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Ant behaviour is a very fascinating type of behaviour, from the way they communicate to the way they go in search of a place to nest and find food. We have all watched ants crawl in what seemed to be an organised string line. You might wonder why they crawl in a line. Most species of ants use special chemical signals called pheromones in order to send communication signals across. When worker ants go forage for food. They leave a trail of pheromones for other ants to follow.
When the worker ant has left this trail, other ants follow and release more pheromones to make the signal stronger and more attractive to other ants. Ants can tell how popular a route is, based on the amount of pheromone the trail has. Some species of ants also have an alarm pheromone which stands to let the other ants know that some of them have been killed.
When ants need a new place to nest, they send out explorers to find a suitable location to establish a nest. After finding a nesting place, the explorers return and use pheromones to send out the message to other ants so that they can have a look at the newly found place. If those ants agree with the explorer ants regarding the place, they turn back to the colony and repeat the process with other ants.
When it comes to finding food, ants have an interesting sense of smell. They are known to have four to five times more odour receptors than most other insects. The odour receptors of ants are located in their antennae. Depending on the type of ants they are, ants can eat a variety of food from meat to sugar and fats.
The ants’ antennas are the keys to how ants communicate. With the help of their pheromones, ants can smell a wide range of activities such as colony activity to territorial conquests. Each colony of ants carries its own unique set of pheromones, making it possible to be able to distinguish their own from others.
When it comes to sending out food signals, ants follow the same approach of leaving pheromones. The ant which finds the food thickens the trail so that other ants which are in search of food can abort the mission and follow the trail for a source of food. The ants who receive this signal thicken the trail so that other ants can know where to find food when the food source is exhausted, the ants stop marking a trail and the scent slowly disappears.
Just as humans, some ant colonies use body language to communicate, they do this by lightly touching or stroking the receiver. Ants also use sound to communicate, this is commonly unknown to people due to its low resonance. Ants can produce different sounds by scraping their legs on a washboard-like part in their bodies to accomplish different sounds. when a worker ant has been trapped somewhere, the ant uses sound like a distress call, sending a signal of its location to other worker ants, this type of communication cannot be achieved by pheromones.
When an ant is crushed, it emits an alarm pheromone which sends a message to the nearby ants that they should attack, this alarm also sends a signal to other ants from further away to come and attack. It is beloved that certain ants even go as far as using propaganda pheromones to confuse enemy ants and cause them to fight amongst themselves.
Pheromones are produced by different types of structures including Dufour’s glands, poison glands and glands on the hindgut, pygidium, rectum, sternum and hind tibia.