When most people think of Ants, they think of them as pests. There are around 1000 different ant species here in the US (more than 13,000 species worldwide) but only around 25 of these species are pests. So why do they get such a bad reputation? My guess is because the ones that are pests tend to invade peoples homes and no one likes to share their kitchen with ants (not even an entomologist).
The Argentine Ants are one of the species of ants that are considered pests. They are commonly found all throughout California and live in something called a super colony. While most people are concerned with just getting this ant out of their kitchen, what most people don't know is that this little home invader has an interesting tale of global domination behind it.
Argentine ants are not good neighbors. When they meet ants from other colonies, even colonies of the same species, they fight to the death, and tear the other ants to pieces. While other kinds of ants are usually indifferent to other colonies (or sometimes fight like two puppies), the Argentine ants do not fool around. If you’re not part of the colony, you’re dead.
This aggressive behavior comes from the harsh environment of their home turf: the flood plains of northern Argentina. Frequent flooding there results in these ants having to flee their territory often, then once the flooding subsides, the ants all battle each other over new territory. This results in creating one mean territorial ant. This behavior is the driving reason behind why these Ants now dominate the planet (and your kitchen). In the early 1900's one of these ants made their way over to California and have been wrecking havoc ever since. They are much more aggressive than the endemic California Ants and have pushed many of these ants out of parts of California. This is a situation we find world wide from Europe to Australia. In fact, they are on every continent except Antarctica. And the this behavior is also the reason you always find them in your home right around a rainy season. They are experts at finding safe places to hide during rains. So the conclusion is they come to hide from the rain and stay for your food.
More info about the story of the Argentine Ant can be found here. Listen to this great podcast where they explore the story of the Argentine ants and talk to researchers studying this phenomena.
An entomologist is an scientist who specializes in studying insects. Just like every other science discipline, entomologist study insects from many different perspectives. Entomologists usually focus on one type of insect and specialize on that or on a few different types of insects. Some entomologist want to document and understand the amazing behavior of the insect that they study and others want to learn how they impact their environment. Theses are just some of the many different ways in which scientist study insects. Most importantly they share what they learn with the public to help us better understand why these tiny creatures that many of us don't pay attention to are hugely important to the environment.
If you have any questions about the type of work entomologist do, let us know below!
P.S. Below is a photo of what an entomologist in the field looks like! (PhD student Kelsey Scheckel photographed doing field work collecting ants at Sagehen Creek Field Station near Tahoe)
The goal of The Backyard Biodiversity Project is to increase public interest and awareness about all the different types of organisms that exist in their own backyards. As part of this goal we are going to launch a new blog/newsletter called Interesting Insects: Removing the Ick Factor. We are going to feature one insect a week and provide information about the insect and why they are interesting and an important part of our world.
We will start with my personal favorite insect to talk about: The Argentine Ant. I will be talking about this particular ant a lot on this blog since it is such a huge part of our environment here in California. As the name suggests, this is ant is originally from Argentina but can not be found in most areas here in California. These small little ants are so dominant here because despite their size they are very successful at fighting off larger native California ants, such as the carpenter ant. Check out the photo below of these argies showing off their aggressiveness towards the larger Carpenter ant.
Stay tuned for the next post where I'll go into detail about how they formed a successful super colony spanning most of California.
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