Ant and Related Entomology Terms

(terms restricted to the study of social insects; such as, ants and words that apply generally to entomology)

alarm-recruitment system (s) (noun), alarm-recruitment systems (pl)
A communication system that rallies nest mates to some particular place to aid in the defense of the colony: One example of an alarm-recruitment system is the odor trail method of lower termites, which is used to recruit colony members to the vicinity of intruders and breaks in the nest wall.

alate (adjective), more alate, most alate
Referring to an animal or something possessing winglike extensions; winged: It is known that maple trees have alate seeds.

At certain times of the year, alate ants fly and swarm around, and are also called alates.

alitrunk (s) (noun), alitrunks (pl)
In zoology, the segment of the body of an insect to which the wings are attached; the thorax; mesosoma: The alitrunk is found in the higher Hymenoptera, including the true thorax and (fused anteriorly to the thorax) the first abdominal segment.
allele (s) (noun), alleles (pl)
Any of the possible forms in which a gene for a specific trait can occur: In almost all animal cells, two alleles for each gene are inherited, one from each parent. Paired alleles (one on each of two paired chromosomes) that are the same are called "homozygous", and those that are different are called "heterozygous".

In heterozygous pairings, one allele is usually dominant, and the other recessive. Complex traits, such as height and longevity are usually caused by the interactions of numerous pairs of alleles, while simple traits, such as eye color may be caused by just one pair.

allelic recognition, recognition allele (s) (noun); allelic recognitions; recognition alleles (pl)
Alleles (genes that are responsible for alternative characteristics) hypothesized to encode the production of a identification cue: In addiction, an allelic recognition can simultaneously identify the cue in others, leading to the discrimination of kin from non-kin.
alloethism (s) (noun), alloethisms (pl)
The regular and disproportionate change in a particular category of behavior as a function of worker size: It was interesting to read about alloethism referring to alterations in ant actions or conduct of ants involving the size of workers.
allogrooming (s) (noun) (no pl)
In zoology, grooming directed at another individual, as opposed to self-grooming: Allogrooming is a kind of social grooming, like a young olive baboon being cleaned and tended to by an adult of its kind.

A mother cat is known for licking and cleaning her young, which is another example of allogrooming.

allometry (s) (noun) (no pl)
The study of the change in proportion of various parts of an organism as a consequence of growth: Jack was interested in the field of allometry involving the extremities or organs of a living animal growing out of balance or proportion with the rest of its body.
allomone (s) (noun), allomones (pl)
A chemical substance or blend of substances used in communication among individuals beloning to different species: Allomone evokes a response that is adaptively favorable to the emitter but not to the receiver, as a lure used by a predator in attracting its prey.

altruism (s) (noun), altruisms (pl)
Self-destructive behavior performed for the benefit of others in the colony: Catherine read about altruism as an action by an animal that is not favourable for itself, or could even be dangerous, but improves the situation of another of its species.
ant (s) (noun), ants (pl)
A social insect living in an organized colony: Ants are characteristically the males and fertile queen that have wings during breeding season while wingless sterile females are the workers.

Ants run much of the terrestrial world as soil turners, channelers of energy, dominatrics of the insect fauna and yet receive only passing mention in textbooks on ecology.

They employ the most complex forms of chemical communication of any animals and their social organization provides an illuminating contrast to that of human beings, but not one biologist in a hundred can describe the life cycle of any species.

Ants are classified as a single family, the Formicidae, within the order Hymenoptera, which also includes the bees, wasps, sawflies, ichneumons (order of parasitic wasps whose larvae feed on other live insect larvae), and similar forms.

—Compiled excerpts from
The Ants by Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson;
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press;
Cambridge, Massachusetts; 1990; pages 1-3.
ant body (noun), ant bodies (pl)
The body of an ant is divided into three main parts:
  1. The head
  2. The thorax or mid-section.
  3. The abdomen or gastor.

