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Suppose I manually remove the queen ant from a colony, and take it to a completely different place (ant cannot visually travel back to its colony). Will it start a new colony in its new surroundings, similarly to the way in which it did after the nuptial flight? Or will it keep on looking for its old colony?
Biology and Control of Carpenter Ants Wood-Damaging Pests
In North Carolina, as in other southern states, carpenter ants are generally considered of lesser importance compared to termites in the amount of structural damage they cause. However, a carpenter ant problem that is ignored or goes unnoticed can lead to significant damage. The term "carpenter ant" is applied broadly to several species of ants that nest in or around wood. Our concern is with ants in the genus, Camponotus. Some of these species actually tunnel into the wood, while other species prefer to nest in existing cavities.
A Little Biology of Thatching Ants
I really just wanted to show off some cool ant videos, but I figured I should make an effort to do a little more than just slap up another YouTube video, so here's a quickie version of the biology of Thatching Ants. Hopefully, I'll get the time to beef this up later, though it's actually kind of hard to find much info on these critters. Like so many prominent species and aspects of Manitoba's ecosystems they're not that well studied here or elsewhere.
Thatching Ants, of the Genus, Formica, are large ants (for ants), about 4-8 mm in length. They are stocky ants (again, for ants) with large heads and powerful jaws. Most are bi-coloured, red and black, but some species are all black. It's usually the head end that is red. They are polymorphic that is, within one colony there may be workers of different size and shape.
The large mound created by the ants is more often noticed than the ants themselves. Thatching Ant mounds may be 1 or 2 meters across and half a meter high! The mound really only represents part of the entire nest structure. Much of the colony's home is a vast array of subterranean tunnels.
Thatching Ants derive their common name from their habit of creating large mounds which appear to be "thatched" as they have materials layered on top like a traditional European thatched roof. The scientific name of the Genus: Formica, derives from Latin and means, literally, "ant". (I didn't find out which of the many species I'd encountered so I can't expound of the species name at this point. See update below.)
Update: From an email I received from James Trager, Ph. D. Myrmecologist / Naturalist Shaw Nature Reserve, Gray Summit Missouri - "As for the species of thatching ants in your pictures, as far as I can tell without specimens for examination, you have Formica integroides." Thanks, James!
Formic acid obtained its name as it was first distilled from ants. Ants produce and exude formic acid as an anti-predator mechanism. Even a bear will quit digging up a nest after its had enough formic acid sprayed up its nose. (The flooring and counter-top material called "Formica" is a compound manufactured from "mica" and by chance ended up with the same name, but there is no relation.)
The formal classification of Thatching Ants goes like this, again only to Genus level:
A Thatching Ant colony is initiated by one mated queen. She finds a suitable location, digs some tunnels and lays eggs, then rears the first batch of young to maturity. These workers, all females, then begin to care for the queen as she focuses on egg-laying. And they take over the nest building and hauling food back for the colony. Colonies may persist for up to 20 years and can contain many thousands of individuals. In late summer Thatching Ant colonies produce their reproductive forms, the winged males and females (remember "flying ants"?). The females (new queens) and males (drones) fly away from the colony. They mate and shortly afterward the males will die, their role in the life cycle completed. The inseminated queens build new nests and start new colonies. (The ant pictured here is actually a Carpenter Ant (Camponotus novaeboracensis), that was mis-identified. Still cool ant pictures though. Thanks again to Dr. Trager for the ID.)
If this reminds you of the life cycle of bees and wasps, there's a reason for that. All three groups, ants, bees and wasps are closely related in the insect Order: Hymenoptera. Ants are pretty much just wingless wasps. They reveal their ancestry when their flying reproductive forms emerge.
Some colonies in some species may be polygynous (have more than one queen) and some colonies may have more than one main nest (be polydomous).
Role in Nature
While I normally hate to assign a "role" or "value" to any species in nature, sometimes it helps to tell people how valuable certain species can be, especially if it's a critter that people often malign or get bitten by. Ants, in general, get a bad rap for invading our homes and ruining picnics, but they are some of the most beneficial insects. They catch and eat huge quantities of other insect pests. They also scavenge, feeding on the remains of larger dead animals, helping to clean up the planet. Their burrowing, for nest construction, helps aerate soils and promotes water absorption into the landscape. Ants are one of the most important soil-building animals.
