Is it wrong to kill an ant?

Ants Hardworking workers and ice-cold murderers

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Ants carry more than a hundred times their weight. Several million of them live in gigantic buildings. Some of the insects are nurses, some are gardeners - and some are freezing killers.

Status: 02.12.2019

Only at first glance do the anthills look like total chaos. Because ants organize their millions of states tightly: Everything is regulated, from the building plan to hygiene and communication to death. Some species of ants even keep lice and grow mushroom gardens. Every animal has its task in the social ant colony, which can often be recognized by its body structure.

Always follow the ant's nose

Hold on - mark with scent - let kill

The key to the success of such a gigantic structure is communication in the ant colony. Nothing works here without a division of labor and exchange. The ants use scent traces to pass on information about food, enemies or building materials. Sometimes these also serve to kill rivals in your own nest in order to secure your own candidate for the queen.

The red wood ant is one of an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 species of ants that crawl across the earth. The insect is on the red list in Germany, depending on the region as "endangered" or on the warning list.

Scout ants as trace layers

Ants and aphids

If the scout ant discovers a tasty source of food, it sprays out a dotted scent trail on the way and distributes samples when it returns to the burrow. Other ants "smell the roast", follow the scent trail and intensify it each time. The more scented a path, the more the insects follow it. A recipe for success, because this is how many ants get to where combined forces are needed. But it also works the other way round: If the path to the food is blocked, the insects leave fewer scent marks and the congestion density decreases. With the more direct variant of the traffic radio, following ants are simply pushed onto another, free path.

Small talk with the ant rump

If odor paths are lost due to fire or flooding, the ants are momentarily blind. But in no time at all, the insects lay out new tracks. In an emergency, ants can also sense important information: for "small talk" they also like to use vibrations or touches generated with their abdomen.

Chunks of resin keep bacteria away from the state

Anthill of the little red wood ant

Not only are the ants' ways of communication sophisticated, but also their structures. Chunks of resin are distributed on the hill. These contain active ingredients against fungi and bacteria and disinfect the ants before they crawl into the burrow. Anthills consist of underground passages that allow short transport routes and a sophisticated ventilation system that regulates the carbon dioxide and oxygen content in the building.

Intelligent ant builder

Grass cutter ants build their structures in a particularly spectacular way: chimneys, cooling towers, vestibules and compost chambers ventilate and cool their nests. Brazilian scientists made visible the gigantic dimensions that an ant burrow can take. They poured out a grass cutter ant's nest with cement and dug it out. The building was 50 square meters and eight meters deep.

Live together, die alone

Life in an ant burrow is intelligently organized - up to and including death: The scientists at the University of Regensburg have found out that sick ants leave their nests shortly before death and die in solitude. Voluntary. Their selfless behavior serves to preserve the species: the insects move away so as not to infect the other nest inhabitants.

Invasion of the Argentine ants

But the millions of years old balance of our ants is threatened. An extremely aggressive intruder is spreading: the Argentine ant. In search of food and a nest, she is not fussy. Argentine ants can easily adapt to almost any environment. Once they have settled in somewhere, you can't get rid of them. Several queens share the chambers per nest, 15 to 20 of them are in a colony. Having more queens also means more offspring and thus more clout when fighting other ants - and more noses when foraging. So the power of the Argentine ant is strengthened more and more. In some areas of France the Argentine ants have already destroyed all native ants.

Climate change favors spread

Immigrants find ideal living conditions in the climatically mild Mediterranean region. They are actually at home in Argentina in South America. At the beginning of the last century, however, many of them traveled across the Atlantic to Europe as stowaways on board merchant ships. In Madeira, the insects formed the first extended family. Then they landed on the mainland. Our winters are still too cold for immigrants. However, due to climate change, individual winters are also milder in our country - this opens the door to uninvited guests.

"We have to reckon with the worst. We cannot say that the fact that they have not yet appeared in Germany protects us forever from these ants establishing themselves here as well."

Volker Witte, Professor of Zoology at the Technical University of Munich

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