Basic biology and ecology of ants

Noel B. Tawatao, Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation Universiti Malaysia Sabah
Ants are eusocial insects belonging to the family Formicidae of the order Hymenoptera. They are characterized by cooperative brood care, overlapping generations of workers within the colony and a highly developed caste system (Wilson 1971). The caste system is composed of one or more reproductive females (queen(s)), a few numbers of reproductive males and many workers, which are pre-dominantly evident in and around their nest. All ants live in colonies and each caste performs a specialized task in maintaining and defending the whole colony. From the laying of eggs by the queen, ants grow into larvae and develop into adults. Inside the colony, you will notice hundreds of workers roaming around the galleries and tunnels of their nest. They are mainly responsible in performing daily routine activities such as collecting food, tending and feeding the immature, maintaining and defending the colony. Interestingly, the workers in the colony have more specialized tasks, they show a highly developed division of labor. Younger workers normally stay in the nest tending immatures while older workers forage outside the nest searching for food and constructing and excavating the soil to either extend old or establish new nests. Ants are among the invertebrates with a well-developed communication system that has led to a better understanding of their social organization (Hoelldobler & Wilson 1990). Ants have developed a chemical form of communicating since most of them have poor eyesight, in some cases they have even no eyes. They communicate through semiochemicals known as pheromones secreted in their exocrine gland. The pheromones are released as signals of either alarm, attraction or recruitment, caste determination, recognition and sexual communication (Hoelldobler & Wilson 1990). The high diversity of ants in tropical rainforest ecosystem has influenced their functional variations making them one of the most important invertebrate groups in forest. They act as decomposers, pollinators, soil engineers, predators and indicators of environmental changes. Their interaction with other organisms has also contributed to the complexity and sustenance of ecosystems.

Hölldobler B, Wilson EO (1990) The Ants. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Wilson EO (1971) The insect societies. Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA. 548 p.


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