We have seen ants moving in trails while going toward their food source, but sometimes, they also huddle together in their nests or open spaces.
Why Do Ants Huddle Together? Ants huddle together when they have to collect heavy food particles, maintain body temperature, protect queens, carry dead ants, and engage in nuptial flight. In addition, they can be preparing for overwintering, getting ready for a battle, and trying to avoid flooding and attacks.
A group of insects usually huddle together for safety because their crowd makes predators fearful of aggressive responses from them, leading to a lesser risk of attacks.
Many types of ants show huddling behavior as workers and swarmer of every colony engage in this type of physical activity for different reasons.
What causes ants to huddle together?
They make a cluster by aggregating at a place for different reasons; they can be planning to attack their opponent for defensive or invading purposes.
Moreover, ants are social insects and usually engage in collective activities when many insects collaborate to perform a particular function for improved efficiency.
Collect heavy food
Ants forage in groups and make long foraging trails by releasing chemicals or pheromones. These chemical secretions help connect following insects with the leading ant in a trail.
Some species can also forage individually by dispersing in different directions while looking for possible food sources. They send a signal to fellow insects after finding a potential food source.
In addition, all foraging workers navigating the territory detect these signals and reach there to collect the food particles.
So, a cluster of ants commonly forms around the juices or food particles on the floor. Moreover, they can also reach fellows when the size of particles is bigger than their carrying limit.
They huddle together to help each other in hauling the heavy loads because it ultimately benefits the whole colony when they bring food back to their nests.
Preparing for overwintering
You can see ants huddling together during cold weather because this behavior helps maintain the body temperature of these cold-blooded insects.
The bodies of individual insects are more exposed to cold air in winter, but exposure to air reduces when they are present close to each other.
Their metabolic processes generate heat, and grouping helps them retain heat within the nest when the workers form a group by aggregating together at one spot.
It is one of the prominent overwintering strategies in these insects when their metabolic rates are slower than the normal rate due to the lesser availability of food.
Therefore, they huddle together to avoid thermal loss from a nest, which helps improve their fitness to the environment as they have less tolerance to low temperatures.
Protect the queen ant
Some ants are known to build a living shelter by interlocking their bodies because they do not build permanent nests and keep moving to different locations.
Accordingly, they create living shelters to protect the queens and smaller insects from attacks, as there is an increased risk of attacks in open areas.
Army ants make such shelters in which almost 0.5 to 0.7 million insects participate as workers of their colony huddle together and make a large elliptical mass.
Moreover, a large group of army ants spread over an area of around 3 to 4 feet as this mass contains thousands of insects.
However, you can also observe such aggregation inside colonies because many workers are particularly assigned to remain close to queens and take care of their eggs.
Carry the dead ants
They are responsible creatures as they show concern toward their nest mates, whether they are alive or dead, because these are naturally protective of their fellows.
Accordingly, they can reach areas after detecting the signals a threatened or deceased member releases as their bodies release specific chemicals to ask for help.
These insects huddle together at places where a deceased fellow is present when they detect the release of chemical secretions or oleic acid from their bodies.
Ants carry their dead fellow on their backs with collective effort and pile them in a graveyard or cemetery close to their nests.
Engage in nuptial flight
Swarming behavior leads to the clustering of ants when the reproductive males and females come out of their nests and gather together in open places like sidewalks.
This is common during summer and spring seasons when they have to engage in a nuptial flight for mating purposes. It ensures that every winged male and female gets a chance to reproduce.
They do not have to struggle to look for their mates after huddling together in one place, and they can easily look for compatible partners to mate with.
Furthermore, they release chemicals to attract their partners and fly higher in the sky to find a safe spot and transfer sperm to the female ootheca.
Getting ready for battle
They prefer to attack in groups when there is a bigger predator on the opponent’s side, as they can efficiently fight and get success in large numbers.
Moreover, they attack termite-infected wood to build their nests, so they have to fight with termites living in the moist and rotting wood log to establish their colonies.
In the same way, they usually engage in deadly battles against intruders when someone interferes with their colonies or disturbs their activities.
So, they can be getting ready for the battle when you see them huddling together out of their nests. It can signal the predator to stay away from their territory, particularly if it is alone.
Trying to avoid flooding
It is not possible for an individual ant to resist the flow of water after rain because they have lighter bodies. Accordingly, they devise survival strategies to avoid the risk of flooding after heavy rain.
Some ant species huddle together for survival and make a raft when these insects attach their mouth and legs to each other to build a larger structure.
Moreover, their body mass increases when they gather and connect with each other to prevent the risk of being flooded with rainwater.
How do I get rid of a cluster of ants?
It is essential to get rid of clusters of ants if you want to avoid structural damage and crop loss because their group poses a threat to house foundations and fields.
A group of these insects huddling together can be troublesome for the owner because these stinging pests can cause stings or painful bites to people and pets.
You can disperse the cluster of ants from the plant surface by spraying water from a garden hose, as they cannot resist high-pressure water spray.
It is not a permanent solution, but it helps keep them away from plants for some time. They can return if the water on the ground dries completely or if they find food spills.
You have to remove their nests for a permanent solution as they keep coming back to the spot if there is an entrance to their nests.
Moreover, baiting is considered an ideal solution to deal with their population because a crowd of workers draws towards the sweet baits of boric acid and consume it.
It leads to the transfer of bait’s toxic chemicals, which can cause the death of these huddling ants, including queens, within a day or two. Use insecticidal sprays to deal with a group of ants at once in a short time.