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The Intricate Social Organization of Ants Ants are ubiquitous creatures that are difficult to avoid, both outdoors and in the home. In nature they are fascinating insects with remarkable and completely unique social behaviors. There are an estimated 22,000 individual species of ant in the world, of which only 12,500 have been currently identified. Essentially every piece of land on Earth is inhabited by ants. It is remarkable the reach and resilience of this tiny creature who faces threats from forces and beings so much larger than itself. The reason behind the ant's fierce survival through the ages and across the globe is its intricately well-organized social structures. Ant colonies are also called superorganisms, because they act together as one unified entity for the benefit of the colony. Research and extensive observation has shown the ants are able to communicate effectively with each other and the labor for the colony is divided among different groups of ants. Much like human society, these insects are better able to solve complex problems because each individual knows his role. The colony has several castes, including soldiers, workers, and the fertile females, who are called queens. Ants also have a remarkable ability to navigate far from the nest and back again. They are able to travel as far as 700 feet from the colony and return safely by following a scent trail. This is accomplished using an internal pedometer that records the number of steps taken away from the nest. The ant then uses the position of the sun to determine direction and counts back the steps to return to the nest. Unfortunately, sometimes groups of forager ants will lose track of the scent trail and get separated from the rest of the group. They will then form what is called an ant mill and follow each other in a circle, continuing to walk until they die of exhaustion. This is extreme evidence of the superb social organization of ants.


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