Thousands of insects worldwide have varying body features and behavioral characteristics, so a distinct order of Hymenoptera for ants helps differentiate them from others.
Why Are Ants Hymenoptera? Ants are Hymenoptera because they have four membranous wings, a narrow waist, compound eyes, modified ovipositor, and polymorphic colonies. Moreover, they have biting or chewing mouthparts and are pollinators of plants. They have small or medium size bodies and go through complete metamorphosis.
Small to medium-sized arthropods are part of the order Hymenoptera, having stinging potential, wings, and biting mouthparts that are not found in other orders.
What makes an ant a Hymenoptera?
Ants belong to the Hymenoptera order because their body features and behavioral characteristics are similar to the insects that are part of this order.
Four membranous wings
The word Hymenoptera is a combination of two Greek words, “Hymen” and “Pteron,” which mean membrane and wings.
Accordingly, this order comprises organisms with two pairs of thin, transparent, and varying-sized membranous wings.
Ants belong to this order because they have membranous wings attached to their thorax region by a short flexible muscle or hook-like structure, allowing them to engage in a flexible flight.
Thorax is subdivided into prothorax, mesothorax, and metathorax, and a pair of front or backside membranous wings are firmly attached to the last two segments.
The forewings are bigger than the hindwings and provide maximum power for flight because smaller hindwings have less powerful muscles.
However, the hindwings can give some support in flight by providing an additional surface area to generate better lift in the air by synchronizing the movement.
So, they are part of the order Hymenoptera because they possess membranous wings, which is a primary characteristic of members of this group.
The Hymenopterans have a narrow waist as their bodies are divided into 3 distinct segments. In the same way, you can identify ants by a constriction between the thorax and abdomen.
These insects develop their waist during the pupa stage when they get a constriction between the abdomen or thorax when a small part of the abdomen becomes the waist after pressing against the thorax.
This constriction gives a narrow shape to their waist that makes them look like termites, but the segments of their elbowed antennae create the difference between these two insects.
Moreover, their thin waist is known as the petiole, which is the region between the gaster and mesosoma. You can find this prominent feature among all ants distributed throughout the world.
Mouthparts and compound eyes
They are included in the order Hymenoptera because they have biting or chewing mouthparts to cut the food particles into small sizes that are easy to swallow.
Their mouthparts include mandibles, maxillae, labrum, and labium, commonly present in other insects belonging to this order.
Moreover, their mandibles are sharp and curvy that can pierce through the skin and cause bites. It helps defend against predators’ attacks as their bites are painful.
In the same way, ants can chew larger particles using teeth or mandibles because they cannot eat a larger earthworm at once without breaking it into smaller parts.
Most of them have compound eyes consisting of multiple lenses for a better view of an object but give a blurred image due to lower resolution.
Pollinators of plants
The Hymenopterans are active pollinators of plants, and ants exhibit this feature without any intention because they reach plants’ flowers to consume nectar.
Accordingly, the sticky pollens attach to their waxy exoskeletons and reach other plants when these insects move from one plant to another.
Myrmecophily is the term used for pollinating the flowering plants by these tiny ants when they visit the floral parts and come in direct contact with anthers.
Some common plants pollinated by herbivorous species of these insects are alpine nailwort, small stonecrop, and cascade knotweed, as they preferably reach low-growing flowers.
This can be considered a mutualistic relationship with plants when these insects consume floral nectar and transfer pollens to other plants.
Hymenopterans usually have polymorphic colonies comprising members with slightly varying physical and biological features.
Similarly, ants have polymorphic colonies as their nests contain three different castes of members. Most of their population consists of workers that are sterile females and perform nest activities.
They have male drones and female queens that are reproductive members of the colony having wings on their bodies, unlike workers.
Such polymorphic colonies have a proper division of tasks depending on their caste, as workers do not reproduce, so they forage for food and feed other inactive members of the colony.
However, the queens and males do not leave the nest for foraging and go out only at the time of mating when they have to reproduce and raise the colony population.
The members of the order Hymenoptera, including ants, undergo complete metamorphosis, which means their lifecycle involves 4 phases: egg, larvae, pupa, and adult.
They do not skip the larval stage and pass through several instar and pupa stages to become adults. The female queens produce multiple tiny eggs at once that appear oval in shape.
Moreover, these eggs hatch into larvae and look like a worm with no eyes and legs. They consume food and pass through several molting stages to become pupa.
The pupa is white in color and looks like an adult insect, but its legs and antennae are in folded forms. The pupa grows into an adult after unfolding its legs and antennae.
They are commonly known as stinging insects as they have a modified ovipositor, an egg-laying organ in female insects belonging to this order.
The stinging organ known as the stinger protrudes from the abdominal end and helps in piercing the skin tissues when the insects inject it.
Ants also possess a stinger of varying length that helps in sawing and stinging prey or predators. It works like a needle that injects venom from the poison gland into the prey’s body.
All the insects possessing a modified ovipositor are included in this order and are mainly known for their stinging potential.
What type of insects belongs to Hymenoptera?
Hymenoptera is a large order containing a large number of insects belonging to a group of wasps, ants, hornets, sawflies, and bees.
Some of these insects are beneficial for the environment as they play a role in pollinating plants, like bees and a few species of ants that carry pollens to different plants.
In addition, these are also good at killing crop pests, causing damage to crops on a large scale. They protect fruit, leaves, and other parts by killing pests and increasing yield.
However, they also promote the growth of a few sap-sucking insects producing honeydew to eat their sweet and sticky excretions.
Thousands of ant species belong to this group, including the carpenter, fire, argentine, sugar, pavement, bullet, bulldog, or velvet ants, and many others.
What is the family of ants belonging to the order Hymenoptera?
Almost 91 families in the order Hymenoptera contain different genera of ants, wasps, and bees. It is also divided into two sub-orders, and ants belong to Apocrita.
In addition, they belong to the family Formicidae, which comes under the order Hymenoptera, and this family is further subdivided into 21 sub-families.
These insects are classified into sub-families for easier identification because they all have different morphological and behavioral characteristics.
Moreover, some common sub-families of these insects are Ponerinae, Dolichoderinae, Formicinae, Myrmecinae, etc.
These sub-families are divided into multiple genera and species for better differentiation, like Formicinae having genus Camponotus, Oecophylla, and Paratrechina.