Ant mounds are more important for biodiversity than previously thought (2023)

Ant mounds are more important for biodiversity than previously thought (1)

Most of us are annoyed by ants in our gardens. There are so many of them. And if you leave food out on your garden table, even for just a couple of minutes, the table will be swarming with ants when you return.

Most garden owners will therefore do everything they can to get rid of ant colonies in their garden. But perhaps we should leave the ants be? Because they are hugely beneficial for biodiversity, a new study published in Arthropod-Plant Interactions shows.

With colleagues from the Department of Ecoscience at Aarhus University, Rikke Reisner Hansen has studied ant mounds on Danish heathlands to discover their importance for other insects and for plants.

"The ants drag dead animals back to the ant mound, and this adds carbon and other important nutrients to the surrounding soil. The ant mound moreover warms up the surrounding ground, and in springtime, adders, lizards and beetles like to rest near ant mounds for warmth. The heat and the nutrients create unique conditions that allow certain plant species that don't otherwise thrive on heathland to thrive on the ant mound," she says.

Digging on the heath

Equipped with a spade, Hansen went to the heath to study the role of ant mounds in heathland wildlife. She looked for two types of ant mound:

Those belonging to the narrow-headed ant, which look almost identical to the ant mounds you see in Danish forests. However, instead of pine needles, narrow-headed ants use leaves from heather and grass. And mounds belonging to the yellow meadow ant. This is a small ant that builds its nest from mineral soil on heathlands.

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Whenever she came across an ant mound, she took out her spade and dug a deep hole right next to the ant mound. In this way, she could study how the ant mound affected the soil, roots and wildlife both above and below the mound. She also measured the temperature on top of the ant mound, and she examined the soil around and underneath it to determine the soil nutrients.

"It appears that the top part of the ant mound acts like a kind of miniature Costa del Sol for insects and reptiles. The animals exploit the excess heat from the ants for warmth in early spring and on chilly mornings," she explains, and continues:

"The same applies to plants. If a plant grows on an ant mound, it will blossom or come into leaf faster than the same species growing in the surrounding heathland soil. This is a huge benefit for insects that feed on pollen and nectar, because the ant mounds introduce an extra flowering season."

The butterfly that fooled an entire colony

The Alcon blue is a butterfly that lives only on the heathland where ants live. The caterpillar of the Alcon blue has developed a method by which it tricks the ants into thinking it is their queen.

"The Alcon blue lays its eggs on the rare marsh gentian plant. The caterpillar feeds on marsh gentian seeds during the first three stages of its life. When it has grown big enough, it falls to the ground and begins to emit a smell and a sound identical to those of a queen ant larva," says Hansen, and continues:

"When the worker ants discover what they mistakenly believe is a queen larva, they drag it into the ant nest. They feed the caterpillar, and sometimes they even forget their own offspring, and the colony dies."

The caterpillar winters in the ant mound and, come spring, it spreads its beautiful blue wings and leaves the ant mound. Denmark is home to 12 species of gossamer-winged butterfly—the family of butterflies to which the Alcon blue belongs. Eleven of these species thrive best in places where ants also live. And a handful of these depend on ants to complete their life cycle.

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But the ant mounds are also important for other species. Protecting ant mounds can therefore be an important step in mitigating the biodiversity crisis.

Important for biodiversity

The world, including Denmark, is in the middle of a biodiversity crisis. We are losing species at an ever-faster rate as we destroy important habitats when we fell forests, cultivate heathlands or drain bogs.

A total of 1,844 species of animal, plant and fungi are under threat of extinction in Denmark alone. Among these is the Alcon blue. In just 40 years, the Alcon blue has lost more than 15 percent of its habitat in Denmark. This could be because of the way we manage our heathlands, Hansen explains.

"We tend to manage our heathlands as a homogenous landscape. We often apply the same management method throughout a heathland to preserve it as an open landscape. For example, we allow too many animals to graze the land. Or we use large machines to cut the vegetation. Unfortunately, this destroys the ant mounds.

To ensure many different plants and animals on the heath, we need to rewild the landscape, or at least return it to the way it was before machinery took over from traditional management systems," she explains.

A changing landscape

Before humans began to shape and cultivate the land, most of Denmark was covered in forest. When a lightning bolt hit a tree, it might set off a massive forest fire. Such fires could clear large areas of land, and from the blackened tree stumps and ashes an open heathland landscape emerged and developed.

Slowly, over the course of decades, trees grew up again and eventually the forest returned. In this way, heathlands emerged and disappeared again over time throughout Denmark.

