How Do Ants Communicate?

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Social Insects

  • Some insects, such as ants, bees, and termites, live in organized communities and are considered social insects. Ants are one of the most highly developed of the social insects. They live in colonies where their members are divided into a clearly defined caste system, which includes queens, workers and males. Each ant has its own purpose and duties within the colony. There are over 10,000 kinds of ants, with unique characteristics, such as the slave makers who raid the nests of other ants for their young, or dairying ants which capture certain insects and keep them to be milked of liquids. Ants will go to war and raid other ant colonies, even within their own type. Being a social insect, they must communicate with others within their colony, to send warnings of danger or signal the location of a food supply.

Sound

  • Ants that make their nests in leaves or plants will tap their gasters (the tail segment of the ant) against the outside wall of the nest to signal for danger or let their colony mates know they've discovered a food supply. This tapping will send vibrations through the nest. Some ants will make a squeaking or buzzing sound by rubbing segments of their bodies together. This sends signals to warn of danger or requests assistance in transporting food.

Scent

  • Ants also communicate by scent. They have glands located on the different segments of their body. From those glands they can release a chemical called a pheromone. The type of message they wish to convey--danger versus food--will determine which gland they will use to release the pheromone. They can also use pheromones to leave a trail, which will lead others in the colony to a newly discovered food supply.

Greeting

  • An ant colony may have just a few dozen members, or it can number in the millions. Since ants will raid even their own kind, it is important that members of a nest can identify others in their immediate community. When two ant come face to face, odor can be a factor in communicating their identity. Using their antennae, the ants will smell each other. After it is determined they are nest mates, they sometimes engage in a strange greeting ritual which involves the ants standing mouth to mouth. One ant then regurgitates a drop of liquid into the other ant's mouth.

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