Ants, in turn, are food for many other critters, including in some case very large critters, like bears. If you've ever walked in the woods and seen ant mounds with great holes in the middle, or the whole mound ripped apart, that's bear damage. Bears love the eggs and larvae that a large colony can produce. The ants move their eggs and larvae up into the raised warmer sections of their nest to speed development, which puts them at risk from marauding bears. (More than just pic-a-nic baskets are at risk from hungry bruins.)
In winter the ants in a colony go down deeper into the below-ground tunnels of the nest and remain below the frost-line until spring. Several species of small snakes and the young of larger snakes are known to use ant nests as over-wintering refuges, too. How they manage to co-exist with the ants all winter is not known.
I wasn't able to identify the species of Thatching Ants that I encounter near my Whiteshell cottage. Hopefully someone will prepare a good field guide to ants one day. A 1989 article in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Manitoba lists 52 different species of ants in Manitoba. Check it out for yourself: List of the Ants of Manitoba.
I've been chomped enough times by angry Thatching Ants that they now have my complete respect. I usually keep my distance from them, but on a couple of occasions now I've been unable to resist dropping my camera down onto an active nest. The video I've posted here is the result. Now, enjoy, I hope, "Swarming Ants".
Warning, this video has been assigned a high "EEEYUUW!" factor.
Some Extra Ant Stuff:
Not long after I first posted this article another ant-related opportunity arose, and it happened to involve another species of Thatching Ant, but this time, one that lived in my backyard in the city. My wife and I were having a drink in our yard one evening, it was mid-June. I happened to turn around and noticed a hoard of ants streaming out from under an old railroad tie we have as edging for our garden. It was an emerging swarm of flying ants, the winged "breeders" of the large colony of ants that were, unbeknownst to me, living in my yard. I initially thought they were another species of Thatching Ant (Formica sp.), but not one that builds above-ground mounds, but I've since learned they were Carpenter Ants (Camponotus novaeboracensis). The winged ants emerged, milled around and, after a few minutes, flew off rather clumsily. We saw some Sparrows grab a few from the ground and some were taken on the wing. But it seemed that a large part of the rest of the ant colony, the wingless workers, emerged and ran around rather frantically, too. It was quite the sight, and for once I had my camera close by so I grabbed some video. It was a good thing I had the camera handy, as within 15 minutes the event was over, the winged ants were gone and the rest of the colony dissappeared back down underground. It was another lesson in: keep your eyes open, nature is always around you, even in your back yard.
I hope you enjoy " Flying Ant Swarm":
Researchers believe ants can lead to human-disease insights
A more than $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation will enable researchers to study ants as a model system for how diseases are transmitted among populations. Credit: Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org
What can ants teach us about the transmission and spread of human disease? Perhaps a lot, according to a team of researchers who recently received a grant of more than $1.8 million from the National Science Foundation to explore this question.
David Hughes, assistant professor of entomology and biology in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, is the lead on the five-year project, which is funded under the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases research initiative, a joint program of NSF and the National Institutes of Health. The project was one of only a handful funded from among about 100 proposals.
"Living in societies affects how diseases transmit," said Hughes, who also is a faculty affiliate of Penn State's Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. "We need to understand the role of group size, group complexity and connectedness in driving infectious disease transmission so that we can reduce the heavy burden that infectious diseases impose."
The ant model presents an ideal system to study disease transmission, Hughes explained. "They live in high-density groups, they are ecologically dominant and they have evolved mechanisms to mitigate the spread of infectious disease that humans can only marvel at."
To accomplish its objectives, the team will expose groups of ants to a variety of agents, both beneficial and virulent, Hughes noted. "We first will establish baseline patterns for scaling of transmission as a generic process," he said. "We want to determine the basic rules that govern the mathematical biology of disease transmission."
The researchers then will experiment with changing the background conditions in which the ants live. "Does transmission of these diverse agents happen at the same rate when there are 100 ants compared to 10,000?" Hughes said. "Or does it happen when all are crowded in one space compared to being spread across 20 or 30 compartments?"
Understanding the mathematical biology of transmission will give researchers insights that are applicable to humans, Hughes contends. "We can't introduce pathogens to a building full of school children or to endangered wolves in Yellowstone National Park to see how disease spreads," he said. "By using ants, we can manipulate colony size and structure and repeat experiments over and over to confirm our results.
"We believe what we learn will have great significance for understanding how diseases are transmitted in schools, hospitals, farm fields and other settings."
