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05 Ants

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The next group of insects we want to talk about are the ants. The ants are a very diverse group of animals that are found on every continent of the Earth, I believe. Maybe not in Antarctica, but everywhere else we're going to find ants. And we're going to find many, many different species of ants. So, in this session we want to talk about those general characteristics that are common to all ant species. We'll talk more detail about the species specifically found in your region during your training here but these characteristics, like I said, are going to be common to all of them. Now, you know, again, like with the cockroaches, our customer does not want to see ants running around in their kitchen, outside their house. Our commercial clients certainly don't want to see them running across the counter. These are a very fascinating group of insects. They're much different than the cockroaches. These are social insects, meaning that every insect in the group has a very specific function and job. And we'll talk about that a little more detailed as we go through this section. But the ants are, they're the largest group of social insects on the Earth. In total, there's about 13,500 different social insect species. Of that 13,500, about 9500 of them are ants. And some very famous myrmecologist, people that study ants, Dr. E. O. Wilson, estimated one time that there's probably twice that many ants that have just not been discovered yet. In the tropics, in the tropical forests, in the deserts. So, this is the largest biomass of a specific group of animal that can be found on the Earth. Now, how many ants are there out there? An entomologist in Great Britain, back in 1943, developed a theory and a mathematical formulation on how to estimate population densities. So, he theorized, C. B. Williams theorized that the number of insects on the Earth at any one time is about one million trillion. Now, if you had to write down one million trillion, to give you an idea, we can't think how big that number is, but if you wrote down one million trillion it's a one with eighteen zeros behind it. That's a lot of bugs, that's a lot of insects in total. Now, if we conservatively say that one percent of all the animals on this Earth are ants, then that's about ten thousand trillion ants on this earth at any one time. If the average weight of an ant is somewhere between one and five milligrams, if you combined all of them together, they will weigh approximately the same amount as every human being on this earth combined. So, the biomass of ants on this earth, on this planet is tremendous. They're the largest group of social insects out there, and they're one of the largest biomasses, in total, that we have. Now, because of that, they have some unique concerns and problems. Some of the ants have abilities that just make them unpleasant. They certainly have the ability to damage property. Some ants, such as the carpenter ants, can damage wood. There's a health risk through direct disease transmission, through stings and so forth. And there are also some attitudes and mental issues, mental health issues, with some of these things. People just do not like having them in their home. People don't like having them in their business. They're a nuisance. People just don't like them. And when they have these situations like you see here, it creates an attitude and it creates a phone call. To us, to say: I have a problem, get out here immediately. They also have the ability to do damage. Some ants, like I said, the carpenter ants can damage wood, damage wood that is inside structures. And the wood that they will damage is material that's already been weakened, and because it's already been weakened, they will find it, build their nest inside it, and weaken that wood even further and cause structural damage. They can undermine foundations. Some of the ant species like to hollow out the ground underneath concrete, build their nest. When that nest dies, or relocates, you have this hollow ground underneath the concrete that does not support the weight of the cement. So, the concrete can crack, fall in. They can damage lawns, they can defoliate trees. If you have a heavy population of ants that are constantly going from one point to another, they will actually strip the ground bear of the grass that's growing in there. Health risks? There certainly are health risks from stings, bites and, as we said earlier, disease carriers. Some of the ants, such as the Pharaoh's ant, has the ability to carry diseases. The fire ants have the ability to sting. And if you are allergic or sensitive to the venom in these stings, they can cause things such as anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal to some people. So, the stings are one of the major problems, but there's a growing concern, certainly, with the bacterial transmission of these ants. Now, there are some common ant species that we find in most of the world that, you know, in various degrees, and then there are specific ants that we find just in certain areas, that can be classified as pests. The most common ants that we find out there, things like the acrobat ant, the Argentine ant, carpenter ant, fire ant, crazy ants. These are the ones that are the most common throughout much of the world. Some of these have tremendous biomass potential. You look at ants like the Argentine ant. Colonies of the Argentine ant can cover acres of ground and all be one genetically, one genetic colony, all related to each other, and cover large amounts of territory. So, if we're trying to control them we have to develop control procedures that can encompass many, many acres of ground, at times. There are