We can see piles of sand or soil in the backyard or garden that show the effort of tiny ants living under the ground as they can efficiently displace the fine particles.
Why Do Ants Dig Up Sand? Ants dig up sand to make an entryway to nest, recruit soldiers, exchange food, avoid contact with predators, regulate temperature, and grow fungus. They use legs or mandibles for digging and reach almost 20 to 25 feet deep under the ground. Worker ants usually do this and create nests, while queens and males are not involved.
Ants can cause damage to property aesthetics, foundations, and garden landscapes because they can displace soil particles and chew hard concrete material with their mandibles.
Accordingly, you have to spread the cinnamon powder and spray a white vinegar solution into the sand to repel these insects hidden under brickwork and concrete slabs.
Why are ants digging up sand?
There are different reasons for these insects to dig up sand and reach areas under the ground. It can be their natural desire to make nests on the ground or under the ground and live there.
Make an entryway to nest
Most probably, ants are making their way to a nest when you see them digging up sand above the ground. The colony workers make an effort to pile up fine particles of soil around their nest.
It helps provide a route to the deeper nest and functions like a lobby in a building. These entryways to nest usually contains piles of sand and plant matter to maintain their structure.
These piles serve many different functions according to their size as it provides a distinct route for the foragers to bring the food inside and reach the inner chambers of nests.
Moreover, they have to enter a mound or a raised pile to reach the internal chambers.
Place for recruitment of soldier ants
The mounds or raised piles of sand on the nests serve as checkpoints where the soldiers are recruited to check the incoming insects by detecting their body odors.
It is essential to check the entering insects to defend a colony because this checking helps keep predators away from the deep nest chambers having food resources or eggs.
In addition, these checkpoints help detect the contaminating particles attached to the bodies of nest members to avoid sanitary risks.
Moreover, the recruited soldiers usually differentiate diseased nest members from healthy ones and restrict their entries to avoid the risk of disease transfer in the colony.
So, these tiny insects usually dig up the sand or soil on the ground surface to create a spot for recruiting soldiers responsible for avoiding sanitary risks.
Build a spot for exchanging food
Every foraging worker cannot coordinate with the whole colony to pass the food down to the colony, so the mounds serve as a spot for exchanging the food particles.
These insects remove the loaded particles from their backs or mouths and leave them in an entryway. After that, they leave anthills and go back to the food source to bring more food.
Other members in a colony or particularly workers are responsible for taking these unloaded food particles from entryways to the nest and storing them inside chambers.
So, the piles of dirt or mounds help exchange food with the workers that are usually present in the entryway and wait for foragers to come and unload the particles.
These workers are also responsible for collecting information about the external conditions and sharing the information with other insects deep in the nests to work in a coordinated manner.
Avoid contact with predators
Ants build small to large mounds by digging up sand and making raised piles a few feet higher from the ground surface, depending on the size of the nest population.
The predators make efforts to reach inside the intricate chambers within the nests to attack the food resources and newly hatched eggs.
It is challenging for predators that can mask their bodies with an odor of the colony by touching the nest members and getting entries.
Accordingly, these territorial insects develop strategies to keep predators away from their stored food or eggs and build an entryway to reduce the chances of attack.
The soldiers recruited at the checkpoint within mounds check the entries within nests and allow only the nest members to enter the inner chambers.
Regulate the temperature
They dig up the sand around their nests to regulate the temperature of their bodies, as it helps protect insects from harsh external and internal conditions.
These piles can provide a suitable spot for the workers when the external temperature is more than 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and they need a shady environment.
In the same way, these insects can come up to the mound on the sunny days of winter to enjoy the sun’s warmth because the underground nests do not receive light rays.
Accordingly, this behavior helps avoid the sun’s hot rays, which can increase internal temperature and prevent flooding of nests because the rainwater cannot reach directly inside channels.
So, the nest members can come up on the ground from chambers to enjoy the warm weather in winter, while the navigating workers can enjoy shady space while foraging in hot weather.
Growth of fungus
Some scientists confirmed that a few fungus-growing species, like Trachymyrmex septentrionalis, are involved in digging the sand.
It can displace a large amount of particles from the ground surface and build raised mounds on the nest to create a platform for fungus growth.
A scientific study of the behavior of these ants confirms that approximately 600 to 800 kilograms of sand particles were collected by these insects above the ground over a year.
How do ants dig up sand?
Ants are strong creatures on the planet that can carry heavy weight and dislodge the particles of sand when they have to build entryways for a nest.
They have powerful jaws to break the hard concrete and displace the fine particles while creating raised mounds to protect the internal chambers from rain and the sun’s hot rays.
Moreover, most colony workers participate in this task because digging up the sand and building raised mounds takes a lot of time and effort.
Accordingly, the queens and drones do not participate in this process because their only function is to reproduce and lay eggs.
The workforce uses mouthparts or jaws to pick the particles in their mouth and throw them on a desired spot and make piles. They also add some plant material while constructing anthills.
Most commonly, the pyramid, Texas leafcutter, harvester, argentine, red imported fire, and Allegheny mound ants build such mounds by digging up the ground.
How deep do ants dig up sand?
The height or depth of mounds depends on the species of ants, as a few of these insects build barely noticeable mounds, while others make bigger structures.
These insects dig up sand particles and create wide mounds by piling up the particles to a distance of several feet. To maintain heat, they build almost 2 to 4 feet wide mounds around their nests.
In addition, these piles can reach a height of almost 2 to 3 feet on average, while Formica species are known to build the biggest mounds reaching a height of 8 to 12 feet.
The depth of mounds is around 6 to 8 feet, while the internal nests are usually deeper, and the tunnels reach almost 20 to 25 feet under the ground.