While ants can be pests in Auckland, they are still amazing little creatures! ACES pest control is sometimes surprised at how resourceful ants are. This article shows another way that ants are amazing!
Ants don't tend to get in traffic jams. They might butt heads (or antennae) momentarily as they go about their industrious business, but ants somehow have mastered the art of keeping things moving. They're geniuses of flow.
Another striking thing about ants is that some of them just sit around doing nothing. This has also been noticed in other social insects, such as bees. When ants build a nest, some of them just sit around, inert, lazy, seemingly useless.
Now a study out of Georgia Tech, published Thursday in the journal Science, combines these observations to deliver a lesson that could have implications for such things as how the robots of the future might be used for disaster relief. The researchers found that ants are more successful when they are selectively industrious. They use idleness to their advantage. Quitting has its virtues.
The researchers studied groups of 30 color-coded fire ants digging tunnels in glass-walled containers in a laboratory. About 30 percent of the ants did 70 percent of the work. Some ants did very little or nothing. When the researchers removed the most hard-working ants, some of the previously less-active ants stepped up their game and began working harder. It appears that industriousness is not an individual attribute but a defined role. It's like a job title: heavy lifter.
When excavating a tunnel during the frenzy of nest-building, the tunnel face the deep end of the tunnel can get crowded. That can cause traffic jams. What the researchers noted is that some ants turn around and leave the tunnel without doing any work. These reversals limit the potential for clogging up the works.
The team created computer models with simulated ants and found that this system of selective idleness enables the ants to dig deep faster. Their method reduces the chances of clogs. In effect, the ants have solved the eternal problem of too many cooks in the kitchen.
“What the ants have discovered is pretty close to the best way to do it. You need the idleness distribution and the appropriate amount of giving up, said Daniel Goldman, a Georgia Tech physicist who runs the lab and is the senior author of the new study.
“It’s a nice example of where doing less gives you more. And perhaps the most, said Ofer Feinerman, a physicist who studies ants at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and who was not involved in the new research. It seems the ants do the best that they could have done.
The Georgia Tech team built robots to try to simulate the ant behavior and couldn't quite match it, apparently because a robot is clunkier than a segmented, limber ant. But the robot work confirmed the basic idea that simple rules, such as knowing when to quit and let other individuals do the work, can benefit the overall project.
This kind of investigation could lead to improved designs for robot swarms. For example, multiple autonomous robots may need to enter buildings destroyed by earthquakes to look for survivors. Such efforts could benefit from simple strategies that involve labor inequality, the new paper states.
“If you wanted to have a system of diggers dig in a confined area, you don’t want to throw them all at the same tunnel. You want to have them selectively participate and not participate based on these physics-inspired rules, said Nick Gravish, a University of California at San Diego professor who studies ant biomechanics. Gravish earned his doctorate under Goldman at Georgia Tech but was not involved in the current study.
The principle of selective idleness could aid human teams working collectively on a document or a piece of computer code, said Simon Garnier, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who studies collective behaviors in everything from slime mold to fish to mammals. "As long as all the agents in the system have a common collective goal, this principle might help them achieve it faster by reducing conflicts in accessing a common resource," Garnier said.
Fire ants are an invasive species common in the Deep South. They first arrived in the United States less than a century ago from the wetlands of South America.
They often live in low-lying, flood-prone areas. A fire ant colony functions like a superorganism. During a flood, the entire colony forms a raft, with the queen protected in the middle. This happened notably last year when Hurricane Harvey flooded the Southeast Texas coast.
The colony floats on the surface of the floodwater. When the ant-raft finally washes up somewhere, the ants build a nest rapidly. The workers (all female) can't leave the queen exposed.
No matter what kind of soil the ants dig in, they make their tunnels roughly the diameter of the length of an ant. That means their legs and antennae are always within reach of the tunnel wall, which assists the ants during moments of slippage. They can use their antennae as if they were auxiliary limbs.
Feinerman said researchers have noted that ants are sensitive to success and failure. When an individual ant tries to do something, such as obtain food or dig a tunnel, and is successful, she keeps doing it with extraordinary vigor and endurance. But when she fails, such as getting stymied while trying to enter a tunnel, she will quit and become inert. He said the new research suggests that relatively simple rules govern this behavior.
“There’s a positive feedback between how successful an ant is and her tendency to repeat the task, he said.
