ant fact archive

Paul Robas, Pins and Needles, 2023

Paul Robas

Pins and Needles
acrylic on canvas
29×41 cm
photo by Tom Carter
courtesy of the artist and Alice Amati London

Dracula Ants49 are predators but are born completely blind. Their foreheads are smooth and lack any eye structures​.50

  • Adetomyrma venatrix workers
  • Ward, 1994
Aaron Elvis Jupin, Never Gonna sleep (stick your finger in your eye), 2022

Aaron Elvis Jupin

Never Gonna sleep (stick your finger in your eye)
ink and graphite on paper 
28×19 cm
courtesy of the artist

Ant sisters are more closely related than human sisters, sharing 75% of their genes on average.47,48

  • This high degree of genetic similarity makes it evolutionarily advantageous for them to support their sisters over their brothers.
  • Dawkins, 1976
Sirui Ma, Snail, 2023

Sirui Ma

courtesy of the artist

Caterpillars often grow up surrounded by ants. They employ chemical and acoustic signals to manipulate their entourage into liking and protecting them.44 A sweet secretion is used to reward the ants for their services. 45,46

  • Caterpillars have developed several dedicated organs specifically for appeasing and attracting ants.
  • While many caterpillars are content to trade sugar for safety, others betray their hosts by feasting on the colony’s young.
  • Pierce et al., 2002
Daniel Milanese, David Buys A Wife, 2022

Daniel Milanese

David Buys A Wife
ink and liquid graphite on paper
55×45 cm
courtesy of the artist

Wood Ants41 are among the only animals to create drug cocktails. By combining the formic acid produced by their own bodies with tree resin, they create a powerful antimicrobial agent to safeguard the colony from disease.42,43

  • Formica paralugubris
  • Large amounts of resin are brought into the nest to protect the brood from infections. As the ants grow older, will the smell of pine trees remind them of their childhood?
  • Brütsch et al., 2017
Bridget Mullen, Birthday Series #35, 2021

Bridget Mullen

Birthday Series #35
flashe on linen
photo by Marten Elder
courtesy of the artist

Male ants are often outlived by their sperm, dying just days after mating.38 The queen stores their ejaculate in a pouch-like organ and uses it to fertilize eggs for a decade or more.39,40

  • According to research conducted on Crernatogaster opuntiae.
  • The bean-shaped spermatheca features a precise valving system, releasing just a few sperm cells per egg.
  • Wheeler & Krutzsch, 1994
Inès Di Folco, Pablo and the roses, 2022-2023

Inès Di Folco

Pablo and the roses
oil and pigments on canvas
60×50 cm
photo by Charles Benton
courtesy of the artist, SISSI club, Marseille, and Laurel Gitlen, New York

The oldest ant on record is a Black Garden Ant queen35 who died after 28 years and nine months in captivity.36 Her daughters had a typical lifespan of just one to two years.37

  • Lasius Niger
  • Would she have preferred a shorter life in the forest?
  • Kutter & Stumper, 1969
Makoto Oono, Broken Grow, 2015

Makoto Oono

Broken Grow
courtesy of the artist

Fungus-growing Ants33 cooperate with other colonies by exchanging the edible molds grown in their underground gardens. Resilient strains get passed around, even across species lines, helping these farmers adapt to environmental changes.34

  • Attini
  • Mueller et al., 1998
Claudia Keep, Morning Swim, 2022

Claudia Keep

Morning Swim
oil on hardwood panel
50×30 cm
courtesy of the artist and March Gallery

Colonies of Fire Ants30 survive floods by linking their bodies together to form living rafts, similar to the weaving of a waterproof fabric. This traps air bubbles underneath.31 The ants can sail for months at a time as they migrate to a new home.32

  • Solenopsis invicta
  • Air bubbles keep the raft afloat and also ensure that the ants at the bottom rarely drown.
  • Mlot et al., 2011
Satoshi Fujiwara, EU II #9, 2018

Satoshi Fujiwara

EU II #9
courtesy of the artist

As ants age, they venture further into the world.27 They start as nurses, caring for the queen and her brood, then progress to nest maintenance. Only in the final stages of their lives do they take on the dangerous task of leaving the nest to forage.28,29

  • According to research conducted on Camponotus fellah.
  • Age polyethism is also common among honey bees.
  • Mersch, 2013
Rūtė Merk, Gemia, 2023

