Tiny But Mighty...

The Life of the Black Carpenter Ant

Just A Humble Ant...

My comrades and I are a part of the family Formicidae and genus Camponotus, which means that we have relatives all over the world and compose 1/3 of the total insect biomass (Integrated Taxonomic Information System, n.d.)(Roof, n.d.). We ants arose in the Cretaceous period more than 100 million years ago and our most modern relatives are credited to have evolved from the rise of angiosperms, or flowering plants (Wilson et. al, 2005).

Life can be challenging as a small insect. However, we ants have found safety in a social society that would make Karl Marx proud! Each member of the colony has a special roll that is crucial for the survival of the entire nest, and we will not hesitate to sacrifice ourselves for our comrades. My species of carpenter ants, Camponotus pennsylvanicus, makes our nests in tree stumps and dead wood through most of North America (Klotz et al.,1999). Our diet is considerably diverse in macromolecules. My species's favorite food would undoubtedly be honeydew from the aphids that we farm. We are also known to collect nectar from flowers, meat from other insects and our fallen members, and fruit juice (Fairfax County Public Schools, n.d.).

Interactions with the World

Without us ants, the ecosystems that you see around you would be very different. By carving out our nests in dead wood, we break that wood which forms new soil and allows the carbon and nitrogen cycles to continue to flourish. We black carpenter ants are also preyed upon by the wild turkey and other birds . So next time you have your Thanksgiving meal, you can thank us for providing some of the meat you are eating!

Because we have such a varied diet, we help control many species of insects and plants. Also, my fellow ants and I are in constant competition with other ant and insect species for food and other resources. This competition, despite its occasional annoyance, has given rise to some very interesting adaptations in us carpenter ants. To avoid conflict with our competitors, our foragers only hunt at night and limit their travel to only 100 yards away from the nest (Fairfax County Public Schools, n.d.).

We carpenter ants also have a very mutualistic relationship with the aphid insect, which feeds on the nutrients in plants. We act as "shepherds" for these insects by herding them to new pastures and protect them from their predators. In turn, the aphids provide us with a great food source in the honeydew that they secrete (Corvallis, n.d.).

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Health and Wellness

We have a very simple, yet powerful, anatomy as carpenter ants. We take in oxygen through "valve-like" openings in our exoskeleton. The oxygen then travels through a network of tracheal tubes to the body's cells. Our heart runs through our entire body. With every beat of our heart, oxygen rich blood coats the inside of our bodies that supply our cells for respiration (North Carolina State University, n.d.). Our nerve cord also runs the entire length of our bodies and connects with our small, but proportional, brains. We communicate with each other by secreting pheromones. These chemicals act as markers for our fellow ants and help direct the colony to certain objectives. Our immune system is also extremely adapted for our social life. Sick colony members can actually help "vaccinate" the colony for a specific pathogen (Welsh, 2012).

Reproductively, our breeding season starts in the late spring and early summer, when our queen starts to produce males. Until then, all us ants are female! The males and queens-to-be hatch with wings, and fly out of the colony to mate with the brood of other colonies. Once mated, the males will die and the females will find a new nesting site (Klotz et al., 1999). The queens then start laying eggs for the first generation of workers! You may find it odd and troubling that our eggs don't need to be constantly fertilized by a male, but we've come up with a clever solution to solve this issue. Our eggs develop through parthenogenesis, which is a form of asexual reproduction. Once a chemical signal has been given to the egg, the egg cells reproduce through mitosis until the larvae is formed (University of Wisconsin Madison, n.d.)!

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Evolutionary Adaptations

1. Nocturnal Foraging: Carpenter ant foragers only go in search of food at night. This reduces competition among other insect and ant species (Fairfax County Public Schools, n.d.).

2. Parthenogenesis: Allows the queen to produce a huge number of members very quickly. This allows the colony to sustain a massive casualty rate among its members and collect food efficiently (University of Wisconsin Madison, n.d).

3. Eusociality: The social order of ants make them incredibly effective at gathering food and protecting themselves. This extreme form of altruism allows individual ants to ensure that their genes are passed on even though they might not be the ones reproducing (Wilson et al., 2005).

4. Strong Mandibles: Provides individual ants a strong and powerful grip that allows them to defend the colony from intruders and carry resources back to the colony.

5. Pheromone Trails: Pheromones released by individual ants allow the ants to communicate with the entire colony and help direct its activity towards a specific objective.

Works Cited

Ant Anatomy. The Ants Go Marching...: Ant Anatomy. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://www. missdanaants.blogspot.com>.

Bugguide. "Genus Camponotus - Carpenter Ants." Bugguide. Iowa State University, n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://bugguide.net/node/view/354>.

Cole, Matt. Ant feeding on honeydew from Aphid. Matt Cole Macro Photography. N.p., 28 Sept. 2011. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://mattcolephotography.blogspot.com/2011/09/ants-and-aphids.html>.

CORVALLIS. "Aphid-Herding Ants." Insects. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://insects.about.com/od/coolandunusualinsects/f/antsandaphids.htm>.

Fairfax County Public Schools. "Black Carpenter Ant." Black Carpenter Ant. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/carpenter_ant.htm>.

Integrated Taxonomic Information System. "Camponotus pennsylvanicus." Integrated Taxonomic Information System. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=154198>.

Klotz, John H., et al. "Carpenter Ants." Emporia State University. N.p., July 1999. Web. 1 May 2016. <https://www.emporia.edu/ksn/v45n4-july1999/>.

North Carolina State University. "INSECT PHYSIOLOGY RESPIRATORY SYSTEM." General Entomology 452. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2016. <https://www.cals.ncsu.edu/course/ent425/tutorial/respire.html>.

"Nymphaea odorata var. tuberosa." Basal Angiosperms. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://cwd.huck.psu.edu/bio414/Bslang.html>.

Roof, Jennifer. "Formicidae." Animal Diversity Web. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Formicidae/>.

Savonen, Carol. "Aphid-infested shrubs provide food for carpenter ants." Oregon State University Extension Service. Oregon State University, 26 Mar. 2004. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/aphid-infested-shrubs-provide-food-carpenter-ants-0>.

University of Wisconsin. "Parthenogenesis." Department of Animal Sciences University of Wisconsin-Madison. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016. <http://www.ansci.wisc.edu/jjp1/ansci_repro/misc/project_websites_08/tues/Komodo%20Dragons/what.htm>.

Washington State Department of Ecology. Carpenter Ants. Rept. no. 97-420. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Welsh, Jennifer. "Sick Ants Help Vaccinate Colonies, Study Suggests." Live Science. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://www.livescience.com/19460-social-ants-fungus-immunity.html>.

Wilson, Edward O., and Bert Hölldobler. The rise of the ants: A phylogenetic and ecological explanation. N.p.: n.p., 2005. Print.