Gravish, who builds robots inspired by insects, said of ants: They’re far more complicated than robots. I wish we could get even close to the complexity of ants.
edited from Joel Achenbach original article https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2018/08/16/industrious-fire-ants-reveal-surprise-secret-to-success-selective-laziness/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c784206907dc
"ACES | ants pest control Auckland, is aware that this ant has been found in New Zealand, but is generally uncommon. Careful management of this species is required otherwise you can trigger their "budding" mechanisims where queens leave the nest with workers and set up mutliple remote nest sites. This makes the problem much worse. If you see the "golden" Pharaoh ant best to call the Professionals straight away!"
As its name suggests, the pharaoh ant views itself as a ruler among ants, a real headache for home and business owners.
As its name suggests, the pharaoh ant certainly views itself as a ruler among ants and they can be a real headache for home and business owners, and the pest management professionals that are tasked with eliminating them.
Unlike other ant species that are easily traced by following visible trails, pharaoh ants do not necessarily follow specific trails when they forage for food and harborage. Combine that with their preference to establish nests in hard-to-reach locations like wall voids, subfloors and attics, and the pharaoh ant is a worthy adversary.
Pharaoh ants are a problem in both commercial and residential accounts. While primarily a nuisance in residential accounts, they can present a health threat in food processing and healthcare facilities, hotels and grocery stores because they can carry and leave behind harmful bacteria (i.e. Salmonella, E. coli) on surfaces they come in contact with.
Pharaoh ants are drawn to commercial facilities because of the warm, humid conditions and abundant food and water sources that are often found inside within commercial kitchens and laundries.
There have been numerous documented cases where pharaoh ants have posed a major threat in healthcare facilities hospitals, nursing homes and extended care facilities where they have entered patient wounds and IV bags seeking moisture.
Pharaoh ant colonies are large in size with multiple nests and when they are displaced sometimes the result of a pesticide application members will venture off and establish new colonies in a process called budding.
In residential homes, pharaoh ants typically nest near the kitchen including voids under cabinets, behind baseboards and under floors. They also use electrical, cable and telephone wiring as a highway system to travel through walls and between floorboards.
Considering the challenges pharaoh ants present, what are the best methods for combatting them?
John Judge, training specialist for Environmental Pest Services in Tampa, Fla., which manages operations in three different Southern states, says a proper inspection and strategic bait placements are key elements of a pharaoh ant management program.
The pharaoh ant is not hard to identify but when it splits off during the budding process it can move rapidly and infest the other side of the structure from where you originally found it, says Judge. Because of its mobility a technician must look at the whole house rather than just his or her inspection in one area.
The proper use of inspection tools (i.e. flashlights, probing tools, etc.) and knowledge of construction practices (i.e. identifying connecting walls, location of electrical wiring, etc.) will also help the technician track the source of the infestation and how it got there.
Pharaoh ants found on the outside of the structure should be lured away by the strategic use of baits and repeated treatments may be required to completely eliminate this pesky invader.
Judge says the customer also plays an important part in preventing pharaoh ant by following good sanitation practices.
Keeping kitchens and food preparation areas clean of spilled food and removing excess moisture and clutter will make those areas less attractive to pharaoh ants, says Judge. As with most pest issues securing customer buy-in goes a long way.
A proactive approach to pharaoh ant management with customers understanding how basic maintenance tasks and adhering to good sanitation practices will help mitigate the problem.
adapted from PCT online http://www.pctonline.com/article/tracking-eliminating-pharaoh-ant/
ACES pest control using another technique when compared to this article. There are two ways of treating ants, repellent ( imagine a red STOP sign) which sets a barrier around the house. Effectively immediately as little ants are easy to kill. But always a temporary fix as it never gets to the Queen. This is the method described in this article. ACES uses the second method, NON repellent or TRANSFER ( imagine a Green GO sign). The technique is slow and not very impressive initially, but is very harmful the nest and Queen (s). ACES uses 100% transfer products. We hope you enjoy Emilys article.
GREENVILLE, N.C. What do you think of when a six legged, mighty, food scavenger comes to mind? Ants and lots of them.
You won’t notice them until they come home and they see hundreds of them on their countertops and their pantries and that kind of thing, said Peter Schonemann of Russ Pest Control. Then it’s a problem.
If you can get rid of them outside, then you won’ t have as many problems inside, Schonemann said.
