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
6 things you didn't know about ants, and how to kill them
Ants are marvelous creatures.
They're organized, brave, strategic – and you may have heard about how certain ants can lift up to 50 times their body weight.
But here's where ants aren't so marvelous: In your home.
Ants are among the most-common household pests in the world, parading through the kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces of city dwellers and suburbanites alike.
Of course, it's easy to dismiss their presence as a harmless nuisance, but when you find them in your loaf of bread, swimming at the bottom of your lemonade or worse, tangled in your hair, a line has to be drawn.
The good news? Ants are fairly easy to eradicate if you take the proper measures, and according to a 2015 Raid® consumer survey, the majority of Americans (82%) say that they aren't afraid to handle the problem themselves.
However, as with any pest, the more you know about them, the smarter you can be when it comes to getting rid of them.
Here's some “ant-astic” trivia that can aid you in your next bout with those crafty, six-legged interlopers.
1. Who run the world?
Ants build sophisticated societies with a distinct and entrenched social order: The queen (or several queens, in some cases) is the colony's sole way to reproduce and most important member; the queen is guarded by a group of soldier ants, and the remaining population works to feed the colony.
Funny enough, most of the colony is female — soldiers and workers included. Male ants exist purely to mate, and then die shortly after.
Tip: Succession can be complicated. So when ridding your house of ants, your number one priority should be taking out the queen. Without reproductive resources, the colony will fold in no time.
2. Follow the leader
When you see ants marching across your kitchen counter in a straight line, it isn't because they think it looks fancy. Rather, each ant in the line is following a pheromone trail left by the first ant to ever travel that route. Pheromones are chemical signals that ants lay down to attract and guide other ants to locations, such as food sources. The more ants that use the trail, the stronger the pheromone scent becomes.
Tip: Pheromone trails make it fairly easy to predict where ants will enter and exit your home. Monitor popular ant thoroughfares and strategically deploy baits along those routes.
3. Only the good die young
You can have an ant infestation for a year and potentially never see the same ant twice. Ant colonies are built for longevity, and can survive as long as the queen continues to populate the community, but some worker ants, on the other hand, only have a life span of up to a month.
Tip: When controlling ant invasions in your home, it's important to focus on eliminating the source — not just the current wave making its way across your dinner table. Use baits to get active ingredients into the colony and kill ants where they hide.
4. Introducing the New York City of ant colonies
Each species of ant has its own unique chemical profile — kind of like a fingerprint — that allows colony members to identify their own and weed out intruders. However, that chemical profile doesn’t always end with a single "hill." Some ants, like the Argentine ant, have found their way into every continent on Earth except Antarctica. Since this species has multiple queens, it can bud off to inhabit a new geographic location, allowing a single colony to stretch across continents to establish massive populations.
Tip: Even if your baits successfully eliminate one colony, there may be others on the way. Once you've gotten ants out of your home, it's important to protect its exterior, both by shoring-up cracks and entry points as well as spraying barrier sprays.
5. They aren't just after your food
It's easy to get caught up in visions of ants escorting a full pot roast out your back door, but like most living things, ants are just as interested in your water as they are your food. Ants will both drink water they come across and transport some back to the colony to nourish the queen.
Tip: When ant-proofing your home, don’t just secure your food items — make sure the surfaces in your home, sinks included, are kept dry.
6. Creating a defense system is the best way to help control & kill ants
A sophisticated problem requires a sophisticated solution. As discussed, simply killing the ants you see will only help you in the short term. The best defense you can mount includes a variety of resources, including baits and on-contact sprays.
by mashable Australia
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
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 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
How do I get rid of ants?
Although ants generally don’t cause harm to people — they don’t carry disease, like some other pests — an infestation can be a major nuisance.
“Ants can be extremely persistent creatures, seemingly coming from nowhere and can be difficult to entirely get rid of,” says Kelly Garvin of Greenix Pest Control in Dublin, Ohio.
Fortunately, DIY and professional pest removal options are available.
REASONS FOR ANT INFESTATION
Ants typically invade your home for one reason: food. Most feed on sugary or greasy items.
Sugar ants — also called odorous house ants — are one of the most common ant invaders and among the first pests to show up in the spring. They’re about one-eighth of an inch or smaller and are attracted to food sources.
The common pavement ant, which is brown to black and about 1/10th of an inch long, will set up colonies near driveways or patios and then send out scouts to search for food in your home. They eat meat, grease, seeds, dead or live insects, and can sting and bite if disturbed.
Argentine Ants — about 4 to 4.5 mm long ONE size. Usually come into your house for food. Loves protein and fat, often found in your dishwasher or pantry.
Coastal Brown Ants- two sizes. Dark brown, loves protein often found in dishwasher. Two sizes one has a BIG head.
Knowing what type of ant you’re dealing with can help you prevent or combat an infestation.
KEEPING ANTS OUT
The first step to prevent an ant infestation: clean house. If you see scout ants in your home, kill them immediately. Make sure you don’t leave any food out and keep all kitchen surfaces clean.
If you continue to see ants, make sure you’ve closed off possible entry points, including sealing small cracks in your walls or under windows. Start by caulking potential entry points, such as window casings.
Next, you can lay down barriers like salt or talc under doors to turn ants away, or apply scents such as vinegar, peppermint oil or cinnamon. Bear in mind, however, that anything you put down will also be of interest to pets and children, so be careful what you use.
DIY METHODS FOR ANT REMOVAL
If ant explorers have morphed into a full-on colony, then you need a plan.
Start with soap and water. This will not only kill chemical trails, but any ants it touches. Add citrus to the water to increase its effectiveness.
You can also purchase pest sprays and baited ant traps from local grocery and hardware stores. These use a mixture of sugars and ant poison, such as boric acid to attract, trap and kill ants. Proceed with caution when using poison.
Bear in mind, too, that these traps won’t work on protein-feeders like Coastal Brown or Argentine Ants, since the sweetness won’t interest them.
In addition to trapping ants inside, you can also spray around the exterior of the home where the house meets the pavement or ground to prevent more ants from infiltrating, says David Anderson of Eastside Exterminators in Woodinville, Wash.
Garvin recommends spraying problem areas with a mixture of Windex, vinegar and water. She says spreading Diatomaceous Earth in carpeted areas around the bathroom is a safe and natural way to kill ants because it’s a food source.
“The Windex or vinegar is really a quick fix and not really that effective, but it will remove the immediate ants and wipe away their pheromone scent they use to follow trails,” Garvin says.
Dan Miles, owner of Total Exterminating in Indianapolis, suggests spraying all cracks around the baseboards and the base of the toilet if the infestation is in the bathroom.
HIRE A PEST CONTROL PROFESSIONAL
Large-scale infestations require assistance from a pest control professional.
Pros address ant problems by locating the colony itself; typically this starts by laying bait traps, which contain poisoned food taken back to the nest. Once found, exterminators can use a variety of techniques including chemical sprays to totally eliminate the ants in your home.
Modified from Tom Moor Article
"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