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We have a question for the Consult-Ant* this week.

I have an ant question.
 
I was curious about ant eyesight. Not about their color vision but more specifically their quality of vision in the dark. Is it better or worse than a human's night vision?

This is a great question!

The first thing to remember about ants is that they perceive the world in vastly different ways then we humans do. They produce a number of different chemicals and communicate in ways that we can only dimly appreciate. Let's not forget, some ants are completely blind and they get around just fine.

That said, ants do usually live in dark tunnels, either underground or in wood. Many species forage at night, either all the time or during certain seasons. They are able to find their way around in the dark.

camponotus-festinatus1

For example, this carpenter ant lives in the hot desert. It forages at night and is rarely seen during the day.

To study how ants see at night, scientists have been looking closely that the anatomy of  the eyes of ants.

This figure from Invertebrate Vision, edited by Eric Warrant, Dan-Eric Nilsson shows that dark-adapted eyes of invertebrates are structurally different from light-adapted ones.

 

Ajay Narendra and his colleagues (2011) have been studying Australian bull ants (Narendra has photographs of bull ants ) that are active at night and comparing them to day-active species. They found that ants that were active at night had different eye measurements and eye structures, both within a given species (that is active both during the day and night) and between related species. The eye area, facet size, and ocelli (the smaller simple eyes at the top of the head) size, etc. were larger in night-active ants.  Reid et al. discusses more specific information about how the ants use their specialized eyes to see polarized light and landmarks during navigation at night.

Have I danced around your original question long enough? Comparing humans to ants is difficult because in a lot of ways it is comparing apples to oranges, plus our understanding of what other animals perceive is limited. Nevertheless, I'm going out on a limb. All these structural differences suggest that certain ants can be quite specialized for night vision. Based on that evidence, it would seem that ants are probably just as capable, if not more capable of night vision than unassisted humans. Of course humans are capable of inventing and using sophisticated devices to assist our night vision. In that case, humans win hands down.

What do you think about night vision in ants?

For more information:

Ajay Narendra, Samuel F. Reid, Birgit Greiner, Richard A. Peters, Jan M. Hemmi, Willi A. Ribi and Jochen Zeil.  (2011) Caste-specific visual adaptations to distinct daily activity schedules in Australian Myrmecia ants. Proc. R. Soc. B.  278:  1141-1149. (free .pdf available)

Reid, S.F., A. Narendra, J.M. Hemmi and J. Zeil. (2011). Polarised skylight and the landmark panorama provide night-active bull ants with compass information during route following. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 214: 363-370. (free .pdf available)

Wild About Ants post about color vision in ants

 

(* As I mentioned previously, I have been the “Consult-Ant” on the Leaping from the Box website. I answer questions about ants and ant farms. From now on I will post the answers here, and when Karen has time she will also post the answers on her site.)

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We have a question for the Consult-Ant today:

Hello

I have an ant question!

Over the years I have seen an unusual type of ant mound. It is a long, linear "mound"; actually a series of small mounds connected by tunnels of soil particles. The unusual thing about them is that extend in a straight line for several feet. Somewhere I heard these called "railroad ants", but I don't know if that is more than just a local name or description of the straight-as-a-string nest mound. I'd appreciate any information you might have about them, like scientific name or a reference where I could learn more. Thanks.

Dale

Dale,

Since you don't tell me where you are from, I'm going to take a wild guess and suggest you might possibly be talking about a type of fire ant. Fire ants tend to build loose mounds that are sometimes long and narrow. (Except if they were fire ants, you'd probably know about them already).

Does the mound you are seeing look like the second photograph in this post?

If not, please let me know where you are located, which will help me narrow the choices. Also, roughly how big are the structures?

Anyone out there heard this common name and know more about it? Please let us know if you have some ideas.

(Note: As I mentioned previously, I have been the “Consult-Ant” on the Leaping from the Box website. I answer questions about ants and ant farms. From now on I will post the answers here, and when Karen has time she will also post the answers on her site.)

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We have a question for the Consult-Ant today:

Hello

I wanted to ask you if wild Harvester ants, will learn to eat the gel in a antworks gel farm.

I have an empty one and put about 30 wild, I'm pretty sure they are harvester ants, same size same color, but I am guessing of course. But my main concern is if they will learn to eat the gel or will I have to feed them. Its real nice of you to answer ? from us newbies.
Thank you very much.

Ron

Dear Ron,

I am glad to hear about your interest in ants. You are correct to be concerned about whether your harvester ants will eat the gel supplied with your ant farm.

The blue gel used in ant farms was originally put together for a short science experiment designed by students. The students were sending ants up on the Space Shuttle for a few days and they needed something that they could see the ants through and that would stay in place with no gravity. Obviously, sand would not work.  They came up with the blue gel and it worked well for their experiment.

The problem is, it was never meant to be used to keep ants for a long time. Although it will keep the ants alive and they will tunnel in it, it isn't the best food for them. However, if you put a bunch of food into the gel habitat, there is a good chance you will get mold and bacteria growth, which will harm the ants.

In the video below, you can see how the person places the food on a small bit of aluminum foil. That would be a helpful way to feed your ants in the gel ant farm. Try to keep the food on the foil and replace it once a day.

Also, your harvester ants can eat the same sorts of things as shown in the video. They will accept a bit of dead insect, such as a small cricket and/or a few drops of honey and water mixed together. You can soak the honey and water into a bit of cotton or paper towel so it won't drip as much.

Here's an excellent video that shows some basic information about how to feed and keep ants:

I know it isn't as cool to look at as the gel, but people who are serious about raising ants use a test tube nest (the link shows you how to make one).

This link has a lot information about how to build/make several different kinds of ant farms, in case you want to try another kind.

It's great that you have decided to find out more about keeping ants. It can be a very interesting hobby. Let me know if you have any other questions.

(Note: As I mentioned previously, I have been the “Consult-Ant” on the Leaping from the Box website. I answer questions about ants and ant farms. From now on I will post the answers here, and when Karen has time she will also post the answers on her site.)

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Just had a question come in from a young ant enthusiast (edited):

If you have heard of an Ant-O-Sphere(eight pods) I’m trying to make a colony in there but so far the bulldog ants are too big and the Argentine ants are too small.

I don’t know what other ants I can find in Australia (where I live) Victoria Mornington.

I wonder is there an ant shop in Victoria?

I'm not familar with Australian ants at all, so I'm going to put this out to you the reader. Do you have any helpful suggestions?

It is easy to imagine that neither bull ants nor Argentine ants would be really the best choices for an ant farm. It also seems likely the Argentine ants are probably chasing out the local species of ants (see reference below), like they have done in California.

Does anyone out there have any ideas of suitable Australian ants that might be available and good for use in an ant farm?

References:

Argentine ants give weeds a boost at ABC Science

Ants of Australia