Spending the past half hour trying to find an ant hill was difficult. It seemed the weather was just too hot.
If you get a lot of hot weather, it’s really dry they are looking for moisture, said Schonemann. And they end up sending out foragers looking for food. They find that crumb the kids left, or sugar you spilled when you made some coffee that kind of thing.
But there is one ant that is easier to spot than the others.
Fire ants are the most difficult ant to control, said Carl Little, Lowe’s garden employee. Although three species are common in our area argentine ants, odorous house ants, and fire ants fire ants are the worst.
Fire ants are one of the biggest problems we have in eastern North Carolina, said Little.
The best way to take care of them is, pre-treat the best thing to always do is pre-treat in the early spring or summer with something like a broad pesticide or broad product with something like a slower release than wait ‘til you have the problem.
And when taking care of that ant hill in your backyard on your own, go for the pesticide that targets the one that, kills the queen of the nest, and therefore eliminates the problem altogether.
adapted by ACES pest control from and aricle from By Emily Gibbs from http://wnct.com/2017/07/25/tips-to-keep-ants-out-of-your-home/
for more information on services offered by ACES pest control please click here for our services for rodents please click here for services for ants please click here and for cockroaches please click here
Man lets a bullet ant sting him on purpose and you’ll absolutely believe what happens next
ACES pest control have had their fare share of wasps stings, but that is rated 1 on a scale of 30. The bullet ant is rated the worse sting in the world for pain- that's number 30. So we can tell you this guy is 100% BONKERS
"About two months ago, we witnessed outdoor adventurer Coyote Peterson let a wasp known as a tarantula hawk sting him on his arm. Boasting the second most painful sting in the insect world, the tarantula hawk quickly had Petereson writhing on the ground in pain. And of course, it was all captured in a harrowing and altogether fascinating video.
Earlier this week, Coyote Peterson was at it again during an episode of Breaking Trail, this time taking things a bit further and letting himself get stung by a bullet ant, the insect widely believed to have the most painful sting in the world. The bullet ant typically inhabits rainforests in Central America, so odds are you don’t have to worry about coming into contact with one them. But if you’re sporting a name like Coyote Peterson, well, you pretty much have no choice but to seek out the bullet ant yourself.
According to the Schmidt Pain Index, the bullet ant, if I may repurpose some old Wu-Tang Clan lyrics, ain’t nothing to mess with. The resulting pain from a bullet ant sting is said to be extremely intense and feels like you’re “walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.” Interestingly enough, the reason why this fearsome insect is called a ‘bullet ant’ is because its sting is said to be as painful as a gunshot.
And for reasons that defy explanation, our fearless hero Coyote Peterson thought it might be a fun idea to get stung by one of these creatures on purpose. Naturally, it was all recorded on video for our collective enjoyment/horror."
the video is next door in our you tube section ====> worth a look
for more information on services offered by ACES pest control please click here for our services for rodents please click here for services and for cockroaches please click here
adapted from an article by Yoni Heisler http://bgr.com/2016/12/23/bullet-ant-sting-pain-coyote-video/
Pest ants in Auckland are sometimes hard to control. Why? Because as this article says they are smart enough to farm. Which often means they come into your house the materials for this job!
Please find below an article from IFLscience.com about smarts ants farming!
Humans only invented agriculture some 10,000 years ago, but ants have been doing it for millions of years. New analysis indicates that, although ants operate farms in many environments, true domestication occurred 30 million years ago, in desert or near-desert conditions.
Attine ant species form a symbiotic relationship with fungi. The six-legged farmers propagate the fungus, providing it with nutrients and protection from other animals that might consume it more recklessly. In return, they get to eat the fungal growth.
Like bakers' apprentices taking precious starter dough to found their business, attine ants carry a small amount of fungus when they found a new colony. As with human agriculture, this has shaped the genetics of the species they farm, since varieties of fungus that best suit attine needs are more likely to be farmed.
Smithsonian Museum entomologist Dr Ted Schultz compared the DNA of 119 ant species, 78 of which are farmers. reporting his findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. He mapped the timing of when species diverged, using fossils for confirmation, to locate those closest to the trunk of the ant farmers' family tree.
The 250 known species of fungus-farming ants are divided into those that practice what is called "lower" and "higher" agriculture. Lower agriculture uses fungal species that can live without the ants' protection. Sometimes the fungus will spread beyond the colony to grow in the wild, becoming a resource for the ants to draw on if their crops fail.
