MAY
1989

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

05-26-89

ANTS IN YOUR PANTS

Ants.  They're everywhere, they're everywhere!  Or so it seems.  Ants can be found from the Arctic regions to the tropics.  From the mountain peaks to the seashore.  From the kitchen counter to the backwoods picnic, they'll be there.

Ants are one of the most recognizable of insects.   It is no wonder.  There are over 10,000 species of ants and everyone, at some time, has encountered an ant or two.

There and black ants red ants.  There are carpenter ants and fire ants.  Some ants are predators, feeding on other animals – primarily insects.  Some ants are scavengers, including the fire ants.  Others harvest seeds and some tend aphids and use the aphids excreta, called honeydew, as a food resource.

Often in the spring and summer large numbers of winged ants can be seen swarming about.  Winged ants are the sexual forms.  They possess wings for only a short time and use them to disperse from old nests in an effort to establish new colonies.

Many of us are familiar with ants because we consider them pests – whether in the sugar bowl, lawn or field.  Ants also are beneficial and have even been used in medicine.  In early medical literature it is noted that black ants could be used to close incisions.  This was accomplished by placing an ant so that its wide open jaws snap shut across the incision.  The ant's head is then pinched from its body and the jaws remain closed until the wound heals.

However, humans have long admired ants, primarily because of their industry.  An old proverb admonishes us, “Go to the ant thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise.”  Another proverb says, “None preaches better than the ant, and she says nothing.”  Even Aesop recognized the industry of the ant in the fable of the grasshopper and the ant.

Ogden Nash not only recognized the work ethic of the ant bug suggested a biochemical cause in his poem:

            The ant has made himself illustrious,
            Through constant industry industrious.
            So what, would you be calm and placid,
            If you were filled with formic acid?           

Formic acid is the chemical commonly found in ants that they use in their sting and as a trail-marking substance.  It is also included in the family name of ants, Formicidae.

No doubt, the potential bite and sting of ants combined with their presence in the most unlikely of places has given rise to the time-honored description of a fidgety person.  Indeed everyone can imagine what it would be like to “have ants in there pants!”

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox