If each existing ant species were represented schematically by an individual ant, it would amount to an impressive colony. These fiercely efficient members of the Hymenoptera insect order, who are genealogically aligned with bees and wasps, exist around the world in more than 12,000 different species forms. There are 200 species, for example, in the state of California, but of these only about a dozen can be categorized as household pests.
North American ant types can be broadly divided into two main categories, based on the appearance of the “pedicel”, a constricted part of the ant stomach that connects the abdomen and the thorax. Ants with one node in this area include the Carpenter Ant, the Small Honey Ant, and the Odorous House Ant, while ants with two nodes in their pedicel encompass such species as the Pavement Ant, the Little Black Ant, and the Big-Headed Ant.
The global numbers for ant species are truly staggering. Conservative estimates of the total number of ants roaming the planet range from one million billion to ten million billion. Put another way, the various types of ants together make up between 15% and 20% of the planet’s entire animal biomass. There is even an additional layer of ant species to take into account: the estimated 2,000 other arthropod species (spiders, bugs, beetles) that have evolved to look and behave like ants to infiltrate and-or hide in colonies.
Meanwhile, in 2009, a combined team of researchers from Brazil and Texas identified the first and only known ant species to have completely eliminated its male specimens. Scientists determined that queens of the Puerto Rico and Panama located species
“Mycocepurus smithii”, also known as fungus-gardening ants, featured queen ants that were able to reproduce without the fertilization of their eggs by males. The absence of male ants as a whole seemed to confirm this type of ant as the species’ one and only asexual strand.
Within academic communities, the number of different types of confirmed ant species is constantly evolving. An alphabetical list maintained by the California Academy of Sciences, for example, contains several thousand more prospective types of ants than the aforementioned 12,000 figure.
An introduction to ants.” UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/TOOLS/ANTKEY/antid1.html.
“Ant Management Resources.” University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://lancaster.unl.edu/pest/ants.shtml.
“If it looks like an ant… – Ant Blog.” AntWeb. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. http://www.antweb.org/antblog/2010/07/if-it-looks-like-an-ant.html.