Higher agriculture involves fungi that, like many human crops, have been so modified by the farmers as to be unable to survive independently. Since the ants cannot survive without their fungi, the two species are locked in mutual dependence.
Lower agriculture has previously been estimated to have begun in South America 55-65 million years ago. Schultz's work indicates higher agriculture dates back around 30 million years and began in a dry climate, contradicting previous assumptions of a wet origin.
Global climatic changes at the time dried much of South American out. Suitable ranges for rainforest fungi would have contracted, and Schultz thinks some were saved by ants that provided them with reliable moisture, collecting water for humidity-controlled fungal gardens.
"These higher agricultural-ant societies have been practicing sustainable, industrial-scale agriculture for millions of years," Schultz said in a statement. "Studying their dynamics and how their relationships with their fungal partners have evolved may offer important lessons to inform our own challenges with our agricultural practices. Ants have established a form of agriculture that provides all the nourishment needed for their societies using a single crop that is resistant to disease, pests, and droughts at a scale and level of efficiency that rivals human agriculture."
Given our own disastrous experience with monocultures, we've much to learn.
original articale by Stephen Luntz
"ACES pest control sees how smart insects are, in particular ants on a daily basis.
In fact Universities once pondered why an ant would slave and give its life for the colony or nest when they get nothing in return. The answer was to be found in looking at the nest as a single organism. This maybe why ants seem so smart, because its the collective thinking of the nest we are seeing.....here an article on just how smart ants are. "
"The brain of an ant is the size of a pinhead"
Ants are even more impressive at navigating than we thought.
Scientists say they can follow a compass route, regardless of the direction in which they are facing.
It is the equivalent of trying to find your way home while walking backwards or even spinning round and round.
Experiments suggest ants keep to the right path by plotting the Sun's position in the sky which they combine with visual information about their surroundings.
"Our main finding is that ants can decouple their direction of travel from their body orientation," said Dr Antoine Wystrach of the University of Edinburgh and CNRS in Paris.
"They can maintain a direction of travel, let's say north, independently of their current body orientation."
Ants stand out in the insect world because of their navigational ability.
Living in large colonies, they need to forage for food and carry it back to their nest.
This often requires dragging food long distances backwards.
Scientists say that despite its small size, the brain of ants is remarkably sophisticated.
"They construct a more sophisticated representation of direction than we envisaged and they can incorporate or integrate information from different modalities into that representation," Dr Wystrach added.
"It is the transfer of information aspect which implies synergy between different brain areas."
UK and French researchers came up with their findings by studying desert ants.
Experiments suggest the ants kept to the right path by following celestial cues. They set off in the wrong direction if a mirror was used to obscure the Sun.
If they were travelling backwards, dragging food back to their nest, they combined this information with visual cues. They stopped, dropped the food and took a quick peek at their route.
Scientists say the work could have applications in designing computer algorithms to guide robots.
Prof Barbara Webb of the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics said the ant can navigate much like a self-driving car.
"Ants have a relatively tiny brain, less than the size of a pinhead," she said.
"Yet they can navigate successfully under many difficult conditions, including going backwards.
"Understanding their behaviour gives us new insights into brain function and has inspired us to build robot systems that mimic their functions."
She said they have been able to model the neural circuits in the ant's brain.
The hope is to develop robots that can navigate in natural areas such as forests.
The research is published in the journal Current Biology.
By Helen Briggs
ACES customers often remark that ants seem really smart. They will mention that no matter what they do they seem be out smarted by these little pests.
Here is an article by Kata, which seems to suggest ants are smarter than we think.
SMART ANTS- crafting tiny sponges as tools.
Ants may be smarter than we give them credit for. Tool use is seen as something brainy primates and birds do, but even the humble ant can choose the right tool for the job.
István Maák at the University of Szeged in Hungary and his team offered two species of funnel ants liquids containing water and honey along with a range of tools that might help them carry this food to their nests.
The ants experimented with the tools and chose those that were easiest to handle and could soak up plenty of liquid, such as bits of sponge or paper, despite them not being found in the insects’ natural environment.
This suggests that ants can take into account the properties of both the tool and the liquid they are transporting. It also indicates they can learn to use new tools even without big brains.
