Listen to Episode 149 on PodBean, YouTube, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts!
Incredibly diverse, eternally fascinating, and so ubiquitous today that it’s hard to imagine a world without them. This episode, we discuss the deep history of Ants.
In the news
This mysterious Carboniferous predator might be related to snails
Giant otter from Ethiopia seemingly spent most of its time on land
Exceptionally-preserved new species is a cousin of tuataras
Organs preserved in Devonian armored fish
Small and Many
There are many ways to measure the “success” of a group of organisms. Often, biologists will consider a group successful if they are widespread across the globe, or if they maintain large populations, or if they feature a wide diversity of species. By those metrics, ants are remarkably, unbelievably successful. There are over 15,000 identified species of ants, and one study estimated the total number of ants on Earth to be approximately 20 quadrillion (that’s 20,000,000,000,000,000).
Ants belong to the insect group called Hymenoptera, which also includes bees and wasps. In terms of anatomy, ants can be identified by their uniquely elbowed antennae and their small “waist” featuring a structure called a petiole. And ants are famously social – eusocial, in fact; all ants live in colonies.
Ants are small and delicate, but they are also numerous, and so the ant fossil record is quite rich. Hundreds of fossil ant species have been identified, including members of modern ant groups as well as totally extinct ant families. The oldest known ants are Cretaceous, over 100 million years old, and they already exhibit characteristics of eusociality. Even back during the Age of Dinosaurs, ants were ants.
There’s always more…
The abundance, biomass, and distribution of ants on Earth (and the study)
Evolution of the army ant syndrome (and the study)
The global expansion of the Argentine ant supercolony (technical, open access)
The rise of the ants (technical, open access)
Caste development and evolution in ants (technical, open access)
If you enjoyed this topic and want more like it, check out these related episodes:
- Episode 62 – Amber
- Episode 81 – Metamorphosis
- Episode 99 – Evolution of Insects
- Episode 111 – Eusociality
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