In addition to the implications for humans, the study could lead to strategies for managing crop damage caused by ants and other pests. Various species of ants are serious pests around the globe, causing losses in crops such as cocoa and cassava in Ghana, for instance, where Hughes conducts some of his research.
"Typically, we treat for ants by placing pesticide baits in a house or a field, but the bait sometimes dissipates and doesn't get back to the nest to kill the queen," he said. "But the sugars and nutrients that foragers collect from crop plants do get back to the nest to nourish the colony.
"If we understand how the nutrients are transmitted back to the nest without breaking down, we may be able to devise tactics to ensure that insecticidal agents in baits also reach the nest."
Hughes said other agricultural applications for the knowledge gained could include better strategies for managing diseases of livestock and crops.
"Transmission is transmission, regardless of where it occurs," he said. "Using novel dynamic network models and spatial movement models, we will identify the important components of social living that both promote disease and, importantly, reduce its spread.
"Our results should provide specific insights into controlling destructive ant colonies and general insights into the mechanisms behind social immunity in humans and other social species."
Starting Your Ant Colony
So you’re ready to start an ant colony. Congratulations! You’re in for a fantastic ride! The following are the most commonly asked questions of inquiring ant keeping enthusiasts. For more detailed information on these and all other ant keeping topics, be sure to check out the AntsCanada Ultimate Ant Keeping Handbook E-Book™. Also, be sure to check out our new Global Ant Nursery Project™ to find out if any of our official GAN Farmers are offering live ant colonies with a queen for sale in your area.
What do I need? Do you have Starter Kits?
Yes, we have starter kits that not only make things simpler and easier for you, but also help you save. Check out our great “All You Need” Starter Kit Gear Packs at our shop. We have two primary types of “All You Need” starter kits to choose from depending on what formicarium type you prefer. They contain all the necessary gear needed for every exciting stage of ant keeping, starting from when you first catch a queen ant to the time you have a mature, working ant colony.
The ‘All You Need’ Hybrid Gear Pack includes, everything you need from test tubes to formicarium to outworld to all necessary accessories.
The ‘All You Need’ Omni Gear Pack also contains everything you need for ant keeping.
How do I start my Ant Colony?
The best way to stock your ant colony is to farm your own colony from a single queen ant captured in your area during mating season. Capturing a newly mated queen ant is the first step, as she will be the seed that will perpetuate your colony for years. You can also attempt to collect an already mature wild colony but finding the queen can be difficult, and there is the possibility the whole colony might not be able to adapt to captivity well. In the world of ant keeping, farming your own colony from a single queen is the best method, and often times the most rewarding. Continue reading below for tips on catching a queen ant.
I have a child that needs ants for his/her new ant farm? I am a teacher and my students need ants for their new ant farm.
It is great to see parents and teachers supporting the child’s/children’s ant fascination. However, stocking an ant colony into a formicarium is a lengthy process, as the colony starts with just a queen, then in a couple months advances to just a small colony of a few workers, and then it takes about a year of focused care to get them to a mature colony of 100 or more ants. This usually may be more technical than a very young child or toddler to handle, not to mention an investment of a lot of time.
Here are some questions worth answering: Are you or your child/students prepared for this kind of long-term, technical ant care or are you willing to help culture the ants from just a few workers to many workers? As mentioned, the process does take about a year or more. Do you have that amount of time? If not, perhaps digging up a wild colony might be the better route, as you can have many workers right away and should your child’s interest for the ant farm decrease, you can simply release the ants. These are just some things to think about.
This young ant colony was raised from a single queen caught during nuptial flight and housed in a test tube setup. The species is Crematogaster cerasi.
How/Where/When can I capture my own queen ant? How can I identify if an ant is a queen ant?
Ants typically have specific periods of a few weeks within the year when mating occurs. These periods of breeding are called ‘Nuptial Flights’. All the ants you commonly see walking around above ground (the so called ‘ordinary worker ants’) are all barren females and do not mate during these Nuptial Flights or ever in their lives. The only ants involved in this mating event are young queen ants and male ants they are known as alates, and are born in the nest and wait around all year until it’s time for nuptial flight mating. The alates are special in that they are born with wings. Yes, wings! Have you ever seen those larger ants that look like ants with wings? They were ants after all, and not some kind of stiff hornet!
