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Do Ants Eat Termites?

Nature’s balancing act can be pretty amazing when it comes to pests. Birds eat mosquitos, spiders eat flies, and frogs and beetles eat cockroaches. And if you’ve ever seen the video on YouTube you know that ants devour termites in a swarming killing frenzy that would shock even the most avid horror movie fan.

Ants do not attack termites because they are a danger but because they are so darn tasty. Termites are packed with protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. In fact, the wood-eating pests are more nutritious than chicken and beef. That’s why termites are on the dinner menu in some countries. For ants, a termite is a crawling buffet. It is packed with all the nourishment normally found by ants invading your pantry. So who do we root for in this battle of the bugs keeping in mind that in the insect world the enemy of your enemy is your friend? Unfortunately, it’s a draw.

If you have a termite problem, introducing hoards of ants into your home would be akin to cutting off your finger because of a hangnail. Ants can create nests in your baseboards, inside walls, around heaters and pipes, and many other places you don’t want thousands of ants eating and breeding. The ants will likely eat the termites, but not fast enough to prevent the wood-eaters from doing some serious damage to your home.

It’s true that ants are termites’ main enemy and may provide some termite control. But the degree of control depends on the availability of other food sources for the ants. In other words, eating crumbs under your fridge and the grease around your stove is easier for ants than battling termites into submission. Nature’s balancing act may be amazing but when it comes to ants, termites, and you, that’s a fight best left to creatures with more than two legs.

In wars with termites, ants rescue and care for their wounded

These ants invest a lot of energy in caring for their injured comrades.

Kiona N. Smith – Feb 14, 2018 5:41 pm UTC

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Deadly battles play out several times a day in the Ivory Coast’s Comoé National Park, leaving wounded behind. The fights break out when hundreds of African Matabele ants march off to raid a nearby termite mound to slaughter termite workers and haul them back to the nest to feed the colony. But termites, with their strong, sharp mandibles, aren’t easy prey, and raiders often get limbs bitten off in the fight.

In the aftermath of a raid, researchers are finding evidence that the ants care for their wounded. The wounded ants secrete a pheromone that calls other returning raiders to carry their injured comrades home. Back at the nest, healthy nest-mates clean the injured ants’ wounds. And the behavior of injured ants even creates a triage system so that only the ants that might actually be saved get rescued.

“It’s only a flesh wound!”

Ants that are only missing a leg or two can generally make the 50-meter trek back to the nest, but their injuries make them more vulnerable to predators, so about a third of injured ants who try to walk home won’t make it. So when nest-mates are nearby, injured ants slow down and even develop a sudden tendency to fall over.

But “after the returning raid column had passed by without helping her, the injured ant immediately started to follow them at a faster pace,” ecologist Erik T. Frank and his colleagues wrote in their paper.

It may look like these ants are just hamming it up in a play for sympathy, but the behavior actually makes sense. Other ants’ eyesight may not be sharp enough to spot an injury, but they can recognize the slow, clumsy movements of an injured nest-mate. And a slower ant has more time to interact with passing nest-mates, which means better odds of getting picked up. Would-be helpers probably have an easier time pinpointing the source of a chemical distress beacon that’s not moving quickly.

When a rescuer touches a lightly injured ant with its antennae, the injured ant folds its remaining legs up in a position similar to a pupa and lies still, making itself easier to carry. But the most severely injured ants, those missing three or more legs, get left behind, in what looks like an uncanny mimicry of the triage human medics perform on battlefields and in disasters.

“It would be wrong to think that the ants are actually making conscious decisions,” Frank told Ars Technica.

Helpers don’t carry their injured nest-mates home out of compassion or loyalty—ants don’t have the cognitive ability to feel those things—instead they do it because chemical cues prompt them to pick up injured ants instead of dead termites. Similarly, said Frank, “The heavily injured ant does not tell the others to ‘leave her behind’ because she knows she won’t be of use anymore.”

Ants only secrete the “help” pheromone once they’ve managed to pull themselves into a standing position, and the injured ants’ reflex is to try to stand. If they succeed, their bodies secrete the pheromone. If not, they don’t. And even when Frank and his colleagues applied the pheromone to severely injured ants, their wild flailing made them too difficult to pick up and carry, so the would-be helpers eventually gave up and walked away.

