Species Saturday

Species Saturday #22: Fire ants

I’m still in my first few weeks as OuTrop’s new Communications Manager, so I’m still learning the ropes in the forest and finding what people refer to as ‘forest feet’.
One of the first hazards that you’re warned about before entering the forest is, believe it or not, the fire ants. Their sting is infamous, and detailed instructions are provided on how to make sure you and anyone you’re with can avoid them if you come across a line of them.
Fire ants’ ferocious bite allows them to get a grip, but what really hurts is what comes next, the sting from their abdomen. It also happens to be where they get their name from, as the sensation is likened to the feeling of fire.
Ants worldwide are reputed for their incredible coordination and collaboration. Fire ants are no different, living in colonies and working together to reproduce and survive, even thrive.
This David Attenborough of ants (although not fire ants specifically) demonstrates their incredible resilience and organization.

When it comes to fire ants their diet consists mostly of small plants and sometimes other small insects, but they will also occasionally work together to take on small animals.
They make their nest in the soil, often in wet areas, which is why peat-swamp forest is an ideal habitat for them. Sometimes this will be visible as a mound, sometimes it will be hidden beneath roots, trees and other features.
The colony is divided into different roles, including worker ants and soldier ants. The queen, the colony’s most important ant, can live for up to seven years and during this time produce up to nine million eggs! That’s an incredible number, meaning she can sometimes lay around 300,000 eggs per day.

Research has found that at lower densities their impact on soil nutrient levels can be beneficial for other species’ population numbers. So, as well as being a jungle hazard to be wary of, ants are perhaps also one of the species to be most admired and they can even play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem as a whole.