perhaps the most successful of all insects. There are
approximately 8,800 species of ants in the world. With about
in North America, of these, 83 are found in B.C.
In most areas of the world,
ants are among the most dominant of Insects. But it is not in
terms of diversity where they dominate, but rather in numbers,
in many areas they make up a large portion of the overall
Most people have encountered ants
in a negative context, such as discovering carpenter ants in
your home. Ants can be serious pests in
some areas. However, ants are a key factor in ecosystem function
and their removal would seriously alter its ability to function
and many other organisms would be impacted negatively.
Ants are a staple food for many
birds such as woodpeckers.
Ants are also an important dietary component for bears. For
example, ants and ant larvae are the main food source eaten by bears during the
early spring. Bears will
search for ants quite actively then. On Vancouver Island,
black bears depend on ants throughout late summer and fall when
the berry crop is poor.
Carpenter ants are among the
dominant ants in sub boreal forests, where they are perhaps the
most important organisms in physically breaking down wood.
Many species of ants are fierce predators and as such can be
beneficial. Ants feeding on the pupae of 2 defoliating moths are
the main reason they have not done more damage.
Ants are commonly seen carrying prey. Some species like
Thatching Ants can have huge nests, containing many thousands of
workers, so they could have a significant impact on forest
health by preying on the caterpillars of defoliator moths, at
least in B.C.
Ants can affect their environment
in many ways. Some ant species have been shown to surpass
earthworms in the amount of soil they
transport to the surface.
Many plants have evolved to have
their seeds dispersed by ants. Many ant species tend aphids and
their relatives for their honeydew. In return, the aphids are
protected by the ants from predators and parasites. Ants
sometimes actively move aphids from plant to plant like a farmer
moving his herds around.
Many ants utilize dead wood for nest construction. The most
well known of these are the carpenter ants. These large, but
often shy and non aggressive ants construct their nests in
decayed logs or standing trees, including heart
In a preliminary survey of ants it is found that dead wood is
a preferred nest substrate for most ant species in B.C. on
The western thatching ant is a relatively widespread
species on Vancouver Island. It is often
locally dominant in forest stands with sandy soils. This species
can construct impressive thatch mound nests. I have seen these
nests get as big as 2 meters across and contain hundreds of
thousands of ants.
odorous house ant, is very widespread in North America. In spite
diminutive size, this ant can be rather aggressive. Because of
its small size, it is easily overlooked. Nests are often found
in association with wood, but the majority of
their nests are under moss or in soil. They will also nest in any place
they can hide in your home and I have even found temporary nests in
electronics like radios and televisions.
The ants most commonly seen are those that occur in and
around human dwellings and in cities. Carpenter ants get their
name as a result of the habit of many common species to nest in
wood, including human dwellings. Most commonly, people notice
carpenter ants when they swarm in spring, but since nests can be
quite large, workers are also noticeable around well established
Many species of ants invade
homes, but some do this more commonly than others, the small
odorous house ant, a species more or less ubiquitous throughout
North America is the most common ant found in our homes on the
Island. They are small black ants which scurry around and get
their common name from a characteristic odor they give off.
Red ants tend to be less noticeable. These ants, which are
often reddish in color, have a stinger like bees and can
inflict painful stings in spite of their small size. They are
usually slower moving and somewhat more cryptic with small
nests, but many are commonly seen in cities where their nest
entrances are located in sidewalk cracks and between paving