Ants have been crawling around, building colonies, and terrorizing much larger organisms since the Cretaceous period, thriving for 100 million years before biting your toe at backyard picnic. They not only endured the catastrophic asteroid impact that obliterated the dinosaurs, but they exist in the quadrillions today, making them one of those most prevalent creatures on the planet.
Well, scientists have recently discovered a colony of ants so unbelievably big that it defies reason…
Check it out from Mother Nature Network:
“Ants are everywhere, but only occasionally noticed,” biologist E.O. Wilson wrote in “The Ants,” his Pulitzer-winning 1991 book about the insects. “They run much of the terrestrial world as the premier soil turners, channelers of energy, dominatrices of the insect fauna — yet receive only passing mention in textbooks on ecology.”
Every ant colony is a wonder of nature, but Argentine ants have upped the ante. The species is “unicolonial” — which means individuals can freely mix among physically separate nests — and after humans accidentally introduced it to five new continents, it set up an empire. This intercontinental “megacolony” consists of multiple regional “supercolonies,” each of which is a network of allied but unconnected nests.
The largest-known supercolony, the European Main, stretches about 6,000 km (3,700 miles) from Italy to Portugal. Another, the California Large, spans more than 900 km (560 miles) in the U.S. West. Despite the vast distance between them, both are part of the same empire, scientists say, along with a third supercolony in Japan.
How do we know? Ants are territorial, and tend to fight members of their own species if they come from another colony. Yet while supercolonies include many distinct nests, ants within a supercolony treat each other like family — even if their homes are far apart. Scientists can test the size of a supercolony (or megacolony) by introducing ants of the same species from farther and farther away until they fight.
“[T]he enormous extent of this population,” marvels a 2009 study on the Argentine ant megacolony, “is paralleled only by that of the human society. That’s high praise, but the study also points out these ants relied on human transportation to establish their empire. And like humans, Argentine ants are notorious for wreaking havoc when they arrive in a new ecosystem: The invasive species often obliterates native ants, and without taking over the ecological services its predecessors performed.
So the next time you feel a sting on your toe when you’re loafing around the backyard, just remember: these little guys have been here a lot longer than we have.
The ant is looking up at you and thinking, “I wish this guy would get out of my yard!”
What do you think? Ants: friend or foe?