Here is how to distinguish a queen ant from other worker ants and male ants:
Every species of ant has its nuptial flight around specific times in the year. During the nuptial flight the young winged queens and males fly into the air, they mate while flying or upon landing (the queen will often mate with several males), and then finally drop to the ground a few hours later. The males die after mating breeding with the young queens during nuptial flight is their only purpose in the ant world. Mated females break off their wings and begin searching for a new location to begin their own colonies. Only a few species of ants will accept these now pregnant queens back to the nest, but generally most don’t, and the queens are off on their own in search of a suitable place to begin a nest, where each queen will eventually give birth to their first set of babies.
Queen ants ready to mate for their nuptial flight. Species: Carebara sp from Africa.
Your job is to try to find these queens that are either flying and mating during a nuptial flight or are in the midst of searching for a new nest location after their nuptial flight. These are the only opportunities for you to capture these newly gravid queens, because for the rest of their life afterwards they are underground.
We have a helpful video tutorial reviewing the ant Nuptial Flight schedules around the world. It will give you a general idea as to when you should look for queen ants in your area. The species listed in this video are the most common and easy-to-care for ant species in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia:
As for gravid queens that are wandering in search of a nest site after they’ve mated, you will be able to spot them by way of their larger size (so if you happen to see an ant scuttling about a few feet away that seems a little larger than usual, check her out!) and more importantly their two scars on their thorax where their wings used to be attached.
Carry a number of small bottles or containers with you, everyday no matter what! Where ever you go have them in a pocket or bag. Keep your eyes to the ground as much as possible to spot the queens. Stick to sidewalks as they are open and perfect for highlighting moving insects. When you’re indoors anywhere, check window sills. You may find them at the huge windows trying to get out of stores or shops after having accidentally flown in.
Try to be aware of all the insects around you. If something flies by, follow it with your eyes to see if it’s a queen (or even better a queen with a male or males mating with her) and try to see her better when she lands. If you’re good at picking up details, queen ants fly through the air more like lady beetles than they do flies, bees, or butterflies which are more agile and zig-zaggy fliers. After being more aware and informed on what to look for, you will find yourself running into queen ants more often than you ever thought possible. When you find them bottle them all up. Good luck!
Be sure to check out the AntsCanada Ultimate Ant Keeping Handbook available at our store for tips and information on collecting your own ant queens and colonies.
What if I don’t have the time to go queen ant hunting or am unable to find a queen ant anywhere?
Another option, if capturing your own queen ant proves challenging, is to adopt an ant colony collected and farmed from a queen in your area from our Global Ant Nursery Project™ (if available in your area). The Global Ant Nursery Project™ is a worldwide network of AntsCanada-recruited expert ant farmers (known as GAN Farmers) who raise and sell local ant colonies with a queen to people within their city/region. Check out our Global Ant Nursery Project™ now by clicking here.
A young Formica colony raised in a test tube
What do I do with her when I capture her? What is the next step?
You must place her into what is called a test tube setup where she can remain for a few weeks or months until her first set of workers arrive. Ant keepers usually house queen ants in test tubes because the test tube setup simulates a sort of underground chamber for a recently mated queen. It causes her to (hopefully) begin laying eggs to start her own colony. We highly recommend that you use AC-standard Test Tubes™ to get your queen ants started, as they are compatible with the variety of accessories that we offer at our shop that make this colony founding process easier for you. AC-standard Test Tubes™ come with our Hybrid Nests™ and our AC Gear Packs™ found at our shop.
It is easy to create a test tube setup. The test tube setup involves the lower half of the test tube being plugged with a cotton ball to trap water on one end of the test tube (see Video Tutorials). This trapped water provides the queen with water during the several week period when she begins to lay her eggs and the weeks proceeding as her colony starts to grow. Ant keepers urge people to store these test tubes away in the dark and to not look at her or pick up the test tube, for you may disturb her, and some say disturbing them too much may cause the queens to not lay eggs or to even eat their eggs! If the queen immediately begins to clean herself and stops pacing around when you first place her into the test tube it usually means she feels like she’s found a safe, suitable place to station herself and start her colony. If the cotton in the test tube gets moldy or the water portion dries out, you will need to move the queen and her brood into a new test tube setup (see Video Tutorials).
When is the nuptial flight of ants in _____ [city/state/province/country]?
There are simply so many ants and so many nuptial flight schedules. Our Ultimate Ant Keeping Handbook Ebook contains all nuptial flight schedules of some of the more commonly kept ant species as well as ‘Ant Care Sheet Listing by Species’ section which list of the nuptial flight schedules of some of the more popularly kept species.