other ants out there that are not such big colonies but create problems just all the same. The leaf cutter ants, as we see here can defoliate lawns by walking the same path, they cut a groove into the lawn. They can tear all the leaves off of trees and shrubs. They take those leaves and they harvest fungus and mold off of the leaves, and that's their food source. So, by surviving, they destroy some property. This is some of the uncommon ants that we find out there, the leaf cutters. The bullet ant is one that I particularly like, it's one down in Central America. This is a very large ant that delivers a sting that the local people say is the same feeling as being shot by a gun, thus the name "Bullet ant". There's a lot of species of ants out there that are very unique to the areas, but the most common ones from the first list we looked at, is the Argentine ants, the odorous house ants, the crazy ants, things like these. They all have specific things, habits that they like. And we'll discuss those in more detail during your training, because there are going to be regions where the Argentine is more heavier population than, say, the crazy ant, or viceversa in some of the tropical regions. So, we'll discuss those exact differences in more detail during your training. But now, why are ants such a huge problem? Well, certainly because the numbers of ants are tremendous. But part of the reason why ant control as a service line is very difficult, is because ants and cockroaches are very different, and most pest control is based on cockroach control, not ant control. See, for years cockroaches were the number one pest in the world. Today, ants are classified as the number one pest in the world. But in many areas of the world, control procedures are still based on cockroaches, not ants. So, that's one of the reasons why control is sometimes difficult. There's another problem with identification. Every ant has its own habits, its own things that it likes, its own food preferences, its own nest site preferences. And ants are not easy to identify. They're small insects. It requires magnification, it requires some knowledge of the basic biologies of the insect to be able to identify them. Another reason why control is difficult is assumptions. We'll talk about that more in just a second. But I want to look at the roach versus the ant. What are some of the differences in the behavior of these two groups of insects? Roaches are not social insects, ants are social insects. So, what are some of the actual behavioral differences? Let's run through this list. Every ant, being a social insect, each ant has a specialized role, they have a job to do in the colony that they live in. And that's their only job. Roaches are all the same, there's no specialized role in the group. They live together in clusters, but they will fight each other if they have to, for food. Ants are very social, they have a very organized life in their colony. Ants have very specific food requirements. For different species, or for even different times of the year or times of the day. If their queen needs sugars, she sends out a message that says: recruit sugar back into the nest, that's what I need. If she needs carbohydrates, she sends out a message that says: I need carbohydrates. Cockroaches will eat almost anything all the time. They don't have any specific food requirements. Ants will share their food. In the colony they gather food, they work together, they feed each other. The cockroaches, they'll kill each other for food. So there's no assistance, no helping the greater organization in that cockroach world. In the ant world, every colony has a place where it starts or a place where it lives. Cockroaches can be scattered throughout an area, they don't have a centralized area that they want to necessarily live in as long as they have their food and their water. Ants follow a chemical trail. As they walk, they create a pheromone, which is a communication chemical that leaves a trail that shows other ants where to go. Cockroaches, they will not follow each other. They don't work together at all. When a food source is discovered, ants will go back to the colony and get help. They will get members of the colony to come out and collect food, bring it back into the colony to feed and distribute around. Cockroaches, they will fight over a food source. They don't help each other out at all. Ants are active 24 hours a day. Cockroaches, primarily at night. The ants will get into a structure very quick. When a colony of ants moves in, the entire colony moves in. Cockroaches, one or two move in, and then, through the reproductive cycles, the population grows. So, a population of ants can happen very fast, whereas cockroaches might take a little bit of time. The population of ants can be several thousands inside a home or building. Versus cockroaches, maybe a few hundred until they get established. Ants very often are out, walking around, looking for food, they're easy to see. Cockroaches like to stay hidden. They like to be active at night. They like to stay in those dark, concealed places, they're not very active out running around. So, that's just some of the basic differences in the ants and the termites. So, you can see... Oh, excuse me, the ants and the cockroaches. So, you can see why, if our service approach is based on cockroaches, it's based on the cockroaches doing those things. It won't necessarily work for ants. Most ants are outdoors. Outdoors species. And they come inside when it's too hot, too wet, too cold, or too dry. Cockroaches, the German cockroach wants to live indoors, doesn't like to live outdoors. The American cockroach, the oriental cockroach, live outdoors, come inside when those conditions exist. So, if the control procedures for ants are