Ants are one of the most populous insect species, and they play a crucial role in soil aeration, soil fertilization, ecological balance and are a source of food for other creatures. So, their extinction would be catastrophic to the ecosystem.
Ants have been around for close to 80 million years, and they about 14,000 different species. They are highly adaptive, resourceful, and can survive in almost any climatic condition. Some are destructive while others are beneficial, but the benefits outweigh the damages they can cause.
Some ant species are facing extinction, and their extinction can be disastrous for life on earth.
Ants are tiny creatures that live in colonies. These colonies are made up of primarily non-mating females—the non-mating female play significant roles in the colony, including gathering food and building the nest.
Each colony has a queen. The queen’s role is only to lay eggs. At times, the queen produces winged males and females (fly ants) whose role is to mate with other ants from different colonies.
The most interesting fact is that after mating, the male dies. However, the females move to start their own colonies.
What Would Happen If Ants Went Extinct?
Most of us see ants as annoying; these little things spoil our picnic and sting us, but we don’t understand the role they play in balancing nature. To understand what would happen if ants went extinct, we must understand the role they play.
1. Reduced Soil Aeration
Ants play a crucial role in soil aeration. They dig tunnels when building their nest. This tunnels allow for the flow of oxygen and water to the roots.
Poor soil aeration has adverse effects on plant growth. Properly aerated soil allows moisture to penetrate deep down the ground for easy absorption by the roots. Additionally, poor soil aeration creates a friendly environment for diseases to thrive, increasing the potential of plants death.
Therefore, the extinction of ants would result in the destabilization of the ecosystem. This is because there exists a symbiotic relationship between plants and the ecosystem.
2. Poor Soil Fertility
Ants play a considerable role in soil fertilization which is a crucial component in plants sustainability. They feed on leaves, and they move them in large quantities to their nest. The leaves decay in the nest, thus fertilizing the soil.
Ants also aid in the decomposition of dead insects and other small animals. According to research, there is increased soil nutrients and organic matter around ants nest. As such, fertile soil improves plants growth rate.
The extinction of ant would thus result in reduced plants’ productivity and eventual death.
3. Ecological Imbalance
Ants are categorized among the top world predators. Ants prey on other insect species and scavenge on other tiny organisms—this behavior aids in creating an ecological balance among insects.
Additionally, ants have a significant influence on the agricultural ecosystem and form the foundation of the food pyramid. Removing them from the food chain would create a ripple effect that would affect every living organism.
4. Imbalance in the Food Chain
Ants’ extinction would also mean that creatures and organisms that depend on them for food would also become extinct. There are several creatures, and even humans that depend on ants as a food source.
One such organism is the pitcher-plant. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants mainly found in swampy areas. These plants produce nectar that attracts ants. Once the ants enter the cavity of the pitcher-plant, it is trapped by water inside the cavity. Enzymes contained in the cavity then digests the trapped ants.
Another organism that feeds on ants is the ant lion. These creatures solely feed on ants. The great thing about ant lions is that as they source for ants, they dig pits that aid in soil aeration.
There are other animals, insects, and birds that rely on ants as food, including;
- The anteater is specifically built to feed on ants as it has a long, slim snout that allows it to fit into an anthill.
- Bears, especially young cubs, also feed on ants. Other animals that feed on ants include eastern moles, Aardvark, Pangolin, and stripped skunks.
- Some insects, including spiders and phorid fly, also feed on ants.
- Birds that prey on ants include downy woodpeckers, wild turkeys, starlings, hummingbirds, sparrows, flickers, antpittas and grouse.
The most interesting part is that humans also prey on ants, a culture that has been encouraged by the UN. Ants are highly nutritious, and people from Santander in Colombia have been feeding on them as a source of protein. One of the most consumed ant species in this region is the queen leaf-cutter ant. They actually consider these ants a symbolic wedding gift.
It is evident that the extinction of ants would affect not only agriculture but also the sustainability of other creatures that depend on them.
Why are Ants at a Threat of Extinction?
Ants are threatened with extinction if proper measures are not put in place to protect them. The main contributor to the decline and possible extinction is human activity.
Activities such as the use of pesticides, over-exploitation and pollution are considered as the main factors that can result in ants’ extinction.
Human intervention is the root cause of endangered ant species, as our impact on the environment upsets the delicate balance between ants and ant predators like anteaters and birds.
Other factors like climate change, the introduction of new species, eutrophication from fertilizers, and artificial lighting have also been linked to ant population decline.
Solutions to Avoid Ant Extinction
Ants are fundamental to the functioning of our ecosystem through processes such as pollination, nutrient cycling, insect control, and food. Therefore, the fate of ants is entangled with that of humans and other creatures.
But recent reports have shown a sharp decline in the number of ants across the world. Scientists warn that if the trend continues, it will undermine the ecosystem.
One strategy that can be applied is ensuring that there are no pollutants and insecticides that kill ants. Furthermore, there should be a mindset change on the perception of insects. People should understand the value of insects and not endanger them.
Lastly, although ants are beneficial and should be protected, they should also be controlled. Ants are still pests, and if not kept in check, they can cause problems.
To reduce ‘human-ant’ interactions people should try to put measures that discourage ants from infesting their homes. Ensure your kitchen is clean as most ants are attracted to sweet and greasy foodstuffs. Also, always empty you trash cans on time and keep them covered.
Ants are beneficial to plants, humans, and other creatures. Therefore, the extinction of ants could be disastrous to the whole ecosystem. Human activities contribute to almost 90 % of ants’ population decline. Although some ants are a menace, that should not be a reason to eradicate them.
Our perception of ants is what hinders us from understanding the benefits they have. Therefore, let’s change that mindset and recognize that both ants and humans can co-exist harmoniously.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.