From Bald-Headed to the Devil’s Garden – Fantastic stories about Ants

AntWhile researching for my origin of pest names blog post, I came across a large number of different ant species with strange names. Going deeper into details, I found that there are some truly amazing stories behind some of the names; and while ants are considered pests once they enter our homes or destroy plants in our gardens, they play a very important role in the wild.

I also noticed that there are a large number with ingenious names, maybe only topped by the common names of butterflies. Have you heard of Gigantiops Destructor (The Big Eyed Destroyer), Marauding Ants, Australian Meat Ants, Thrifty Ants, Slave Maker Ants and Emery’s Wretched Ants?

Bald headed ants are not as common as bald headed menBald Headed Ants: I didn’t know that ants have hair on their head, but it surely makes me happy that not only humans suffer from hair loss, hahaha.

Crazy Ants: These ants are most probably named because of their erratic way of running around and are one of the world’s most invasive species.

Bullet Ants: Bullet ants are named so because of their extremely painful sting, the pain of which is said to resemble a bullet shot. Another name, “24 hour ant” gives an indication of the duration of the pain suffered by a victim. The sting of bullet ants is considered to be the most intense among all insect stings, with highest rating on the so-called Schmidt Sting Pain Index (More about that in another post). I thought “Bullet” is scary enough, but the pain has been described as “pure intense brilliant pain, like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel” in one American Entomologist report [PDF]. Now this really IS scary.

Do Jack Jumper Ants jump for joy too?Jack Jumper Ants: Sounds like a good tempered and jolly fellow to you? Hmm, read on. They do indeed move around in a jumping manner and are said to be able to jump around 20 cm. However, even though the Jack Jumper sounds like a fun ant,  3% of sting cases resulted in anaphylactic shock causing more deaths in Tasmania than spiders , snakes, wasps and sharks combined.

Trap Jaw Ants: A superlative is achieved by Trap Jaw Ants. They can open their jaws 180 degrees and once they see prey close them immediately. They are known to have the fastest bite in the natural kingdom.

Lemon ants taste like lemons apparentlyLemon ants: They are named so because they are supposed to taste like lemons (an interesting addition to the entomangeur’s menu); but then again they are also yellow in colour so who knows. More interestingly, Lemon ants are renowned for their gardening skills. They are the creators and keepers of the so-called “Devil’s Gardens”.

Lemon ants live only in the hollow branches of one specific tree species. In forests there is much competition between plants for light, so these ants had to ensure the wellbeing of their home. Here’s what they do: they inject their own herbicide (formic acid) into the leaves of all other plant species and consequently kill them. This way, they create gardens exclusively for their host trees. The relationship between ant and tree is a lasting one and of mutual benefit; some of the gardens are more than 1,000 m2 and estimated to be around 800 years old.

Garden antIf only we could train those ants to specificallly kill the weeds in our gardens… I guess Brigitta  would be very happy about constructive help from ants in the garden. But there is so much more to tell about ants. For Instance: did you know that there are Slave-Making Ants that do not work and have other species work for them? More soon, promise.

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