Because the heathlands were changing landscapes, they offered all kinds of habitat and were teeming with life and an abundance of species.

(Video) An excellent educational moment with Pat about what was wrong

According to Hansen, this is the type of heathland landscape that must be restored in Denmark today if we want to do biodiversity good.

"We have to preserve the ant mounds and not use the same management method throughout the heath. Grazing and burning are important management techniques. But we have to apply methods varyingly and adjust them. If we allow goats, sheep or horses to graze on the same, restricted area throughout the summer, they will eat everything and leave a very homogeneous landscape, she says and explains further:

"It's all about creating a varied landscape. If you apply a varied management system, the result will be a varied landscape."

Leave the ant mounds be

In many places in Denmark, the local government is responsible for maintaining and managing the heathland landscapes. Therefore, since local governments often decide the vegetation management plans, maybe they should consider what Hansen has found out?

"Local governments have many skilled biologists in their workforce. They know it's important to apply varied heathland management techniques. Unfortunately, it is often a matter of finances, and biodiversity is on the losing end," she says.

But local governments are not the only ones who should listen to what Hansen has to say. Garden owners also need to change their game. At home, in her own garden, Hansen has been experimenting. She has left the ant mounds be. And this has led to much more life, she explains.

"After I left the ant mounds be and sowed wild, indigenous pea flowers, I now have many more common blue butterflies in my garden. It's teeming with beautiful, blue butterflies," she says.

She explains that it is not enough to plant a few meadow flowers here and there to create more biodiversity. It is important to think about the living conditions needed for the butterfly to complete its entire life cycle. Many insects need a variety of landscape types.

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"For example, bees need areas with bare, solid soil. Small, warm spots where they can make nests. Other insects need small mounds of earth, water or deadwood. It's also important to have plants that provide different types of nectar. Some bees can only use the nectar from a single or a few species of flower, and some butterflies only live on certain plants. It's important that we ensure these small habitat variations in our gardens, both in terms of space and across the year, if we want to give diversity back to nature," she concludes.

More information:Rikke Reisner Hansen et al, Ant mounds extend the duration of plant phenology events and enhance flowering success, Arthropod-Plant Interactions (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s11829-023-09946-z

Provided byAarhus University

Citation:Ant mounds are more important for biodiversity than previously thought (2023, April 27)retrieved 30 April 2023from

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.


Ant mounds are more important for biodiversity than previously thought? ›

Ant mounds are more important for biodiversity than previously thought: The ant mounds on the heath, in the forest and in your garden are oases for life. The heat and nutrients from ant mounds make them the perfect home for unique plant and animal species, according to new research.

Are ant mounds beneficial? ›

We often receive reports of large ant mounds in a pastures and rangeland. These mounds are the creation of thatching ants, which are native to North America and common in South Dakota. Although these mounds are often considered a nuisance, the ants may play an important role as predators of potential pest insects.

What is amazing about mounds of ants? ›

The mounds of the ants are made of a delicate soil as it is amazingly hard to heap the manner in which the ants do. They work perseveringly to make their home. 'Amazing mound' alludes to the mound that ants make when they burrow an opening underground to store food.

What is the biodiversity of ants? ›

Abstract. Ants are important components of ecosystems not only because they constitute a great part of the animal biomass but also because they act as ecosystem engineers. Ant biodiversity is incredibly high and these organisms are highly responsive to human impact, which obviously reduces its richness.

Why are there so many ants in the world? ›

Because they are great at surviving. They work well as organized societies and they are highly adaptable. Their main job is recycling nutrients — dead flora and fauna. You can't have all that stuff just cluttering up the place.

Should you destroy ant mounds? ›

Whether you're dealing with ants indoors or out, it's best to eliminate the ant nest versus simply repelling ants. Each ant colony can contain hundreds or thousands of members. Left alone, ant colonies multiply, and a small problem can become a nightmare pretty quickly.

What is the benefit of anthill soil? ›

Anthill soil is used in Ayurveda and naturopathy therapies. It is commonly used for external application in the form of paste, to treat acne, stiffness of thigh, to relieve pain associated with insect bite, itching etc.

What happens when you destroy an ant hill? ›

There are also humans that either accidentally or purposefully destroy these anthills. Once destroyedthe ants evacuate and build a new nest as soon as possible. Species like the fire ant only take days to build a new anthill and they do it with ease.

