Ants are insects and like all insects, the body has three main parts - the head, the thorax (middle section), and the abdomen.
Insects have six legs that are attached to the thorax, three to each side.
The head is made up of the jaws, the eyes, and the antennae. The eyes of ants are made up of many lenses and are called compound eyes. Compound eyes make it possible for ants to see movement very well.
An ant's head showing antennae
The antennae are special organs used by the ant to smell, touch, taste, and hear.
In the abdomen are the ant's stomach and rectum. Many species (kinds) of ants have poison sacks and/or stingers in the end of the abdomen for defence against predators (enemies).
Ants breathe through tiny holes all over their body. The ant's heart is a long tube that pumps colourless blood from the head back to the abdomen and then back up to the head again.
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There may be as many as 20 000 different species (kinds) of ants in the world.
Ants live in large colonies or groups. Their home is a nest. There may be up to a million ants in a large nest. In each colony there are three types of ants: the queen, the female workers, and males. The male ants' job is to mate with queen ants so that they will be able to lay eggs. Male ants don't live very long.
A male and a female queen ant mate. The female is the larger ant
The queen grows to be an adult, mates with a male, then spends the rest of her life laying eggs. In a colony there may be only one queen or there may be many queens, depending on the species of ant. Worker ants do all the work in the nest. They build it and clean it, gather food, look after the queen, the eggs, and the young ants. Worker ants also defend the nest.
Ants go through four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
The larva hatches from the egg and is cared for by the worker ants.
During the pupa stage the larva is in a sleep-like state, as it changes into an adult ant.
Worker ants moving a larva
Different kinds of ants build different types of nests. Some build simple mounds of dirt or sand. Others use small sticks mixed with dirt and sand to make stronger, waterproof mounds. Inside the nest there are many chambers (or rooms). The chambers are connected to each other by tunnels. Chambers are used for different things, for example as nurseries for eggs and young ants, for storing food, as resting places for the worker ants and a there's a special chamber just for the queen.
Ants communicate (talk to each other) by touching each other with their antennae. They also use chemicals called pheromones (say ferra-moans) to leave a trail of scent for other ants to follow.
Ants have lived on the Earth for more than 100 million years and can be found almost anywhere on the planet.
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Updated December 2010