Some ant species are known to use tools, such as mud or sand grains, to collect and transport liquid to their nests. But this is the first time they are shown to select the most suitable ones, says team member Patrizia d’Ettorre from the University of Paris-North, France.
To investigate this behaviour, the team offered Aphaenogaster subterranea and A. senilis ants various possible tools, both natural, such as twigs, pine needles and soil grains, and artificial.
The ants experimented with the tools and eventually showed preference for certain tools even unfamiliar ones. The ants would drop the tool into the liquid, pick it up and then carry it to the workers back in the nest to drink from.
Subterranea workers preferred small soil grains to transfer diluted honey, and sponge for pure honey. Most of them even tore the sponge into smaller bits, presumably for better handling.
Senilis started off using all the tools equally, but then focused on pieces of paper and sponge, which could soak up most of the diluted honey they were offered. This indicates that they can learn as they go along.
Factors such as the weight of the tools could also have influenced the ants’ choice, but the researchers believe the tools’ absorbency and ease of handling mattered the most.
Stuck for space
Aphaenogaster ants possibly developed such tool use because, unlike many other ants, they can’t expand their stomach, says d’Ettorre. They had to find a way to exploit the valuable resource of liquid food.
This way, when ants come across a fallen fruit or a dead insect in the wild, their fluids can be transferred to the nest for the rest of the colony.
As ants live in a highly competitive environment, natural selection may favour using such tools to help feed the colony, says Valerie S. Banschbach at Roanoke College, Virginia.
And these ants may have been happy to try novel materials because which particular tools are available in their natural habitat varies according to the season.
Many other accomplishments of these small-brained creatures rival those of humans or even surpass them, such as farming fungi species or using ‘dead reckoning’, a sophisticated navigation to find their way back to the nest,” says Banschbach. “The size of brain needed for specific cognitive tasks is not clear.”
Tool use in insects is largely genetically controlled and evolved from selection of advantageous genetic mutations, says Gavin R. Hunt at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. This is unlike most tool use in birds or primates, which begins as novel behaviour and can sometimes be enhanced through genetic changes, he says.
By Kata Karáth
ACES experience is that ants do remarkable things too. We always tailor our treatments for your type or species of ant in your home! Which explains why our customers are very happy with our results on www.nocowboys.co.nz with a rating of 97% with more than 190 reviews
Ants: coming to a restaurant near you
A pair of Canterbury entrepreneurs are putting ants on the menu at restaurants around the country.
We spend much of summer trying to keep ants out of our food; yet they might be what's missing from it, say a pair of young Kiwi entrepreneurs.
With their start-up company Anteater, Canterbury University students Peter Randrup and Bex De Prospo are trying to drive in New Zealand what's become an emerging industry in Western countries, called "entomophagy", or insect consumption.
Anteater, a University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) student company that just scooped the university's 85K Challenge, is now working with high-end food producers to make dishes from insects to be served in restaurants throughout the country.
Their product range offers wild ants and huhu grubs, harvested in Canterbury, locusts farmed in Otago and cricket powder imported from Canada.
"We view this as a first step toward mainstreaming these products as a viable, sustainable alternative to factory-farmed meat," said Randrup, an insect biology student searching for more efficient, sustainable ways to produce high-quality protein sources.
"My favourite statistic is that if you swapped out just one serving of conventional protein for insect protein once a week, over the course of a year you would free up 100 to 150 square metres of land somewhere on the planet."
Randrup, a vegetarian, got the idea after reading an article about entomophagy and then pitched the idea at an entrepreneurial event at the university in April.
His now-business partner, De Prospo, initially reacted: "Bugs, really?"
But, seeing the potential, jumped on board and helped grow the business, also losing her taste for meat in the process.
She's now focused on finding out how to best use the business model to help feed people around the world, and hopes to adapt existing insect-farming models to produce kitset farms which can be sent to residents of impoverished regions.
"The statistics on how much grain is produced to feed livestock, while the human population in many of these places are left starving, are absolutely staggering."
People with a taste for bugs can find their offerings at Roots Restaurant in Lyttelton, Vault 21 in Dunedin, Antoine's Restaurant in Auckland and Mexico restaurants in Britomart, Takapuna, Ponsonby, Ellerslie, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.
Meanwhile, the Government has announced $3 million will be poured into two programmes sitting within the "High-Value Nutrition" National Science Challenge.
"The research into high-value nutrition is hugely important in moving our food production from volume to value," Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said.