“It’s actually what fascinates me most about social insects: the ability to have incredibly complex and sophisticated behaviours based on very simple rules and without cognition,” said Frank.

Best care anywhere

Back at the nest, rescued ants get the best medical care available—which means their nest-mates lick the open wounds where their legs used to be.

“The remaining part of the cut limb was held upwards and nest-mates carefully held the injured limb in place with their mandibles and front legs; this allowed them to intensely lick directly into the wound for up to four minutes at a time,” Frank and his colleagues wrote in their paper.

It’s likely that all that licking helps clean dirt out of the open wounds, and the helpful ants may even be applying an antimicrobial substance of some sort. Several ant species secrete such compounds in their saliva, and other ant species have been seen grooming nest-mates to help fight off fungal infections.

Frank plans to spend his post-doctoral research at the University of Lausanne figuring that out, testing various ant glands for antimicrobial or antifungal properties. He also wants to understand how the ants are able to pinpoint the injury—or tell each other where it hurts.

Changes in the injured ants’ cuticle or exoskeleton (a gaping hole, for instance) could indicate an injury to nest-mates, or they may look for hemolymph—the insect version of blood—draining from the wound. That could also be how ants know when to stop licking an injury; when the hemolymph stops flowing, it’s time to stop licking and move on. Frank still needs more data to test those ideas, though.

However treatment works, it’s clearly effective at preventing infection, and that clearly helps ants live to raid another day. Injured ants who didn’t receive care died 80 percent of the time, but when Frank and his colleagues put the injured ants on sterile soil, their mortality rate dropped to 20 percent. But ants that had nest-mates that licked their wounds only died 10 percent of the time.

For the greater good

Natural selection favors this triage, medevac, and wound care behavior not because it benefits individual ants—remember that the worker ants won’t breed in the first place—but because it improves the fitness of the colony. And that, according to Frank, may be why biologists have never observed this kind of behavior in any other animal species. “Treatment of a wound by another individual is much more beneficial in social insects where evolution generally applies on the level of the colony,” he said.

The benefit to the colony comes in the form of reducing the otherwise high cost of hunting tough prey like termites. Frank and his colleagues noticed that about 21 percent of ants on raiding parties were already missing at least one limb, and four- or five-legged ants learn to move almost as quickly as uninjured ants within about 24 hours. That means that rescuing and treating an injured ant puts it back in the fight the next day.

Difference Between Flying Ants and Termites

Determining whether you have flying ants, or winged termites is important in how you treat the problem. Some flying winged ants resemble the winged-swarming termite.

Here are some ways do identify the differences:

  1. While both species have four wings, termite wings are uniform in size. Winged ants have noticeably larger wings in the front than the pair in the back.
  2. Termites antennae are almost straight where the ant’s antennae is elbowed.
  3. Termite wings are twice as long as their body. Ant wings are shorter and more proportionate to their bodies.
  4. Ants appear distinctly segmented, because of their thin waist. Termites have a broad waist and are mostly a uniform width along their entire body.

Do-It-Yourself Termite Control : Information and recommended procedures for termite control.

FAQ’s Ant Control

When I spray the ants, they just move. How can I kill them?

When an ant colony can’t be located, use a poison bait. The toxicant is passed throughout the colony, killing the queen and all worker ants.

Do carpenter ants eat wood?

No. Carpenter ants will tunnel into wood, usually soft decaying wood to make their nests.

I have a large carpenter ant, but both ends of its body are black, and the middle is red or orange. What kind of ant is this?

Sounds like Florida carpenter ants. They are just a different color than regular carpenter ants. Use the same treatment you would for regular carpenter ants.

Over this past weekend I noticed that my yard had hundreds of what appeared to be dark-colored, white-winged ants coming out of the ground and flying away. Most of the ant holes had lots of smaller ants without wings around them. It has been wet for about a week now and Saturday was a very humid and sunny day. After it rained that night, these insects were gone and I haven’t seen a one since. Does this sound like ants? My home is being treated by a termite service with a Sentracon System and has been under treatment over the last 6 months. Any answers you can provide, or products you could recommend would be a great help. Thanks in advance.

