Submitted to: Encyclopedia of Entomology
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/15/2003
Publication Date: 4/30/2004
Citation: Oi, D.H. 2004. Ants, an introduction to the formicidae. Encyclopedia of Entomology. v. 1. p. 120-126.
Technical Abstract: Ants compose one of the most highly evolved and dominant insect groups. They are among the largest families of insects in terms of the diversity of species and sheer numbers of individuals. Ants belong to the family formicidae, which consists of 16 subfamilies and 296 genera. They are found in all terrestrial regions of the world. Ants are omnivorous and mobile, allowing them to exploit a wide range of habitats. They play an important role in natural ecosystems by cycling nutrients, dispersing seeds, scavenging dead organisms, and preying on small invertebrates. In some instances they are directly beneficial to man by being major predators of pests of crops and livestock. There is a wide range of interesting life styles among species. These include mutualistic relationships with honeydew producing insects; leaf-cutting ants raising fungal food on substrate of chewed vegetation and feces; and, symbiotic relationships between ants and plants, where plants provide food and harborage and ants protect the plant from herbivores. Ants also have parasitic relationships between different ant species such as slavery. Many species of ants are extremely predatory, such as the nomadic army ants, while others are communal nest builders, displaying extraordinary cooperative behavior constructing nests with silk and vegetation. Ants that have high populations in areas utilized by man are often considered pests. Stinging ants are of veterinary and medical importance, while non-stinging ants may be a nuisance and a source of contamination. Invasive ant species thrive in non-native locations and eventually become the dominant faunal species by displacing native organisms. Controlling pest ants can be a difficult task given their broad habitat range, large populations, and a social organization that protects the queen(s). Ant baits are a major method of ant control. They utilize the foraging and nest mate feeding behavior of ants to distribute a toxicant throughout a colony. Other strategies include reducing availability of food resources, and the use of natural enemies of ants which are self-sustaining and can spread naturally. Effective control of pest ants generally requires the use of several control tactics adapted for a particular species and circumstance.