General information about ants
Currently, there are about 14 000 species of ants known (the exact present number is 14097, a list of all species can be found here). Their main habitat are the tropics. Every year more species are discovered. There are only about 150 species of ants in Europe.
The ants (Formicidae) are an invertebrate family, which belongs to kingdom animals (Animalia), phylum Arthropoda, spike Insects (Insecta), order Hymenoptera. Their origin is not very clear. It is supposed that their ancestors are species of non-social wasps. In the course of time, the animals of this species got specialized. The castes (a group devoted to a specific activity) were formed.
The science about ants is called Myrmecology (from Greek-"Murmek"=ant). It is a part of Entomology (the science about insects) and dates back to the end of the XVIII-th and the beginning of the XIX-th century.
Ants, as well as bees and wasps are social insects. This means that they build a kind of a settlement and live in a society with strict hierarchy. In contrast to bees and wasps, which build their nests out of wax or cellulose, ants are not so dependent on the enviroment and resources. The anthill can be build out of all kind of materials and on all kind of places.
It can be entirely underground (the yellow ants Lasius flavus get on the surface for their nuptial flight only) or partly underground (most species of ants: the black ant Lasius niger and Formica fusca, the big red forest ant Formica rufa), as well as in living or dead trees (the shining-black wood ant Lasius fuliginosus).
In contrast to bees and wasps, which have to keep constant temperature in their nest during the winter, what they need considerable food stocks for, ants spend the winter hibernating. In this condition they barely need food and can endure temperatures as low as -10°C.
The incredible agility and adaptiveness has turned ants to one of the most successful and numerous species on the planet.