"These projects will help product development that brings maximum returns for New Zealand food exporters."
The "Consumer Insights" research programme has received up to $1.5 million has been allocated to research the science of consumers, with a focus on health and wellness needs of Asian consumers.
Joyce said it would explore what was needed to establish a habitual consumption of high-value nutritional foods, something vital in ensuring investment was directed in areas that will resonate most with consumers.
The completed first phase of this work studied the information currently available to New Zealand businesses, and their knowledge gaps in understanding consumers' needs and behaviours.
The programme, led by Plant and Food Research's Dr Roger Harker, would ultimately provide direction to clinical research supporting the development of high-value foods and beverages for the Asian market.
The other programme, dubbed the "Science of Food", would receive $1.5 million to address the technological challenges in protecting the health promoting compounds in food during the journey from raw ingredients to finished food products, through to digestion.
A team, led by Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh of Massey University's Riddet Institute, would design ingredients and processes that kept the compounds in top condition within food products, so that when eaten, they were released to the body at the right stage of digestion needed to deliver their identified health benefits.
by Jamie Morton
Could ants be the solution to antibiotic crisis?
Bacterial defences of fungus-farming ants could help in medical battle against superbugs
Scientists have pinpointed a promising new source of antibiotics: ants. They have found that some species – including leaf-cutter ants from the Amazon – use bacteria to defend their nests against invading fungi and microbes.
Chemicals excreted by the bacteria as part of this fight have been shown to have particularly powerful antibiotic effects and researchers are now preparing to test them in animals to determine their potential as medicines for humans.
Doctors say new antibiotics are urgently needed as superbug resistance to standard antimicrobial agents spreads. More than 700,000 people globally now die of drug-resistant infections each year, it is estimated – and some health officials say this figure could be even higher.
Last week, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the first general assembly meeting on drug-resistant bacteria, said antimicrobial resistance was now a fundamental threat to global health.
This was reiterated by Professor Cameron Currie of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, one of the scientists involved in the ant research.
“Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem,” he said last week. “However, pinpointing new antibiotics using the standard technique of sampling soil for bacteria is tricky. On average, only one in a million strains proves promising. By contrast, we have uncovered a promising strain of bacteria for every 15 strains we have sampled from an ant’s nest.”
Only a very specific group of ants are proving useful in this work, however. These are species that farm fungi in tropical regions in North and South America.
“These ants forage for plant material, which they bring back to their nests and feed to a fungus,” said Professor Jon Clardy of Harvard Medical School. “The fungus breaks down the plant material and the ants feed on the fungus.”
The strategy evolved around 15 million years ago, and has proved highly successful. There are now more than 200 ant species that farm fungi. Most fungus-farming ants simply forage for bits of old leaf or grass on the ground, however. A few, like leaf-cutter ants, cut leaves from trees and bring them back in pieces to their nest. “Plants are hard to digest, but fungi are good decomposers and break down plant material so ants can feed easily,” said Ethan Van Arnam, also of Harvard Medical School.
However, scientists have recently discovered that these nests are sometimes attacked by hostile fungi. “They kill off both the nest and its farmed fungus,” said Clardy. “In turn, ants have developed defences revealed as white patches on their bodies. They look as if they had been dipped in powdered sugar. These patches are made of bacteria which the ant stores on its body. Crucially, these bacteria produce powerful antibiotic and antifungal agents.”
In this way, ants nurture bacteria which in turn make antifungal and antibacterial agents that defend nests. More to the point, these bacteria are similar to the ones used by pharmaceutical companies to make antibiotics. A typical example is Apterostigma ants, whose bacterial strains have been isolated in Panama and brought back to Harvard by Van Arnam. Many show promising antibiotic activity, he told the Observer.
“The ants don’t always win,” added Clardy. “You occasionally come across nests that have been overcome by invading fungi. But it is clear ants and their bacteria put up a very good fight, one that has been going on for millions of years. The result has been the production of some very interesting antibiotics.”
Clardy said foreign bacteria also attacked the ant’s microbe defences. “The bacteria in the nests get a really good deal. They are protected and fed by ants. Other strains of bacteria want to take over that comfortable niche. It is the bacterial equivalent of Game of Thrones. Everyone is trying to kill off everyone else and get to the top. The result has been the development of some very powerful antibiotic weapons. These are the end products of an arms race that has been going on for 15 million years. Our trick is to isolate the best of these weapons and use them to make new antibiotics for humans.”