What is a short paragraph about the anthills? ›

Answer: Anthills are simply piles of fine soil, sand or clay, sometimes with pine needles. They do not usually have any kind of rocks or pebbles in them, as these items are too heavy for a worker ant to carry. The mounded nest that ants build out of dirt or sand is called an anthill.

Why do ants build mounds before rain? ›

During rainstorms, water seeps into their underground tunnels, flooding and ultimately destroying them. To get away from the progressively wet ground, ants will build their homes upward, thus making them more apparent above ground.

How are ants useful to humans? ›

But did you know that ants can be beneficial to both humans and the environment? Ants & Pest Control: Many species of ants prey on the eggs and larvae of other bothersome household bugs such as flies, fleas, silverfish, bed bugs, and even cockroaches.

Why are ants the most successful species? ›

"The success of ants is in the way they have figured out how to use their social behavior to maximize a way to bring in resources," Wild said. "They've developed systems of communication so that they can rapidly communicate. That's why you get massive numbers of ants at your picnic."

How do fire ants affect biodiversity? ›

A single fire ant can sting its target repeatedly. Young and newborn animals are especially susceptible to the stings' venom. These pests can damage the environment by displacing native ant species and reducing food sources for wildlife.

Can Earth survive without ants? ›

Ants play a crucial role on our planet. They are populous in number and essential for soil aeration, fertilization, and ecological balance. Ants are also a vital food source for other creatures. The extinction of ants would cause catastrophic damage to our ecosystem.

Are ants the most successful species? ›

Ants are quite possibly the most successful insects on Earth, with an estimated 10,000 species worldwide, making up at least a third of the global insect biomass, and comprising several times the biomass of all land vertebrates combined.

What will be the impact of the absence of ants on the earth? ›

Correct Answer : 1.

In the absence of the ants, the population of termites will rise. Ants are known to introduce air into the soil that permits the water as well as oxygen to reach the roots located in the soil. Therefore, life would get destroyed on the earth in the absence of the ants.

Why should we not squish ants? ›

It is advised not to squash ants, doing so will only release pheromones and trigger more ants to come to the location and cause more trouble to you and your family. Ants are known to pack a deadly bite that causes excruciating pain for a short time.

What kills ant mounds? ›

Pouring 2 to 3 gallons of very hot or boiling water on the mound will kill ants about 60% of the time. Otherwise, the ants will probably just move to another location. Very hot or boiling water will kill the grass or surrounding vegetation that it is poured upon.

What naturally kills ants? ›

White vinegar

White vinegar, available at all grocery stores, is a cheap and effective way to kill and repel ants. It is also a natural cleaning agent. Try using a 1-to-1 vinegar/water mixture to clean hard surfaces, including floors and countertops, wherever ants are likely to travel.

Do ants improve soil quality? ›

First, ant nests improve soil fertility mainly through the accumulation of refuse materials. Thus, different refuse dump locations (external or in underground nest chambers) could benefit different vegetation life-forms.

Do ants improve soil? ›

Ants play an important role in the environment. Ants turn and aerate the soil, allowing water and oxygen to reach plant roots. Ants take seeds down into their tunnel to eat the nutritious elaiosomes that are part of the seed.

Do ants deplete soil nutrients? ›

Plant parts and other dead and decayed materials carried by ants for their food also contributes to the topsoil, thus enriching soil organic carbon and other organic matter content. Ants also enrich the nitrogen content of soil.

What smell do ants hate? ›

Peppermint is a natural insect repellant. You can plant mint around your home or use the essential oil of peppermint as a natural remedy for control of ants. Ants hate the smell, and your home will smell minty fresh! Plant mint around entryways and the perimeter of your home.

What happens if you pour bleach on an ant hill? ›

A highly toxic material, bleach kills ants on contact, or those in the same area that the fumes may annihilate. According to the Clegg's Pest Control website, while that may make you feel better, bleach cannot reach deeply into the ant nest to destroy the colony, so it's not an effective pest control method.

What is the great lesson from ants? ›

Ants know where to search for resources & adapt themselves to their surroundings. This teaches us that life will take us to many places, we will meet new people, make new friends. Not every place will be within our comfort zones & thus we must aim to adapt ourselves to our surroundings.

What is the moral of the story the ant Hill? ›

Soon summer came, the two colonies became friends. All the ants from both the colonies built a big anthill and they lived happily ever after. The moral of the story is “We must always help each other.”

What is the lesson from anthill? ›

Big things always start small. Big steps can surely take an individual further ahead on the path of success, but it's the small steps that count . This is the ideology that is discussed in the book Anthill - Lessons from the Ants authored by Pastor David Grace .

