Ants look like smaller insects but have developed complex associations within the environment and build symbiotic relations with other creatures.
Why Are Ants Called Social Insects? Ants are called social insects because they prefer to live in groups and cooperate for larvae and queen care. They interact with the environment, fungi, plants, animals, and other insects. An ant colony has overlapping generations, and each species compete for resources.
Social insects interact with other living organisms and engage themselves in positive and negative relations, like mutualism and parasitism.
Moreover, they can also become predators when they get a chance to attack and cannot find any source of nutrition.
Preference to live in groups
They are social insects as they prefer to live in the form of groups within the same nest and generate colonies. Therefore, all colony members are dependent on each other for their survival.
These cannot live alone when they get lost due to the disruption of pheromone trails. Instead, they are connected to each other through chemical signals and reach their nest after foraging.
Every colony has a particular odor as they release specific chemicals or pheromones that can help them differentiate nest mates from foreign organisms.
Furthermore, every nest member knows its function after getting mature and performs nest activities in collaboration with each other till death.
Mutualistic association with plants
Most ant species develop a mutualistic association with plants to get food from different regions like fruits, leaves, and stems.
Plants provide nutrient-rich sap and fruits that help fulfill their dietary requirements. In addition, some plants have bugs and other insects, like aphids, that can become a food source.
Most commonly, you can find them living underground within deep roots without causing any noticeable damage to the plant. Instead, it results in efficient soil aeration and improved plant growth.
One of the prominent examples of mutualistic relations is between acacia plants and ants, which provide food and shelter and get protection from herbivores.
Additionally, it helps in seed dispersal to different regions as they take elaiosomes and throw seeds out of their nests that develop into a plant.
Overlapping of generations
Generational overlapping is commonly observed in eusocial organisms, as solitary, communal, and semi-social insects have no such overlapping phenomena in their colonies.
Overlapping of generations means old, adults, and young ones are present simultaneously within a colony. Two different generations co-exist at the same place in a colony due to a short lifespan.
Queens have a longer lifespan of 15 to 20 years, while the workers spend a few weeks to years with their mother and nest fellows.
However, males have quite a shorter lifespan compared to other members and live only for a few days to weeks and die within a short time.
All of them live together with the queen at different times as she lives longer than others, and the remaining members connect with each other for nest activities.
Interact with environment
Ants positively impact the environment as they perform various activities to keep the environment free of waste and improve the existence of life on the planet.
It interacts with dead bodies of organisms and consumes dead and decaying organic matter to get nutrition and keep the environment clean.
They consume organic waste material without differentiation, as they can consume rotting food leftovers, dead insects, and liquid waste.
Furthermore, they help maintain control over the garden and indoor pests by attacking these tiny creatures and even larger animals like baby birds and other animals.
Competitive interspecies interactions
Ants have interspecies competition and fight with other species to protect resources and nests. They cannot live with insects belonging to different colonies, as they are of territorial nature.
Moreover, they do not share food and nesting spots with any other organism, as they have to struggle enough to collect and bring food to the nest.
Their colonies do not accept any foreign insect in their nest, even if it gets lost, and cannot find a way back to the nest, as it risks their survival.
Even different species of ants have less tolerance against each other like; fire ants kill navigating black ants if it reaches close to their nest during random movement.
Commonly, there is a battle between red ants and black ants colonies because the former is more aggressive and does not tolerate any interference.
Cooperation for nutrition and care
Colony members coordinate with each other to find food and bring it back to the nest. The workers or foragers navigate territories to locate a food source and move to far areas.
These scouts or foragers release pheromones to call other members after finding a food source to return food particles to their nest. Collective efforts are required to haul heavy particles.
This cooperative behavior is a great example of their eusocial behavior because larger animals find and eat their prey individually.
In addition, these foragers give food to nursing members to feed the young ones and queens and take care of their nutrition and protection.
So, all of the functions in a colony are interrelated with each other, as queens are dependent on workers for food, and the colony’s survival is not possible without the queen, males, and larvae.
Interact with animals and insects
Ants interact with other insects for nutrition and become predators as they have to kill small or larger bugs to consume them.
They can kill smaller insects like spiders, caterpillars, and termites and larger animals like mice, dogs, and even larger elephants for their nutrition and safety.
Some species, like bullet ants, bulldog ants, and velvet ants, are even deadly for humans and sting or bite on the body to cause painful sensations or irritation.
However, a few herder species build mutual relations with aphids and other insects living on plants to get nutritious honeydew and provide protection to these soft-bodies organisms.
Close association with fungi
Leafcutter ants interact with fungi and live closely associated with a particular type of fungus. They grow fungus on the collected pieces of leaves for a breakdown of complex bonds.
They lack enzymes in their bodies to break the complex compounds in the cell wall of leaves and digest them; that’s why they have to grow fungi that break bonds between cellulose molecules.
Moreover, these insects maintain a moist environment to favor fungal growth by providing a suitable medium. It gives benefits in return as they have to make less effort to digest food.