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Why Do Ants Bite?

Ants tend to live in large, specialized colonies where every individual has a job that benefits the whole community.
Ants tend to live in large, specialized colonies where every individual has a job that benefits the whole community.

Why do ants bite? Do both male and female ants have stingers? Do ants sleep? What do they do in the winter? In this episode we learn all about the fascinating world of ants with Brian Fisher, curator of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences. Fisher has identified about 1000 different species of ants!


You may not think much about them, but ants are pretty amazing creatures. For one thing, there are trillions of them, maybe even a quadrillion!!! There are WAY more ants than humans. There are as many as 30,000 different species and these insects live almost everywhere in the world—even in the Arctic there are ants. The only continent that doesn’t have ants is Antarctica. Not all the ants around you are native species. Some are invasive—meaning they came from somewhere else and can cause problems for the plants and animals that come from, or have evolved in a specific place.

The largest ant is about two inches long, but most are much much smaller. And they live in colonies where all the work together to make the colony survive.

Brian Fisher is a myrmecologist, someone who studies ants. He says when you see an ant, you're really only seeing one part of a larger organism.

"The only way to think of an ant is a colony," Fisher explains. "It's not the individual ant that's the ant, it's the colony that's an ant. It's like a tree. You don't think of the leaf as a tree; it's everything, the trunk, the branches, the leaves. Same with an ant colony. It's all working together that makes it an organism, the ant colony."

In this episode we'll learn some fascinating things about ants, including how queens feed their wing muscles to their first brood of larvae, why the "stomach" of the ant colony is the larvae, the only ants in the colony that can actually digest solid food, and how ants survive cold winters.

To get help identifying ants, you can post photos and ask for identification assistance at iNaturalist.

If you want to learn more about Brian Fisher's work identifying all the species of ants in the world, check out antweb.org or his academic research lab.

Read the full transcript

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