Although individually ants are small insects, they are very familiar, partly on their ability to inflict painful bites but mainly because of the huge number in which they occur and their highly developed social organization. In this last characteristic, they more nearly approach man than does any other animal group, even including the bees and the wasps. An added advantage is that, in spite the large numbers of and large distribution; there are only 36 British species so that identification offers little difficulty. Not surprisingly for animals living in highly organized communities, the nests of ants harbor many visitors that may be slave’s symbionts parasites predators or just casual inhabitants of the same piece of ground.
Studies of their relationships are not only fascinating to me, but also there is the distinct possibility of making a new discovery or adding details to a behavior that is already known. An ant’s nest is particularly fascinating. Artificial nest for the study of ants was described by Swammerdam as long as 1737. In the late 1800s, others, using glass and plaster of Paris respectively, were designed by Lubbock and Janet. Since then, many others have been tried using the same general principles separately or in combination
Nest for the Myrmica rubra and other species of ants that nest in the soil
I studied the Red Ant (Myrmica rubra) to begin with, not only because this type of nest is particularly suited to it but also because it is very common and widely distributed and the queens, workers, eggs, larvae, and pupae are extremely easy to collect for stocking it. The reason for this is that species often builds its nest immediately under a flat stone or piece of wood so that when the stone or wood is lifted, the uppermost part of the nest lie exposed
When a nest under a stone is located and exposed, the whole colony will become very active and the queens will be hustled away by the workers. The queens can be recognized by their having larger and more shiny bodies than the workers.
In the early part of the year, the exposed part will be seen to consist of well defined runs and one or two chambers containing, if the workers have not already carried them off, eggs and perhaps larvae and even pupae. Much depends on how advanced the nest is, which in turn depends on the weather, soil type and soil conditions. Any parts of the nest lower in the ground will have the same general characteristics as those seen at the surface.
Mode of life
The great activity noticed in the nest when it is exposed looks aimless; worker ants can be seen hurrying in all directions, many of them carrying eggs or larvae, yet it is surprising how soon only few strugglers are left. The eggs and larvae already in the nest as early as April will probably develop into more workers but, later, eggs destined to become males or young queens will be laid by the mature queens. It is not possible to recognize these eggs, or the larvae that hatch from them, for what they are, but the pupae of the queens, and to a lesser extent the males, are larger than those of the future workers. When young queens and males emerge as adults, they have wings, unlike the wingless workers, but they remain in the nest for some time. Then, generally on a hot, and often sultry, day there is great activity and excitement in the nest as the virgin queens and males leave for their nuptial flights. The queens are considerable bigger than the males and have no difficulty in carrying them, which is what they do in the nuptial flight. The flare-up of activity in the nest often coincides with that in other nests, including those of other species.
Copulation normally takes place on the wing. But pairs can occasionally be seen mating on the ground.
In addition to the kind of characteristics seen in the red ant, several others are possible for the Wood Ants because of their large size and different behaviors. They discharge formic acid which is crucial in the capture transport and consumption of small caterpillars or feeding of the larvae. The males have smaller heads, and longer antennae than the young queens. It is important to note that the wood ant serves a useful purpose in destroying enormous numbers of defoliating caterpillars, for example, those of Tortix spp.