The ant belongs to the Formicidae family and to the same order [order: Hymenoptera] as ants, bees, and wasps. Ants evolved 150 million years ago. The ant is present on all continents, particularly in tropical climates. It varies in length from approximately two to 25 millimeters. Like most insects its body is divided into three sections: head, chest and abdomen. Ants live in a complex social order in which individuals function for the good of the whole. Ant society is divided into “castes” consisting of fertile females called “queens,” sterile females known as “workers,” and males, which can be workers or soldiers. Ants are known for being industrious. They build nests known as anthills, networks of interlocking chambers that are used as bedrooms and repositories for fertilized eggs and food. Tunnels connect all the chambers together. Most ants are omnivorous, though some species have specific dietary needs. Red harvester ants, for example, feed only on cereal seeds. Others, called leaf-cutter ants, cultivate mushrooms within their own nests. Mating between queen ants and males occurs during the “nuptial flight.” The virgin queens mate with males and then land to start a new colony. After mating, males are expelled and left to die while the queen fertilizes her eggs.
The eggs develop into larvae that are tended to by worker ants. Worker ants are also in charge of protecting the queen. The larva produces silk for the husk it will later inhabit while it is a nymph. Ants communicate using antennae, smells and sounds. They deposit pheromones, a chemical substance that acts as an olfactory message. The most common ant species are black ants and red forest ants. People in some parts of the world eat ants as food. Ants are also used in farming to kill parasites. Ants are viewed by man as symbols of industriousness and productivity. In his fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” Greek author Aesop honors the ant as a hard worker, contrasting it to the frivolous grasshopper who puts nothing away for winter and ultimately starves.