I caught a queen and she hasn’t broken off her wings. Does that mean she hasn’t had a chance to mate and isn’t fertilized?
No, that’s a common misconception. If queen ants don’t break their wings off it does not mean they haven’t mated with a male(s). On the same token, if a queen has broken off her wings it also doesn’t guarantee that your queen has mated. We have had queens with wings give birth to workers (but the wings were removed eventually), and had queens that did break off their wings never lay eggs, so wing breakage isn’t a good indicator of previous mating. So, be sure to keep all the queen ants that you catch even if they have their wings on, as they will likely be broken off later or once the queen’s first workers arrive. You will find out if your queen has mated during the nuptial flight once the first pupa hatches into an adult worker ant. If a male alate (with wings) comes out of the pupa you know she hasn’t mated and unfortunately won’t be of any use to you if you’re looking to start an ant colony. Unfertilized queens also tend to have brood that seem to never develop or scattered eggs within the test tube setup that they seem to not care for.
So what are some signs that my queen has mated and is fertilized?
The only sign that is a definite tell-tale sign is if her abdomen (also known as her gaster) looks big and bloated, a condition called physogastrism, and this usually happens several days or weeks after mating. The eggs tend to turn her gaster into a balloon. If she doesn’t balloon, don’t lose hope, as she still may be fertilized. On the day that you capture a queen, another sign that your queen may have mated is if she frequently begins to clean the tip of her gaster. If she’s giving that area some extra attention, you know a male may have been there previously.
A queen with her first set of workers (nanitics). This species is Camponotus albosparsus
How long do I keep the queen in the test tube until I can transfer her into her formicarium?
Ant keepers usually wait until she has several worker ants before transferring her into a formicarium. This ensures that she has a starting team of worker ants to help ease the process of moving the young and queen as well as the settling in process. We recommend waiting until she has at least 10-20 workers. Some prefer to wait until the test tube is completely full of ants before introducing them to a formicarium.
During this period where the new queen raises her first set of young, do I need to feed her?
Many say it’s not necessary to, as she has energy stored in her back muscles which powered her wings during the nuptial flight. However, you can choose to feed her a drop of sugar water every few weeks to fatten her up. Use a toothpick to create a small enough drop of honey she won’t be able to drown in. Some even choose to feed their queens crushed insects, however there is a chance the queen will get stressed when the food is introduced to her which can be counterproductive. A stressed queen may hold off from egg-laying or eat her existing brood. If you do provide your queen solid food, be sure to remove the leftovers asap, as it can cause a mold outbreak and even poison the queen/colony from the fumes emitted during decay. The only exception to all of this just mentioned is when you have a queen of a species that is semi-claustral, meaning the queen needs to feed during the founding stage. If you’re unsure whether your ant species is a semi-claustral species, contact us and send us a photo.
Whether you have a queen of a fully-claustral or a semi-claustral species, what we also recommend is when a few workers start to appear, place the entire test tube into a larger container and the test tube can act as a temporary ant nest while your colony gets to 10-20 workers strong. You can place food in the container and the workers will venture out of their test tube to forage for food to eat. At this stage there is no need to provide them additional water because they can get water from their test tube.
If you’re using one of our AC-standard Test Tubes™ to house your new ant colony, feeding can be made easier by using our Test tube Portal™ found in our AC Gear Packs™ at our shop. You can provide your new ants with a miniature feeding area. Another thing you can do is attach a second AC-standard Test Tube™ full of sugar water to feed the workers. One AC Test tube Portal™ can accommodate up to 4 AC-standard Test Tubes™.
How do I move the colony to a new test tube if their test tube setup gets moldy?
You will need to do this by connecting two test tubes together. If you’re using one of our AC-standard Test Tubes™ to house your new ant colony, transferring can be made easier by using our Test tube Portal™ found in our AC Gear Packs™ at our shop. You simply connect the moldy test tube to the AC Test tube Portal™ then attach one or more clean test tube setups. The workers will eventually find the new clean test tubes and move on their own. We recommend that you allow the ants to transfer the brood and queen themselves, instead of using heat to force them out. As a general rule, most ant colonies will know when the mold will reach dangerous levels and will initiate the move to a clean test tube when it is the right time. One AC Test tube Portal™ can accommodate up to 4 AC-standard Test Tubes™.
