What Is the Purpose of Ants?
All living beings or non-living things that exist in this world have their specific role in the ecosystem. Sometimes, things seem so insignificant that we fail to understand the purpose of their creation, such as the purpose of ants. Ants seem like they don’t do anything except invade our homes for food and shelter, but their lives are actually pretty fascinating.
According to Wikipedia, ants have been around for over 92 million years! With that much time on our planet, if the ant species were be completely wiped out, you could definitely expect an unbalanced ecosystem on Earth.
Ants on Earth
Like all living organisms, ants too have a purpose of life and existence, which is quite bigger than their size and our understanding. Ants are the most abundant insects on the earth and their total population is around one quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) with a ratio of one ant per 1000 insects. Their miniature size is compensated by their population, studiousness and their excellent management and discipline. The total mass of ants on earth is equal to total human weight on earth – yes, that’s astonishing but that’s a fact.
There are up to 12,000 types of ants in the world and each play specific role. Though their presence irks us sometimes, the purpose of ants is extremely beneficial for nature and play a vital part in the well-being of their surroundings. Ants provide a steady base to several habitats, numerous ecosystems will fail to thrive without ants and it would be awfully difficult to survive in an ant-less world.
The main purposes of ants and why they’re beneficial
Ants as predators:
Some experts rank ants among apex predators, but if not an apex predator, they still are one of the biggest predators that exist on earth. What do ants eat? Ants are omnivorous in nature and feed upon seeds, plants, decaying plants and animal material. It’s easy for them to take their food from their desired level; they can either get their food from the primary level of the food chain or from the higher tropical level, depending on their preference.
Ants favorite food also include eggs and larvae of insects like silverfish, bed bugs, flies, fleas, and cockroaches. Their predating nature helps a lot in reducing the population of these pests and other harmful creatures. Aggressive ants, like fire ants, have the capability to kill even bigger animals too. For example, through their toxic sting, they can kill avian pests, grasshoppers, rodents and locusts in no time.
Predatory nature of ants helps in controlling harmful pests; some ants feed upon termites, so exterminators can effectively use ants for termite annihilation.
Ants as prey:
Ants eat and are eaten too. They serve as the primary food source for several vertebrates and invertebrates.
Here are some creatures that feed on ants:
- Several insectivorous insects feed upon ants’ larvae and pupae.
- Arachnids like lizards, spiny anteaters, spiders, beetles and snakes
- Ants are part of the diet for numerous birds like starlings and sparrows.
- Amphibians, like wood frogs and red efts, are known for eating ants.
- Bears are known to attack trees in their search for carpenter ants’ larvae and pupae.
- Antlions – larva of damselfly insect – retort to extreme measures of digging pits in sands in their search for ants, so that they can eat them.
Interestingly, they even act as a food source for pitcher plant which is a carnivorous plant. Ants are attracted towards pitcher plant because of its nectar, leading them to fall into their trap. Water filled cavity and slippery sides prevent the ants from crawling out and eventually are digested by the plant’s enzymes.
Surprisingly and to some people, it may sound revolting that eating red ants is a routine among tribal people in China, Madhya Pradesh, and adjoining areas and they take their necessary dose of protein nutrients from them.
Ants as Scavengers:
The biggest and the most useful service that ants provide to nature is scavenging. Ants are known for collecting almost all sorts of decaying and dead matter with minor traces of protein or carbohydrates in them. It could be rotting meat, blood, dead nails, fallen dead skin or even hairs; ants enthusiastically collect them all every day, intake them as their food and turn those rotting matters into useful amino acids and proteins.
Symbiotic Relationships of Ants
Ants Helping Aphids
Ants are known for maintaining a mutualistic relationship with some species of aphids and trees. In this relationship, ants protect aphids from predators like ladybugs and lacewings. On plants and trees, aphids and ants live in close proximity, where not only they protect them from predators but during fungal outbreaks, ants protect aphids from dying by removing their infected body parts.
Ants in return get honeydew from aphids, on which they feed upon. Honeydew is basically a secretion of aphids and happens to be a favorite food of ants. Ants even milk aphids by stroking them with their antennas.
Ants Helping Plants
Besides aphids, ants also share a relationship with several plants and trees. They help in pollinating some species of plants and a strong symbiotic relationship exists between few flowering plants and ants. This relationship is so strong that some plants actually wait to bear fruits or bloom flowers until the ants become active.
Like aphids, ants also protect some sugar sap producing trees from harmful insects.
Another useful and notable role that ants play for the betterment of the ecosystem is aerating the soil. They are efficient in tilling the soil and digging the tunnels; they bring the pebbles, dirt, and particles to the top creating tunnels. These tunnels are very useful in giving a passageway to oxygen, nutrients, and rainwater and helping them reach the roots, as roots like all living things need oxygen and water for survival and growth.
Ants also assist in spreading seed. To eat the elaiosomes attached to the seeds, ants take them down into the tunnels they dig. Seeds when left there often sprouts and new plants grow at that place. Additionally, they also aid in dispersing seeds to new habitats, protect them from seed predators and droughts and also determine the germination rate of seeds.
Ants Are Efficient Cleaners
Ants as feed upon decaying matter, so they clean the soil from the rotting and dead organisms lying there by eating them. They are efficient natural decomposers because of their intake of dead animals, insects, and organic waste.
Purpose of Carpenter Ants
Carpenter or wood-eating ants are quite threatening for the wood structure of your home or building that you could rate them as harmful pest species. But in reality, these harmful and dangerous ants also have a positive purpose of existence.
Carpenter ants are a great source of returning the dead and raw wood back to the soil. They usually make nests in diseased or dead wood and accelerate its decomposing process.
Where Would We Be Without Ants?
Contrary to their apparent size, ants have larger duties to perform, from guarding their fellows to cleaning surroundings and dispersing seeds; they have to do a lot in their small lifetime. So, unless you are facing serious ants infestation, let them perform their ecological duties and fulfill their roles in our Earthly environment.
If you are however experiencing an ant infestation in the kitchen or bathroom of your home, contact a local exterminator near you who can handle the problem accordingly.***