Ants (Family Formicidae)
Ants are social insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related families of wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera, which also includes sawflies, bees and wasps. Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the mid-Cretaceous period between 110 and 130 million years ago and diversified after the rise of flowering plants. They diversified and assumed ecological dominance around 60 million years ago. Today, more than 12,000 species are classified. They are easily identified by their elbowed antennae and a distinctive node-like structure that forms a slender waist. Ants range in size from 0.75 to 52 mm (0.030 to 2.0 in).
Ants form highly organized colonies, which may occupy large territories and consist of millions of individuals that are mostly sterile females forming castes of "workers", "soldiers", or other specialized groups. Ant colonies also have some fertile males called "drones" and one or more fertile females called "queens". The colonies are sometimes described as superorganisms because ants appear to operate as a unified entity, collectively working together to support the colony.
Ants are found on all continents except Antarctica and only a few large islands such as Greenland, Iceland, parts of Polynesia and the Hawaiian Islands lack native ant species. Ants dominate most ecosystems, and form 15-20% of the terrestrial animal biomass. Their success has been attributed to their social organization, ability to modify their habitats, tap resources and defend themselves. Their long co-evolution with other species has led to mimetic, commensal, parasitic and mutualistic relationships.
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