Summertime is when ants swarm. Termites are more likely to swarm in the spring. Complete Ant Bait Kit, applied around the ant holes will control them. If the ants are coming inside, use Taurus SC around the perimeter. Taurus SC is a non-repellent insecticide (the ants do not know it is there). Most insecticides are repellent in nature, the ants simply move around it to enter the structure.

I have been sprinkling Ortho Orthene fire ant killer on the mounds in my yard, and although it seems to work, for every mound I destroy, two or three new mounds appear somewhere else in the yard. It is a constant battle that I seem to be losing.

What I’m wondering is whether the ant poisons you distribute (e.g., Maxforce Complete Granular) have any salient advantage over the Orthene.

For individual mound treatment there is no advantage. However, with broadcast application, mounds on nearby property will be killed. Extinguish Fire Ant Bait is a slow acting bait, but it has an IGR (insect growth regulator) in it to prevent new colony growths. This should slow the intrusion into your yard. Advion Fire Ant Bait is a very effective and fast fire ant killer bait. Advion works kills the entire colony in 2-3 days, and also works for Bigheaded Ants and Pavement Ants.

What is an effective ant bait against carpenter ants?

Advance 375 A Ant Bait and Optigard Ant Bait have proven to be favorites, working all season long for the carpenter ants. Ants will feed on two cycles, sugar based or protein based. The Advance 375A attracts ants on their protein cycle and the Optigard attracts ants on their sugar feeding cycle. Use both baits at once for their choosing. However, baits may not effective because the ants may have another food source and not choose the ant baits. In this case, use Taurus SC around the structure and Dominion 2L in the yard. These non-repellent insecticides are more effective than repellent insecticides for ant control.

Are these carpenter ants?
We have large red ants that have a black “node” as its rear section. We just see a few around the bathtub faucet several times a week.

In the south (USA), there is a carpenter ant that is red and black. Most areas of the country have solid black carpenter ants. All carpenter ants are large –1/4 inch or larger. Most of the time ant baits like Advance 375A, Maxforce Complete, Maxfore Carpenter Ant Bait or Optigard work, but sometimes sporadically against carpenter ants (since they may have another food source and will not eat the bait).

Another solution, however is to find the colony and destroy it (if finding the colony is available). This is usually done with a non-repellent residual, crack and crevice aerosols like Phantom Aerosol sprayed directly into the nest or a dust such as, D-Fense Dust, dusted into the nest using a duster such as a the Bellows 8 Oz. Duster

For more information go to Carpenter ants .

We have an ant problem, but they are critters I have never seen in my life. They appear to like our tomato and sunflower plants. They always come in a combination of two completely different looking kinds and seem to just sit there, strung up on the stalk of the plant, and suck the juices out of it. One kind is bright green and doesn’t really look like ants. They are about 1/4 inch long with green pointed backs that look like shields. The other kind are really ugly looking dark brown creatures, that make normal ants look smooth and pretty. They appear to live in some kind of symbiosis, meaning that they have some business with each other, because they are always clinging to each other in some way or other. Can you help me find out what they are and how to take care of them?

The green ones may be aphids, which provide secretions that are a delicacy to many ants. You are correct about the symbiosis. These guys work very well together. The aphids provide food for the ants, the ants provide protection for the aphids. Spray the plants with Bonide All Seasons Horticultural Oil.
For heavier infestations use Dominion Fruit Tree and Vegetable spray.

I have what looks like flying ants. They were all over the place. What confused me was that there were some smaller and larger ones with no wings and they were orange in color. The ones with the wings were black and the ones without the wings were orange. Is this common?

The winged ants are reproductive forms of the ants and often look very different from the rest of the workers. My guess is that these are from the same colony. I would combine Advance 375A and Optigard Ant Gel around the trails to eliminate the colony.

I have a type of flying ant with a three-part body, black and red-black about 1/4 inch long in the attic. Are these a type of carpenter ant or termite? I am new to Florida and don’t know the insects.

They are Florida Carpenter Ants. Once a year each colony will produce winged adults to start new colonies. Finding the nest and dusting is very effective for Florida Carpenter Ants.

The recommended products are B&G Bulb R Duster and D-Fense Dust.; inspect and locate the carpenter ant nest and dust the nest.