If you don’t have an AC Test tube Portal™ you can try to simply tape a clean test tube setup to your current moldy one and allow the colony to move on their own. Only in extreme cases when it is absolutely necessary to move the queen and ant colony in their moldy test tube setup, should you consider using heat to force a move. Also, don’t forget to allow air to enter the test tube every now and then if you are taping test tubes together. Remember that some ant colonies are stubborn and will remain in their test tube setup as long as they can. Patience is important at this stage.
A little mold on the cotton of your test tube setup should not alarm you so much. When the mold grows to the point that you can no longer see white on the surface of the cotton in your test tube setup, that is when you know it is time to introduce the colony to a clean test tube setup.
How do I move the colony from their test tube into their new formicarium?
This process can happen immediately but it usually requires a few days, to weeks, to months. There are a few ways to do this. If you are using our AC-standard Test Tubes™ and are moving the colony into one of our Hybrid Nests™, you can simply attach the test tube with your ant colony directly to the formicarium. AC-standrard Test Tubes™ come with all of our Hybrid Nests™ and AC Gear Packs™ at our shop.
If not, another way to move ants from their test tube to the formicarium is to place the test tube directly into the outworld and lay the test tube opening close to the opening of the tube that leads to the formicarium. Shining a bright light into test tube from outside the formicarium and covering the nest area so that it is dark can help encourage the ants to move. If the species is a moisture-loving species you can attempt to moisten the nest area. Heating the test tube with a reptile heating cable also can encourage a move, but this can be a little dangerous for the ants if the test tube gets too hot too fast. Only a little amount of heat gradually applied is all that is needed to get them to move. The moving process from test tube to formicarium often requires patience, but in time the ants move out. When they make the move into the formicarium, there will be no more ants or young in the test tube at which point you can remove the test tube and begin rewarding your colony with some food!
How long does it take to farm a big ant colony from a single queen ant?
It depends on the species of ant and factors like warmth and temperature. Ant colonies that are fed well and are kept a few degrees above room temperature develop faster. A quality home is also crucial for the growth rate of a colony. The queen ant’s first worker ants, known as ‘nanitics’, usually arrive a few weeks after a queen is captured and stored, and it takes several months to a year for the colony to have a good number of worker ants. Some ants like those belonging to Camponotus take two months to get from from egg to worker.
Now that you know how to start your ant colony, feel free to read our helpful Ant Care section.
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What happens if an ant is released outside in a strange location?
Whenever I see an insect in the house, I capture it and let it outside. Yesterday I scooped up an ant and released it in my front yard. This got me wondering, what happens if an ant is released nowhere near its hill? I'm talking miles away here. Will it be assimilated in a new ant colony? Will it be shunned by "local" ants, forcing it to live the rest of its life alone?
What happens is that the ant tries to get home. The ant will look for scent trails or landmarks to get back home. If it is a worker ant, the ant has only one mission, and it can't do that mission if it is not in or near it's colony.
Taking the ant from inside your house to the front lawn, the ant will probably be fine. The reason is that nearby queens are often related and an ant can pass through the nearby colony and not trigger any defenses because the scent will be close enough to the one of the related colony. Often, there are super colonies with the queens being closely related and the worker ants will often interact closely without any harm.
To clarify the exact methods that ants use: they will walk in an expanding spiral, occasionally doubling back on their start location. There's a lot of literature on this, I can give citations when I get home if anyone is interested. I studied path integration in a cog sci course and did a lot of reading on ants at the time.
EDIT, DETAILS: The citation I have from 2007 is: Shettleworth, S. Cognition, Evolution, and Behaviour. New York: 1998, Oxford University Press
Here they describe the process of path integration, whereby (a specific species of desert) ants always keeps track of a single vector which will return them to their nest/food. If they are manually moved, when they arrive where the food/nest should be, the begin to move in an expanding spiral and double back over where they think the nest ought to be until they find something or die.
Caveat: I don't know how well this applies to other ant species!
I'm actually an undergrad studying ant biology, and I have been doing chemical ecology (ie pheromone) research for the last 3 years. Most of what you said is false (but you're on the right track!).
There are two type of ant colonies: "single queen" (monogyne) colonies and "multiple queen" (polygyne) colonies. Monogyne colonies are the ancestral state and most (I'm making this up, but Iɽ guess
60-70%?) ant colonies are monogyne. Monogyne colonies have discrete territories, and it is in their great interest to exclude ants from other colonies from being in their territory. Regardless of relatedness, their "nestmate recognition pheromones" are highly specific, and a member of one colony can absolutely tell (and will attack) a same-species member of a nearby colony. So: if you pick up an ant from your house and drop it in the territory of a nearby colony, it's probably fucked.
