Range:

All continents except Antarctica

Habitat:

All land habitats

Ants are everywhere!

You’ve seen them at picnics, wandering around your kitchen, and in the garden: ANTS! They seem to be everywhere—and we are lucky that they are. Ants are one of the most abundant animals on Earth, and their contributions to our ecosystems are important.

Ant basics

Ants are complex insects that live in large social groups called colonies. As insects, ants have a hard outer body called an exoskeleton and three body parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. Ants have two pairs of appendages on their head: the mandibles, used for grabbing or fighting, and maxillae, used for breaking up food into small bits for swallowing.

Typically, ants have 2 compound eyes containing 6 to 1,000 lenses, though in some species the eyes are reduced or even nonfunctional. These eyes can only see objects close up but are very good at detecting motion. The head has antennae, which are used for touching, feeling, smelling, and tasting. Ants also use the antennae to communicate with one another and keep the colony running smoothly.

An ant's six legs are attached to its thorax. Each leg has nine segments and two claws for gripping whatever the ant is climbing. The ant's abdomen holds the digestive organs, including the crop, which can be used to store food for the colony.

The ant family's scientific name, Formicidae, comes from the Latin name for ant, “formica.”
If you combine the weight of all the ants on Earth, the total would be about the same as the weight of all the humans on Earth.
An ant can lift 20 times its body weight using its jaws. If we humans were as strong as an ant, we could lift three cars up over our head.
Incredible engineers, ants support their tunnels with tiny sticks, pieces of grass, and leaves
Some ants control the temperature in their nest chambers by stacking leaves near the entrances. If it gets too warm, they remove some of the leaves.
Leafcutter ants create natural firebreaks in the Amazon, stopping the spread of fires.
If a human had the strength of a leafcutter ant, which can carry in its jaws something 50 times its size, that person would be able to hoist a truck with his or her teeth!

Watch a colony of leafcutter ants at work in the San Diego Zoo’s Insect House.

Read a blog post about the colony’s queen: The Queen Will Not Be Denied.

As with every animal on the planet, ants are an important part of their habitat. They are essential in turning and aerating soil in all the ecosystems where they occur, sometimes even surpassing the work of earthworms. Ants help spread seeds for plants and are food for countless animals (including humans!). Many are pollinators and even more are decomposers, breaking down organic waste and creating healthy habitats.

Although their journeys into our homes to locate food or water may be a bit troublesome, consider their important place in the overall web of life.