Three pairs of legs are attached to the thorax, and like all insects, ant bodies are encased in a hard, shell-like covering or exoskeleton and their legs are jointed.

The thorax can be broken down into two major parts: the alitrunk, which contains the legs and wings, and the petiole, which is found directly anterior to the gastor and is found only in ants.

Ants have mandibles (jaws) which are of varied structures. These varied structures provide for a plethora of functions ranging from grasping, tearing, cutting and other special tasks.

Most ants have a stinger at the end of the gastor. Some ants can release this stinger similar to the way honeybees do it. The stinger is only found in female ants and is a modified ovipositor (egg laying organ).

Ants have compound eyes which have not been shown to effect their behavior, although some ants seem to be able to detect movements. They have very sensitive antennae that are used for a wide array of communication.

Nearly all ants have a unique gland found on the petiole called the metapleural gland. Most importantly, this gland has been shown to contain antibacterial and antifungal chemicals which are essential for survival in the humid, dark nests in the ground or rotting vegetation.

This gland secretes an antiseptic substance that at times acts as a repellent to attacking organisms. It is also thought that the metapleural gland releases pheromones for communication.

Their varied mandibles are an irreplaceable tool for accomplishing the jobs necessary for the multiple behaviors displayed by various individuals of colonies.

The metapleural gland excretes antifungal and antibacterial materials that ants spread throughout their colonies through their wanderings. This protects their brood and their food supplies in the humid underground environment.

ant caste, ant category, ant classification (s) (noun): ant castes; ant categories; or ant classifications (pl)
1. Queens, which are typically the largest ants in a colony: After selecting a nest site, a queen will begin laying eggs and caring for her brood. The first workers in the ant caste that develop assume brood care, leaving the queen to simply lay eggs.

Ant colonies can have single or multiple queens. The number of queens in multiple queen colonies varies by species, ranging from a few queens to nearly half the population in a colony.

Depending on the ant species, queens may live from months to years.

2. Males, that serve one purpose which is to mate or breed with the queen: In the ant caste, males typically die soon after mating or are forced to leave the colony and are normally alive solely during the colony's reproductive stage or period.

3. Workers, which are sterile, wingless females form the main members of the colony: In the ant caste, the workers perform the tasks necessary for the survival and growth of the colony; such as, foraging for or finding food, caring for the brood (eggs, larvae, plus the queen), and excavating or enlarging the nest.

ant garden (s) (noun), ant gardens (pl)
A cluster of epiphytic plants inhabited by ant colonies which benefit from the association: In the book about plants, Alice read about ant gardens and how the relationship between certain plants and ants was quite favourable for both.

"Epiphytes" are plants, such as a tropical orchid or a staghorn fern, that grows on another plant upon which it depends for mechanical support but not for nutrients. They are also called aerophytes or "air plants".

One of the most complex mutualisms between plants and ants is the ant garden

To qualify as a true ant garden, the plants must benefit from the ant associations which is an aggregate of epipytes assembled by ants.

The ants bring the seeds of the epiphytes into their carton nests and as the plants grow, nourished by the carton and detritus brought by the ants, their roots become part of the framework of the ant nests.

The ants also feed on the fruit pulp, the elaiosomes (food bodies) of the seeds, and the secretions of the extra-floral nectaries.

—Compiled from excerpts of
"Ant Gardens" located in The Ants by Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson;
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press;
Cambridge, Massachusetts; 1990; page 546.
ant plant, myrmecophyte (s) (noun); ant plants; myrmecophytes (pl)
A species of plant with domatia, or specialized structures for housing ant colonies: Sandy learned in class that there were ant plants that gave refuge and/or nourishment to ants, and both the ants and the plants lived symbiotically with each other.

Here are two additional word units that deal directly with "ants": formic- and myrmeco-.

Index of additional Scientific and Technological Topics.

Bibliography of Entomology or Insect Terms (The Ants).