Ants do not have bones or internal skeletons like human beings and other vertebrates. Ants are regarded as invertebrates because they lack a backbone. So instead of an endoskeleton, ants have got an exoskeleton.
A backbone or rather a skeleton is nothing but a form of support for the body. Some of its common types include:
- Endoskeleton (The one found in vertebrates)
- Exoskeleton (Found in the majority of invertebrates)
- Cytoskeleton (Present in all cells, even in microorganisms like bacteria and archaea)
- Hydro skeleton (Skeleton supported by fluid pressure, found in invertebrates like jellyfish, starfish that lived deep under the sea or ocean).
Ants contain an external skeleton or an exoskeleton instead of an internally placed skeleton.
Let’s take a deeper look at this topic.
What is an Exoskeleton?
An exoskeleton is an external hard covering that helps in protecting an organism from injuries. It acts as that hard barrier between the outside world and the internal soft tissues.
The best thing about exoskeletons is, they can be molted or shredded as per the need of the organism.
In fact, the majority of the living organisms on this planet are invertebrates so they contain an exoskeleton instead of an endoskeleton.
Why do Ants have Exoskeletons?
In ants, the exoskeleton plays a vital role in their survival. They are made of chitin and are completely waterproof. So this means that the ants won’t have any issues when exposed to water, at least in the short term.
Exoskeletons not only help in protecting the ants from danger but also help in their optimal muscle movement.
So let’s quickly peek at some of the unique benefits of the ant exoskeleton.
Advantages of Exoskeletons in Ants
1. Protection from External Damage
This is probably the most important function of the exoskeleton. The hard external covering helps in giving a protective covering to the soft and vulnerable organs of the ant.
Having exoskeletons is important for any living organism that mostly dwells in rough environmental conditions. This just gives them that added cushion of safety against basic injuries.
2. Protection against Changes in Weather Conditions
The exoskeleton is made up of many layers, often time’s insects contain an innermost waxy layer that protects them against severe dehydration.
It prevents the loss of water which is an important matter especially for ants that dwells in dry conditions.
The exoskeleton also helps in protecting the ant inner body from sudden temperature fluctuations. It will protect the organism from extreme heat and cold, as well as from getting wet.
3. Protection against Predators and Infection
Exoskeletons provide the ants with an armor-like external covering that protects them in their battle for survival against predators or sometimes even from a member of the same species. The hard chitin covering doesn’t let the enemies get easy access to the softer internal tissues.
It also protects the internal organs from fungal or bacterial infections.
4. Enhanced function of their Muscles
Unlike humans, ants have their skeleton on the outside. Owing to this structural benefit, their muscles do not need to support their skeleton.
So the muscles are totally focused on using their full strength to carry heavy stuff.
Also in humans, the muscles are not directly attached to the bones. They are connected with the ligaments and the cartilages. But in insects, the muscles are attached to the external skeleton.
This further helps them to move around with more flexibility.
5. Helps in the Superior Movement of Jointed Appendages
The overall design of the exoskeleton helps in the swift movement of the appendages. The body muscles and the jointed appendages work in tandem that gives them an upper hand in faster movement.
So alongside providing the ants with a protective covering, the exoskeleton also promotes better limb movement.
Disadvantages of Exoskeletons in Ants
1. Exoskeleton Injuries can be Fatal
The healing time for exoskeletons can be long. So in case of a heavy injury, the ant can die very easily.
2. It Prevents Ants from Evolving into a Larger Structure
A larger structure always has got an upper hand in terms of survival. If the size of the ants increases by many folds, the exoskeleton will become so heavy that the animal will be barely able to move. This is one of the reasons why higher animals do not have an exoskeleton.
So even though it plays an important role in protection from predators and natural calamities, it does put an extra weight onto the ant bodies which further limits them in their size.
Comparison of Ant Exoskeletons vs Vertebrate Endoskeletons
|Ant Exoskeleton||Vertebrate Endoskeleton|
|The exoskeleton as the name suggests is present outside of the cellular body.||The endoskeleton is an internal skeleton that can only be present within the body.|
|It is made up of scales and shells formed by the chitin.||The endoskeleton is composed of bones and cartilages.|
|Aside from ants and other insects, exoskeletons are commonly found in spiders, crabs, centipedes, etc.||Aside from mammals, endoskeletons are found in amphibians, fishes, etc.|
|The ant exoskeleton is a non-living structure and it develops from the ectoderm layer of embryonic development.
As the ant exoskeleton is a non-living structure, its form remains the same throughout the lifespan of the organism.
|The endoskeleton is a living structure and it arises from the endoderm layer of embryonic development.
As it is a living structure, it grows along with the body. As the size of the organism enhances, its skeleton’s size also increases evenly.
|Exoskeletons commonly contain a waxy layer that prevents dehydration in the insects.||Endoskeletons do not contain any such layer.|
|Ants can shed their exoskeleton like all insects and this process is termed molting.||Molting does not occur ever with the endoskeleton.|
1. Do all Insects have Exoskeletons?
Insects belong to the phylum arthropoda. For the members of this phylum, the exoskeleton is a must-have ancestral trait. It is a beneficial evolutionary character that all insects have.
- Do Ants have Muscles?
- Do Ants Pee and Poop?
- Do Ants have Bones?
- Do Ants have Lungs?
- Do Ants have Hair or Fur?
- Do Ants have Eyes?
So do ants have backbones? No, they don’t. However, they have got a non-living exoskeleton that protects them from the outside world.
An exoskeleton is totally different from an endoskeleton. Both in terms of structure and function.
The major role of the exoskeleton is to protect the ant from outside danger. Along with that it also plays a key role in swift muscle movement and in maintaining internal equilibrium.