UNLESS: If these ants exist in polygyne, multiple queen colonies, then it gets interesting. A ton of ant species live in multiple-queen, polygyne colonies. The ant your probably most likely to see in your house is the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile. This exists in multiple queen colonies which can actually go on for miles. The evolutionary difference between polygyne and monogyne ants actually seems to be the inactivation of nestmate recognition cues the polygynes probably lost this recognition and as a result they live together all happy like. So, if you took a polygyne ant and left it outside, it probably wouldn't even need to find its way home everywhere would be fine.
So that just addresses the part about nestmate recognition. You also say "The ant will look for scent trails or landmarks to get back home." This is probably true to an extent (most ants just know where the sun should be, and walk accordingly), but for most species I somewhat doubt that the ant would be able to find her way back after being completely disoriented. Some ants, like the harvester ants out west, can definitely do this.
edit: I'll also add one more thing: foraging is an extremely dangerous activity for an ant, and my gut tells me that anything you do to mess this up will probably make the ant fatally lost. A fire ant may live for about 2 months, but she will only forage outside for a few days. She lives her whole life underground in the dark, then when she's near the end of her life she sees light for the first time, spends a few days foraging, and dies (gets lost, eaten, desiccated, whatever). Foraging is extremely dangerous and the risk of death is extremely high in all cases. My guess would be that screwing with it more (ie moving the ant) probably brings that probably of death close to 1.
Elusive ant queen pheromone tracked down
Much like humans, social insects such as ants and bees behave differently when their mother is not around. Workers are thought to perceive the presence of their mother queen using her unique pheromones. New research in ants has tracked down the elusive queen pheromone for the first time and revealed that workers are capable of developing ovaries in preparation for laying eggs in absence of pheromones.
The defining feature of social insects is that societies contain queens, which specialise in laying eggs, as well as workers, which are mostly infertile but take care of the offspring and the nest. However, when the queen dies or is removed, workers begin laying eggs of their own.
Previous observations have suggested that queens possess a specific pheromone which keeps the workers infertile, but the pheromone has never been identified except in the well-studied honeybee. Queen pheromones have a lot to tell us about how sociality evolved. For example, if the pheromone was found to be brain-washing the workers into doing something that was bad for them, this would suggest that sociality is rife with hidden conflicts. Alternatively, the pheromone might be more like an advertisement that demonstrates to the workers that the queen is doing a good job. Workers that can smell that their queen is laying lots of eggs are expected to remain infertile and let the queen do what she does best.
After identifying a candidate queen pheromone in the black garden ant, researchers from the Centre for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen (Luke Holman, Charlotte Jørgensen, John Nielsen and Patrizia d'Ettorre) made a synthetic copy of the pheromone to definitively test its function. They found that worker ants separated from their queen developed large ovaries in preparation for laying eggs. However, if the orphaned ants were given a glass model queen coated in synthetic queen pheromone, they remained infertile. The authors also found that the queen's eggs are covered in pheromone, and that sick queens produced less pheromone. Together, these results suggest that the queen pheromone lets the workers know that the queen is laying many eggs and is in good health.
The queen pheromones of other social insects, including wasps and termites, remain to be found. More will hopefully be discovered soon, and we will be able to determine whether there are universal queen pheromones, or whether they are highly specific to each species. This will reveal how fast the pheromones evolve and shed light on why specific chemicals became queen pheromones.
Materials provided by University of Copenhagen. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Fipronil is a broad use insecticide that belongs to the phenylpyrazole chemical family. Fipronil is used to control ants, beetles, cockroaches, fleas, ticks, termites, mole crickets, thrips, rootworms, weevils, and other insects. Fipronil is a white powder with a moldy odor. Fipronil was first registered for use in the United States in 1996.
What are some products that contain fipronil?
Fipronil is used in a wide variety of pesticide products, including granular products for grass, gel baits, spot-on pet care products, liquid termite control products, and products for agriculture. There are more than 50 registered products that contain fipronil.
Always follow label instructions and take steps to avoid exposure. If any exposures occur, be sure to follow the First Aid instructions on the product label carefully. For additional treatment advice, contact the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. If you wish to discuss a pesticide problem, please call 1-800-858-7378.
How does fipronil work?