Rūtė Merk

oil on linen
205×140 cm
courtesy of the artist and Tara Downs Gallery

Just over one millimeter in size, a Ghost Ant25 is easily overlooked. Her pale legs and abdomen often blend into the background, making the head and thorax look like hovering specks, unrecognizable as an ant.26

  • Tapinoma melanocephalum
  • Wetterer, 2009
Cosima zu Knyphausen, Einschlägige Berufserfahrung, 2021

Cosima zu Knyphausen

Einschlägige Berufserfahrung
egg shells on painted canvas
19×15 cm
courtesy of the artist

When Fire Ants21 encounter essential balm, they collect nearby soil particles and pave over the sticky substance.22,23 They employ the same strategy to forage in areas treated with insecticides.24

  • Solenopsis invicta
  • Balms with essential oils are often used as insect repellents.
  • Wen et al., 2021
  • Wen et al., 2022
Sophie Reinhold, Return of the fool, 2019

Sophie Reinhold

Return of the fool
oil and marble powder on jute
190×140 cm
courtesy of the artist

When an ant leaves home, she carries the distinct colony smell on her body for a long time.19 If this scent gets masked or washed off, however, her nest mates will attack her aggressively, no longer recognizing their sister.20

  • According to research conducted on Prairie Mound Ants, Formica montana.
  • Henderson et al., 1990
Anne Schwalbe, Sonnenhut I, 2014

Anne Schwalbe

Sonnenhut I
24×30 cm, edition of 20
courtesy of the artist

Many ant species forage for seeds, which in turn affects the abundance and spread of plants.17 When a forest is cleared, ant communities get displaced, disrupting the ecosystem and changing the makeup of the undergrowth for decades.18

  • Some plants have evolved elaiosomes—fleshy, nutritious bits on their seeds—to attract Harvesting Ants. The ants feed these to their larvae and discard the actual seeds in a designated waste area, where they can germinate and grow into new flowers.
  • Pennisi, 2020
Joss McKinley, Sunbeam, 2023

Joss McKinley

courtesy of the artist

Dracula Ants14 practice non-destructive cannibalism. Using sharp, elongated jaws, they puncture the skin of their own larvae and feed on their blood without killing them.15,16

  • Amblyoponinae
  • Like other invertebrates, ants have a mostly clear blood-equivalent called hemolymph.
  • Bolton, 2003
Loren Erdrich, Not All Water Is For Drowning, 2021

Loren Erdrich

Not All Water Is For Drowning
water, raw pigment, organic and synthetic dye, and water-soluble pastel on muslin
122×102 cm
courtesy of the artist and Shrine

Carpenter Ants11 die ten times quicker when isolated from their peers. They wander around and continue to gather food, likely to share it with their nest mates later, but do not digest it themselves.12 They starve to death with a full belly.13

  • Camponotus fellah
  • Ants have a social stomach, an organ used to store food for the colony.
  • Koto et al., 2015
Thomas Albdorf, Fountain (Part Five), from the series Body Double, 2022

Thomas Albdorf

Fountain (Part Five), from the series Body Double
courtesy of the artist

In Malaysia, some ants8 live in the hollow internodes of giant bamboo stems. When their nest gets flooded by rain, they respond by drinking the water and excreting it on the outside of the plant.9 This strategy is known as communal peeing.10

  • Cataulacus muticus
  • This takes a while as they produce just one droplet at a time.
  • Maschwitz & Moog, 2000
Neven Allgeier, Environment, 2017

Neven Allgeier

courtesy of the artist

Desert Ants4 can navigate precisely using the sun.5 When it is obscured, they use the pattern of polarized light across the blue sky as a compass.6 They have an extra set of eyes for this.7

  • Cataglyphis
  • Santschi, 1911
  • Fent & Wehner, 1985
  • The ocelli are located on the ant’s forehead, in between her compound eyes, not unlike a magical third eye.
Anna Lea Hucht, untitled, 2013

Anna Lea Hucht

watercolor on paper
19×19 cm
courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger

Fire Ants1 take around 250 naps per day, each lasting just over one minute. Some choose to sleep upside down on the ceiling. During deep sleep phases, they exhibit rapid antennal movement.2,3

  • Solenopsis invicta workers
  • also known as RAM sleep—which begs the question: do ants dream?
  • Cassill et al., 2009