For larger coverage in the attic, use Dustin Mizer, a crank type duster to cover attics well.
The dust will last for 6 months to a year. One pound of dust will cover 1,000 sq. ft.

I have a few questions regarding carpenter ants. I believe we have a nest inside the house in the basement. Will they nest in the insulation? Should I pull out the insulation to locate the nest, or should I be able to see a nest? The basement is not finished.

Carpenter ants can and do nest in insulation. You may have to pull out the insulation to find them.

I would try spraying the entire perimeter with, Taurus SC

We have a small problem in our vegetable garden. We have little red ants by the thousands. They have eaten the tops of the carrots, but have done nothing else. I don’t want them to eat our vegetable next season. What should we do?

I would spread some Maxforce Complete Granulars around the garden.
The ants should eat it and carry it to the nest where it will kill the entire colony.
You can use Ant No More Bait Stations to hold the bait inside a container if you wish.

We have very small ants attacking the plants and eating holes in the leaves in our garden.
We live in northern Ohio and wonder what to put on to discourage the ants that will still allow us to eat the vegetables; that is, if the ants leave us any to eat.
This is our first attempt at gardening and we aren’t winning this battle with the ants.
Thanks for any suggestions.

Finding the Ant colony in the soil and drenching it with a liquid insecticide, such as Conquer would be the best approach.
If you are dealing with leaf cutter ants, this is the only effective method, because they won’t eat ant baits.

Wildlife death match: ants versus termites

Wildlife death match: ants versus termites

At Comoé National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, Matabele ants are always on the hunt for their favourite meal: termites. It is an endless war.

“Scouts in Matabele ants constantly search for termite feeding sites. After finding one, they run back to the nest and recruit nest mates to go out and raid the termites,” says Erik Frank, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

Erik has been studying these curious critters and how they go about termite hunting. In a new study, Erik found that sometimes being fast is the best weapon of war against termites.

Termite-raiding time

After finding a termite nest, ants must act quickly.

“Time is of the essence here, since the more time passes between finding the termites and attacking them, the more likely it is that the termites will run away or get eaten/attacked by another predator,” says Erik.

So, after finding a termite nest, the scout Matabele ants have figured out the best way to get back to their nest to inform the rest of the colony of their spoils. Most ant species simply take the shortest way between a food source and their nest, because it’s usually the fastest—if the terrain is even.

But Matabele ants live in a complex terrain, where the shortest distance between two points is not always the fastest path. So they do things a little differently.

“Matabele ants take it one step further and don’t take the shortest way back to the nest but the fastest. By using deviations on open terrain, like a human-made path/road on which they walk twice as fast when compared to the dense grassy savannah, they are able on average to reduce travel time by 35%,” says Erik.

Matabele ants don’t take the shortest way back to the nest but the fastest

Matabele ants don’t take the shortest way back to the nest but the fastest

Smarty ants

So far, this is the only animal species found to exhibit this sort of behaviour at an individual level. Other ants and animal species are known to create paths between a food source and their nest, like leaf-cutter ants. But they usually create permanent routes to their food.

This is not the case with Matabele ants, they don’t rely on a fixed path.

“For Matabele ants, their food sources (termites) can only be exploited once at a single spot,” Erik explains.

This is because the ants attack the termites at their feeding spot. But once the termites are attacked, they quickly go away to find another spot to eat. So the ants have to be fast if they want to eat some tasty termites. This also means that the ants are always changing trails, finding the next termite spot.

“The ants and termites are basically playing a game of hide and seek. The termites try to stay unnoticed for as long as possible, exploiting a food source, before the ants find them and kill them.”

Once they are discovered, the termites flee.

“This constant hide and seek game led the ants to develop their strategy of finding the fastest path”, Erik adds.

Another amazing talent of the Matabele ants is their ability to find a new path thanks to the decision of a single ant.

This is different to social ant species, like the little fire ant, which finds the fastest route as a group. What’s novel about the Matabele ants’ way is that just one ant seems to make the decision of taking the fastest path.

“What’s truly remarkable is that, here, it is a single ant that makes the decisions on what path to take and not a collective decision of many ants,” says Erik.

“This is the first time that such a complex route integration system has been observed by individual ants,” he adds.

So in the war of these two armies, it is one fast-thinking ant that makes all the difference.

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