Ants' nests, also known as anthills or mounds, are complicated networks of tunnels and chambers that can extend deep underground, up to several feet in the air or even high in the trees. More than 12,400 species of ants can be found throughout the world, and not all of them tunnel into the soil -- some form tall above-ground mounds or woven shelters made of leaves, while others use their own bodies to create shelter.
The majority of ant species nest in soil, excavating large labyrinths of pathways and chambers underneath the earth's surface. The depth of these complicated colonies can vary widely from species to species. Pogonomyrmex badius, or the Florida harvester ant, might build a nest of up to 3 meters deep each year, while Florida's largest ant species, Camponotus socius, tunnels only 60 centimeters into the soil. Japan's Messor aciculatus holds the record for deepest nests, which can extend 4 meters down into the earth.
Wood ants build their homes both down into the soil and above ground, with a typical mound being a little more than a half-meter tall and composed of leaves and twigs from the surrounding area. In 2005, an anthill was found in Northumberland, England, that stood over 1.7 meters tall, with an extensive network of underground tunnels below. Wood ants will spend the summer in the upper nest above ground, then retreat below ground in the winter when temperatures cool.
Weaver ants, rather than using the ground as a foundation for their homes, choose to build their nests high in the treetops of rainforests. Long chains of worker ants glue and clamp the leaves together with a secretion formed by their larvae. Once completed, the woven leaf nest resembles a soccer ball in size and shape.
Bivouacs are temporary, mobile nests formed by the bodies of living ants by linking their legs to one another. These nests, rather than being hidden underground, are formed in open spaces and can extend from colonies of just 80,000 ants to more than 300,000 bodies locked together.
- University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture: Twenty Questions About Fire Ants
- The Ant's Nest: A Huge, Underground City: Miriam Aronin
- antARK: Ant Nests
- University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: Ants
- Myrm's Ant Nest: Ant Nests
- PLOS ONE:; Florida Harvester Ant Nest Architecture, Nest Relocation and Soil Carbon Dioxide Gradients: Walter R. Tschinkel
- US National Library of Medicine: The nest architecture of the ant, Camponotus socius: Walter R. Tschinkel
- Japanese Ant Image Database: Ant Nest
- The Earth Dwellers: Adventures in the Land of Ants: Erich Hoyt
- National Geographic: Weaver Ants
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Margot Freeman has been a writer since 2009. She currently works in social media within the tech industry, and has been volunteering with acclaimed Austin, Texas animal shelter Austin Pets Alive! since 2010. Freeman holds a Bachelor of science in audio and media technology.