How do ant hills not flood? ›

Ant Hills: A Natural Flood Prevention System

Ants tend to burrow at least a foot underground and have an intricate system of tunnels that work like storm drains. When heavy rain leads to water entering the tunnel, it usually doesn't go far.

How long do ants sleep? ›

A recent study of ants' sleep cycle found that the average worker ant takes approximately 250 naps each day, with each one lasting just over a minute. That adds up to 4 hours and 48 minutes of sleep per day. The research also found that 80 percent of the ant workforce was awake and active at any one time.

Can ants survive water? ›

Additionally, ants can recover even after being submerged in water. The length of time an ant can survive underwater depends on the type of ant. However, most ants can survive underwater for up to 24 hours. Others can survive up to 14 days!

What are the negative effects of ants? ›

Damage caused by ants

In addition, some people are allergic to ant bites and, in extreme cases, could go into anaphylactic shock. Spread of disease is another risk. Ants carry and can spread bacteria, including Salmonella. They also can help the spread of diseases such as smallpox and dysentery.

Can we live without mosquitoes? ›

Without mosquitoes, thousands of plant species would lose a group of pollinators. Adults depend on nectar for energy (only females of some species need a meal of blood to get the proteins necessary to lay eggs). Yet McAllister says that their pollination isn't crucial for crops on which humans depend.

Are ants always pests? ›

While having ants in your garden may not seem ideal, it isn't always a bad thing. Ants can be beneficial to gardens since they help control pest populations and aerate soil. However, their presence can also be problematic. Ants are attracted to honeydew—a sugary substance produced by some garden pests.

What is the most successful ant on Earth? ›

Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) Argentine ants are small, monomorphic (all workers the same size) and brown in color. They are one of the most successful ants species on the planet. They have huge colonies and when they move into an urban area, they displace any native ant species.

What is the most important ant? ›

Queen ants and males are part of the reproductive castes. They are the most important members of a colony because they ensure the survival of their species. Queen ants, regardless of species, often are larger than other members of their colonies.

What are the smartest things ants do? ›

Despite the relative smallness of an ant's brain in comparison to humans, scientists consider the ant to have the largest brain of all insects. Regardless of how ant brains are rated, they can communicate, avoid and fight enemies, search for food, show courtship signals, and use complex navigation over long distances.

What happens when you disturb an ant pile? ›

If it is disturbed, the ants often move and build a new mound several feet to many yards away. Sometimes the ants move for no apparent reason.

What happens when you disturb an ants nest? ›

They seek to protect their young, their eggs and their queen. Thus. anyone who attempts to disrupt their nests or damage their nests is likely to end up with a swarm of ants coming right at them. For a lot of species of ant, this is a nuisance and might result in some pinching, but no real health risks.

Do ants do anything good for the environment? ›

Ants play an important role in the environment. Ants turn and aerate the soil, allowing water and oxygen to reach plant roots. Ants take seeds down into their tunnel to eat the nutritious elaiosomes that are part of the seed. These seeds often sprout and grow new plants (seed dispersal).

Why are ants bad for the garden? ›

Aside from their tendency to bite us, ants can cause other problems in the garden. Ants are fond of the sweet sap of host plants. A diligent group of ants chewing on a plant's stem or trunk is capable of girdling and even killing a garden plant. In addition, ants will cultivate and protect other damaging garden pests.

Do ants mourn the death of other ants? ›

Turns out ants don't really mourn or grieve or even have graveyards for the same reasons we as humans do. It all comes down to chemicals and smells and pheromones.

What is the white stuff in a pile of ants? ›

The white “ant eggs” carried by workers when an ant colony is disturbed or moving are not the eggs but the pupal stage of complete metamorphosis. Ant eggs are almost microscopic. The larvae that hatch from them are helpless, grub-like young that the workers must feed and care for.

Can I ignore ants in my house? ›

An ant invasion is annoying, but it can also be dangerous to your health and your home, depending on the type of ant you're dealing with. And as with any pest problem, you definitely shouldn't ignore it and just hope it goes away.

Can ants ruin your home? ›

Once you have an infestation, the pests begin their work; they chew through and hollow out the wooden areas of your home, which eventually disrupt its structural integrity. "When left untreated, that damage can be severe because their colonies can grow to over 10,000 workers," Fredericks says.

How do I get rid of yellow ants? ›

Homeowners can get rid of yellow ants in the home with a vacuum cleaner. Nest location is crucial to control yellow ants outdoors. Be sure to inspect along the foundation wall and look under stones, landscape timber and firewood.


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