Identification

A side view of two ants showing their important body regions and features.

 Sugar Ant, Camponotus eastwoodiThis sugar ant, Camponotus eastwoodi has a waist made up of a single segment.Although they are sometimes called 'white ants', termites are not ants at all, but are more closely related to cockroaches.Although they are sometimes called 'white ants', termites are not ants at all, but are more closely related to cockroaches.A female velvet ant belonging to the family Mutillidae. This is not an ant at all, but a wingless wasp.A female velvet ant belonging to the family Mutillidae. This is not an ant at all, but a wingless wasp.

The identification of ants is based on the workers. The body of a worker ant is divided into three regions:

  • the head which has a pair of antennae and the mouthparts
  • the mesosoma which has three pairs of legs
  • the metasoma which consists of narrow waist of one or two small segments followed by a group of segments called the gaster.

Ants should not be confused with termites (Order Isoptera) another group of social insects that live in colonies. Although they are called 'white ants', termites are more closely related to cockroaches. Ants differ from termites in several ways.

Ants 

  • Head of workers usually with a pair of distinct compound eyes. Sometimes eyes very small and rarely eyes absent. 
  • Body with a distinct waist of one or two small segments. 
  • Antennae ‘elbowed’ with the first segment much longer than the others; segments rarely bead-like.
  • Immature stages are legless, grub-like larvae that go through a pupal stage.
  • Workers are all females.

Termites

  • Workers and soldiers without compound eyes.
  • Body without a waist.
  • Antennae not elbowed; first segment not very long; remaining segments bead-like.
  • Immature stages are nymphs that look like small adults; no pupal stage.
  • Workers and soldiers are males and females.

There are several kinds of wingless wasps that look very similar to ants. Females wasps belonging to the family Mutillidae are even called 'velvet ants'. Ants can usually be separated from them by their strongly elbowed antennae and small waist segments.

One other characteristic feature of ants is their metapleural glands. These are found only in ants, although some species have lost them. They produce antimicrobial substances and are thought to help prevent the spread of diseases in the colony. The glands have a small opening on the side of the mesosoma just above the bases of the hind legs.

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