Fipronil kills insects when they eat it or come in contact with it. Fipronil works by disrupting the normal function of the central nervous system in insects. Fipronil is more toxic to insects than people and pets because it is more likely to bind to insect nerve endings.
How might I be exposed to fipronil?
People can be exposed to chemicals in four ways: contacting their skin, contacting their eyes, breathing them in, or eating them. Direct contact to the skin or eyes may occur while applying fipronil products. Pets may be exposed to fipronil by products that are applied to their skin for flea and tick treatments. People may also be exposed to fipronil when applying flea and tick products. It may also be possible to swallow fipronil if the hands are not washed following skin exposure. Exposure to fipronil can be limited by reading the pesticide label and following all of the directions.
What are some signs and symptoms from a brief exposure to fipronil?
Health effects from a brief exposure to fipronil depend on how someone is exposed to the chemical. Direct, short-term contact with skin can result in slight skin irritation. When individuals have eaten fipronil, reported health effects included sweating, nausea, vomiting, headache, stomach pain, dizziness, weakness, and seizures. Signs and symptoms from a brief exposure to fipronil generally improve and clear up without treatment.
What happens to fipronil when it enters the body?
The amount of fipronil taken into the body across the skin depends on the product formulation. Researchers applied a dose of 79% fipronil to the skin of rats and found that less than 1% of fipronil was taken into the body after 24 hours. When test animals have eaten fipronil, between 15 and 33% (goats) and 30 to 50% (rats) of the ingested dose was absorbed by the body. The rest of the fipronil was eliminated in the feces and urine.
Once in the body, fipronil is found mainly in the fatty tissue, and breaks down into smaller chemicals called metabolites. Fipronil and its metabolites are then removed from the body mostly through the feces and also in the urine.
Is fipronil likely to contribute to the development of cancer?
Scientists have not found any evidence of fipronil causing cancer in humans. Researchers fed fipronil to rats in their diet for nearly two years to find out if fipronil can cause cancer. Researchers found thyroid tumors in both male and female rats fed the highest dose. While these findings are considered to apply only to rats, fipronil is classified as a "possible human carcinogen" by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA).
Has anyone studied non-cancer effects from long-term exposure to fipronil?
Studies have been done to find out the possible effects from long-term exposure to fipronil. In one study, scientists fed fipronil to rats for a year and found an increase in seizures and death among test animals. Fipronil was also found to decrease thyroid hormone levels among rats. However, most short-term and long-term studies find that fipronil does not affect the endocrine system, the system responsible for regulating hormones in the body.
In another study, scientists found that long-term exposure to fipronil in the diet can affect the ability of rats to produce offspring. Effects in those rats included: less mating, reduced fertility, smaller litter size, and increased loss of pregnancy. Scientists also found decreased survival and delayed development among offspring.
Are children more sensitive to fipronil than adults?
While children may be especially sensitive to pesticides compared to adults, there are currently no data showing that children have increased sensitivity specifically to fipronil.
What happens to fipronil in the environment?
In the soil, naturally occurring organisms break down fipronil into smaller chemicals, and on the soil surface, fipronil is broken down by sunlight. Fipronil breaks down in the soil so that half of the original amount is gone in about 125 days. This break down time is called the "half-life" of the pesticide. Fipronil sticks tightly to soil and does not mix very well with water. Therefore, it does not move much in the soil and is not expected to get into groundwater.
Fipronil reacts with water to break down into smaller chemicals at a speed that increases as the water becomes less acidic. When fipronil in the water is exposed to sunlight it breaks down rapidly with a half-life of 4-12 hours. Fipronil and its breakdown products can build up in water under normal conditions.
There is no evidence that fipronil or its breakdown products evaporate from soil or water into the air. Fipronil is not well absorbed by plants when it is applied to soil. If fipronil does get into plants, it can partially break down. On plant surfaces, fipronil can be broken down by sunlight.
Can fipronil affect birds, fish, or other wildlife?
Tests were done to find out if fipronil is toxic to fish and creatures in the water without backbones (invertebrates), such as shrimp and water fleas. Scientists found that fipronil is highly toxic to sea and freshwater fish, and highly toxic to sea and freshwater invertebrates. Two fipronil metabolites were also tested in freshwater fish and invertebrates and were more toxic than fipronil.
In other studies, fipronil was found to be highly toxic to some birds, but practically non-toxic to ducks. Fipronil was also found to be highly toxic to honey bees, but not toxic to earthworms.