Bizarre ant colony discovered in an abandoned Polish nuclear weapons bunker
Scientists describe workers trapped for years in "a hostile environment in total darkness."
For the past several years, a group of researchers has been observing a seemingly impossible wood ant colony living in an abandoned nuclear weapons bunker in Templewo, Poland, near the German border. Completely isolated from the outside world, these members of the species Formica polyctena have created an ant society unlike anything we've seen before.
The Soviets built the bunker during the Cold War to store nuclear weapons, sinking it below ground and planting trees on top as camouflage. Eventually a massive colony of wood ants took up residence in the soil over the bunker. There was just one problem: the ants built their nest directly over a vertical ventilation pipe. When the metal covering on the pipe finally rusted away, it left a dangerous, open hole. Every year when the nest expands, thousands of worker ants fall down the pipe and cannot climb back out. The survivors have nevertheless carried on for years underground, building a nest from soil and maintaining it in typical wood ant fashion. Except, of course, that this situation is far from normal.
Polish Academy of Sciences zoologist Wojciech Czechowski and his colleagues discovered the nest after a group of other zoologists found that bats were living in the bunker. Though it was technically not legal to go inside, the bat researchers figured out a way to squeeze into the small, confined space and observe the animals inside. Czechowski's team followed suit when they heard that the place was swarming with ants. What they found, over two seasons of observation, was a group of almost a million worker ants whose lives are so strange that they hesitate to call them a "colony" in the observations they just published in The Journal of Hymenoptera. Because conditions in the bunker are so harsh, constantly cold, and mostly barren, the ants seem to live in a state of near-starvation. They produce no queens, no males, and no offspring. The massive group tending the nest is entirely composed of non-reproductive female workers, supplemented every year by a new rain of unfortunate ants falling down the ventilation shaft.
Like most ant species, wood ants are tidy animals who remove waste from their colony. In the case of the bunker ants, most of this waste is composed of dead bodies. The researchers speculate that mortality in the "colony" is likely much higher than under normal circumstances. "Flat parts of the earthen mound [of the nest] and the floor of the adjacent spaces ... were carpeted with bodies of dead ants," write Czechowski and colleagues. This "ant cemetery" was a few centimeters thick in places, and "one cubic decimeter sample contained [roughly] 8,000 corpses," which led the researchers to suggest that there were likely 2 million dead ants piled around the nest mound. The sheer numbers of dead bodies suggest that this orphaned wood ant nest has been active for many years.
The ant graveyard is also host to a tiny ecosystem, where mites and a few other invertebrates feed on the bodies of the dead wood ants. The question is, what are the wood ants eating? It's possible they have figured out how to eat the creatures who feast in their cemeteries, essentially making them cannibals at one remove. But Czechowski and his team dismiss this as unlikely. It's also possible that there are nutrients growing in the bat guano from the ants' only living neighbors in the bunker. But in their years of observation, the scientists still haven't figured out for certain what the ants' source of food is.
Wood ants are known for surviving in harsh conditions, and they have been found on remote islands as well as living in small, closed boxes. And it's not impossible that this underworld colony could bloom into something more. In a previous experiment, Czechowski showed that orphaned wood ant colonies will adopt queens from related species. So if a queen ant fell down the pipe, she might join this colony and start reproducing. Unfortunately, however, without a steady food supply the ants probably wouldn't have enough energy to raise a new generation and keep the nest warm for them. So the only way this nest carries on is by waiting for a new rain of ants from the free colony above ground.
The paper's conclusion reads like a dystopian science fiction scene from the 1970s:
The wood-ant ‘colony’ described here – although superficially looking like a functioning colony with workers teeming on the surface of the mound – is rather an example of survival of a large amount of workers trapped within a hostile environment in total darkness, with constantly low temperatures and no ample supply of food. The continued survival of the ‘colony’ through the years is dependent on new workers falling in through the ventilation pipe. The supplement of workers more than compensates for the mortality rate of workers such that through the years the bunker workforce has grown to the level of big, mature natural colonies.
Life in an abandoned nuclear weapons bunker is nightmarish, even for the humble ant. It appears that the legacy of the Soviet occupation of Poland doesn't just haunt the country's human population. It has affected the social structures of insects too.
by ANNALEE NEWITZ