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One of the biggest annoyances while picnicking is ants. Ants are a group of colony-forming insects. They fall under the Hymenoptera, also known as Hymenoptera. Over the centuries, ants have been able to adapt to many different types of habitats. You find them virtually all over the world, making them one of the most successful animal groups.
That they are found worldwide also means that there are very many species of ants. About 12,000 in total. The species of ants are categorized by colony size, the number of queens at the head of the colony, the complexity of the ant colony and the habitat. In the Netherlands, a total of 183 species have been found in the wild, 77 of which are known to have been in the Netherlands for more than 10 years. The most commonly known species in the Netherlands are:
Haired wood ant
The hairy forest ant (Formica rufa) is also called the red forest ant, the females are reddish brown in color and the males completely black. Males give birth only during the mating season and die soon after.
Glossy wood ant
Yellow meadow ant
The yellow meadow ant (Lasius flavus) lives underground and is yellow in color, moving more slowly than other species of ants. Remarkably, not all yellow meadow ants grow to the same size within a nest.
Customary stinging ant
The common stinging ant (Myrmica rubra) is found in many habitats. This red species can achieve high nest densities in both dry and moist environments and is often the most dominant ant species. The common stinging ant is very aggressive and will go on the attack when the nest is disturbed where they can inflict painful stings.
Habitat of an ant
Ants are found throughout the world (except in water and polar regions) and depending on the species, they all have a different type of habitat they prefer. Think in the ground, in tree trunks, in treetops, in your garden, in meadows or in deserts. You can’t think of a better place to find ants. Except in winter, when they are underground.
Ants in the Netherlands
The same goes for the Netherlands, you can encounter them everywhere. Especially road ants you encounter a lot in your garden or on the street, these live in a nest under a tussock of grass or under stones. Some species like pharaoh ants prefer to come inside the house because it is warmer here.
Outward characteristics of an ant
Every ant species has antennae on its head. These antennae are their main sense organ that allows them to smell and feel. Most species also have eyes, but in a dark nest these are of little use to them and the antennae are more useful.
Like other insects, ants have a body divided into three segments with 6 legs underneath. In terms of construction, they are very similar to wasps, but smaller and without wings. However, the queen and males may have wings to perform the nuptial flight.
Ants live in colonies with one or more queens at the head. In addition, there are workers and sometimes young males. The workers have a variety of duties such as scout, soldier and nursemaid. When the nest is large enough, the larvae are raised into males and queens. In most species, these leave the nest when the time is right, often with warm and humid weather. In the air, the males mate with the queens. After this, the males die after which the queens go to find a new nest site.
What does an ant eat?
Ants are true omnivores. They eat fruit but also dead animals, such as other insects. Ants are especially fond of sweets and will also gravitate to sweets. Ants are very creative in gathering their food. There are species that protect and feed on lice. This is because the secretions of lice are very sweet and ants find this very tasty. The fondness for sweetness is also the reason you will encounter them when you are picnicking.
Enemies of the ant
An ant is a small animal and therefore has many natural enemies. Consider ant-eating snails, beetles, caterpillars but other ants can also be their enemies. It happens that some species infiltrate each other’s colonies. Small ants invade tunnels of large ants and steal food here.
What is also very dangerous for ants are pathogens (disease-causing agents). If such a pathogen settles in an ant colony, the whole society can become extinct. Of course, ants are also eaten by ant-eaters, but these are not found in the Netherlands.
Reproduction and longevity
An ant begins as an egg. If the egg is fertilized it becomes a diploid female, otherwise a haploid male. The egg becomes a pupa, larva and then adult. During the stages of the larva it is determined whether a female will become a worker or a queen, in some species this is due to the food they are given. Much research is currently being done on this.
Ant colonies can last a long time; queens can live up to 30 years. Workers live an average of 1 to 3 years. Males live only a few weeks. It is extraordinary that the queens live to this age, other insects of this size never live to this age.
Nuisances and diseases
It is not strange that ants visit our kitchens and gardens, but of course it is unsanitary and annoying. In winter, you often don’t realize you have ants in your home, but by the end of winter they can wake up under the house, especially if you also have underfloor heating. If you have an ant nest near your house, it will only get bigger. The workers go to work hard to find food for the larvae and to expand the corridors. Often you can’t find the underground ant nests without demolishing or digging.
Ants in the garden can’t hurt you, but in of your home, against the gable edge or under the crawl space can cause a nuisance. These ants can eat away the home’s insulations. Ants can also carry bacteria with them, but infection by these is virtually unheard of.
It is very difficult for an individual to control an ant nest. There are bait boxes with poison, but with these you kill only a small part of the colony. One possibility to control ants yourself is to use a pressure pump with toxic agents or to use boiling water, but it is difficult to get into all the nest chambers. If you are really bothered by a large ant colony, it is best to call in a professional.
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