A Brief History of Ants

Even though Antworks Pest Control prides itself on the removal and control of all sorts of pests, we started off specializing in some serious home defense against ants. Ants are fascinating creatures that have diverged into the 12,000 known species of resilient, hard-working bosses of the bug world. But as we know too well they are also extremely pernicious mainly down to the fact they have evolved constantly over the course of 150M years to meet environmental change. Let’s face it, you don’t get anywhere in this world if you’re not willing to ride the times!

These days, ants can be found on just about every landmass on Earth barring Antarctica and a few remote or inhospitable islands. Their success can be put down to their social organisation, ability to change their living arrangements quickly, seek resources, and – with some – defend themselves. All of this means that ants create one massive home defense and extermination issue worldwide; that goes for us here in Vancouver, WA too.

Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the Jurassic period and hit the big time after the rise of flowering plants and fruits in the spring of 100M years ago. While wasps went on to use their rear ends to deliver venom the ants used their’s to deliver new life. There are an estimated 22,000 species in the world with only half having been identified.

Over time, different ant species chose different ways of life; some burrowed, some lived on dead vegetation, and some lived in trees. Despite all sorts of climate change (including whatever killed off the dinosaurs) ants thrived. A 49.5M year-old fossil of a winged queen ant is testimony to their evolutionary success; discovered in Wyoming in 2011, Titanomyrma is a prehistoric giant ant about the size of today’s hummingbirds (3-5 inches long).

During the Cretaceous period ants were scarce in comparison to the populations of other insects making up only about 1% of the world’s bug population, but by the Oligocene and Miocene (100M years later), ants made up 20–40% of all insects found in major fossil deposits.

One of the biggest reasons ants can be so hard to control as a pest is their love of living together in colonies which can range in size from a handful of individuals to millions. This way of living is called Eusociality and is in fact the best type of social organisation that some believed was akin even to our own way of life. It’s thought that ants became grouped as eusocial insects through an evolutionary phenomenon which allowed them to work collectively to benefit the gene pool rather than themselves as individuals.

Colonies are exceptionally well-run affairs with castes (groups) all specialized in one particular area of nest maintenance including reproduction. Similarly to ants, termite colonies are eusocial but the two are not related except through a primitive biological line. Termites are thought to have existed 251M years ago, more than 100M years before ants; when ants were getting stuck into the new fruit craze, termites were already working on their caste system. Their colony habits are similar but only by coincidence; termites are actually more closely related to cockroaches and mantids.

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