Ants are part of the order Hymenoptera, they are somehow related to bees and wasp who also make up the remainder of the Hymenoptera order. We have known for sometime that insects are capable of amazing feats, such as lifting objects that are many times their own body weight. Ants in particular are laborers, but they are much more then simple workers. Ants represent one group of insects that are referred to as a Super-Organism in that the entire ant colony is considered the organism. Of course each ant is also an organism, in the same way that you and I are organisms. What makes up a Super Organism is somewhat difficult to explain.
Each member of an ant colony has a job that they are born into. We call these job roles casts. A worker ant is always a worker ant. A soldier ant is always a soldier ant. The queen is always the queen. These roles never change. In fact, they would be impossible to change with few exceptions. Within a Super Organism exists a life of altruism... the selfless work and sacrifice for the good of the entire colony. We have seen examples of this in other species such as bees. We have also seen the idea of such an organism creep into popular television. An example would be the Borg on Star Trek. Altruism in ants is amazing. Any sign of danger and the individual ant will sacrifice its life to save the colony. They do this without hesitation, and they do this everyday.
World wide, there are over 12,000 different species of ants. They live in almost every part of the world. In the video above, we get a real look at what ants are capable of with their industrious lifestyle. To expand on this video excerpt, this ant colony was occupied and created by leaf cutter ants. Leaf cutter ants harvest round circles of leaves which they meticulously cut out of leaves. They do not eat the leaves. The leaf circles are part of a larger plan. These ants are farmers. They use the leaf circles to grow a very specific type of fungus. It is the fungus that they consume. They create very special growing chambers that they make into ideal growing environments for the fungi. They tend to their crop very diligently by grooming the fungus, weeding out inferior specimens, and even replacing the leaf material when needed. While the above video focuses on the amazing structure that these ants have built, it is important to realize and focus on the beneficial aspect of what Ants do for humans.
Ants are the master of recycling, reducing, and other environmental qualities that we humans should take note of. Sure, we see them in our kitchens and we spray them with toxic pesticides... which has to be the most unintelligent reaction to an invasive species. What? Take a look at the size of that colony in the video. How many cans of insecticide are you willing to spray on your cooking surfaces? That crap does not just wash off. It lingers and eventually gets into your food, on your hands, absorbed by your skin, in your baby's bottle, on your pets, etc. You have just introduced carcinogens to your family, tainted your food supply, and God knows what else. Not every ant is interested in your kitchen crumbs. Not many other insects hang out near ant colonies because they will likely become a food source for the ants. If you have a garden and you notice Aphids... well some species of ants farm Aphids in much the same way ranchers grow cattle. What is important about this example is not the Aphids, nor the ants... it is the fact that you will not likely see any other type of crop pest anywhere near that Ants and their Aphids. Aphids can be a significant source of plant damage, but not usually. An Aphid colony that is under Ant supervision is very productive. If you watch, the ants will pick up the Aphids and move them to ideal locations on the plant. They do this so that the Aphids have the best food source. Ants will also defend Aphids from predators such as wasp. If you are lucky enough in your observations you may see the Ants file out of their colony and march to save the Aphids.
Without Ants and other recyclers, the world would be over run by dead and decaying things like insects, bodies, yard waste, etc. Ants play a very important role in our world and they make up a number of extremely fascinating species that we should protect. In short, put down the pesticides... you are only poisoning yourself.