human survival will be depleted.
In Scotland, there are only two species of wood ants: northern wood ant (Formica lugubris) and the Scottish wood ant (Formica aquilonia). The two species are considered very important.
Wood ants are not just ants. Like any other insects, they play an important role that everyone might just easily ignore. One can easily help in keeping these insects existing by protecting our environment. You should be aware on how the ecosystem works.