not specific to the ants, they just don't work. Now, identification is one of the reasons why there's difficulty. Most of these ants look alike. There's not a lot of visual characteristics, in most of them, that you can just simply see and say "oh yeah, that's this ant." Some of them you can, but most look just about exactly alike. But they all have different habits. You have to have a good hand lens or microscope to be able to see the identifying characteristics. You have to have what we call identification keys. These are the things that we look at on the body of the insect, and it tells us what the species is. These keys are very difficult to understand and follow if you're not a student of entomology or biology. So what we've tried to do inside, for Orkin, is to take these keys and make them easy to use. So, in your ant manual, that's there in your operation, you'll have this identification key that has been simplified to take out the Latin terms and so forth and, pictorially, help you identify the ants. So, these keys, we've tried to make them a little easier to use, but even with them it's still a difficult task at times. Now, the third thing that makes control of ants difficult is assumption. And by "assumption", what we mean is that the ants that were here three months ago are the same ones that are here today. That's what we assume. And that is wrong. When we control an ant population our customer may call us back in two, three, four months, and say "hey, the ants are back" and we go back out and we do the same thing we did the first time. It worked then, so it will work now. So we make an assumption that we have the same ant. Well, Mother Nature is tricky sometimes. If we eliminate this group of ants from inside her system, she might think "Well, they didn't do well there so let me put a different species of ant in that place." So it's important for us to do the identification every time we go out to do an ant control. Because if it's a different ant, it may not respond to the same treatment. In most of the world, we're not going to find just one type of ant. We're going to find many different species of ants that will come in and get into our clients' homes and businesses. So we have to make that identification every time. Because if we assume that we have the same type of ant we're going to fail most of the time. We have to do that identification every time. Now, some of the other sources that we look or some of the sources that we look at for ants, are on the outside. Ants are, primarily, exterior in origin. There's only one or two that are true indoor nesting ants. They are opportunistic, they come in when it's like I said, too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold. So we have to know what ant we're looking for and where they like to live at outside and how they like to get in. If we look at general control statement, carpet bombing with pesticides, so to speak, just massive amounts of exterior pesticides, does not always work. We have to look at things such as water management, where's the honeydew sources. Honeydew is a material that is created by insects that live on plants. And the ants like that honeydew, it's a sweet nectar that they like. We have to know where the ants want to live. So we have to understand something about the general biologies or habits of each one of the ant species that are in our area for us to be able to control them. We look at the nest sites. Some ants have multiple colonies. These are polydomous. They have multiple areas, there will be a main nest where the queens might live, there might be satellite nests that started with the original. If we control one without controlling the other, we fail. But then there are some that are single colony, and again, as we look at the individual species in your region we'll determine which are multiple colony, which are single colony, so that we can help you with the control efforts and make sure that we're successful in controlling those ants. Inside these colonies there are different set ups with the queens. Some of the colonies have multiple queens. These are colonies that are not very aggressive. These are colonies that live many years, at times, because the queens are always there, when one dies, there's always another ready to take their place. So, these colonies can survive tremendous lengths of time. And in some cases they'll adopt queens, they'll steal queens from other colonies and bring them in. Other ants have just one queen in the colony. And these are very territorial ants, very aggressive ants, but these colonies don't last very long. So, we have to understand a little bit about what that hierarchy in the royalty is, there inside the ant colony, because that also helps us determine what our best control procedure is going to be. Are we dealing with one queen? Or are we dealing with several queens? Because if we do not control the queen we do not control the ant colony. The bottom line for control is: we have to find and get to that queen ant. Now, that's not always an easy thing. We have to be able to try to figure out how do we get inside that colony and get to that queen ant, that big reproductive. This is a picture of a queen ant. She's bigger than the others, she's capable of reproducing, she's also, at times, capable of flying. When the ants swarm, they leave their colony during the mating season of the year which is going to be slightly different for different species, but they're going to leave the colony, mate with a male, and then that colony, excuse me, that pair, that royal pair, the king and queen, will get back into the ground and try to start a new colony. When these swarms happen, in some of the colonies, it's pretty massive. There can be thousands of these queens that go into the air looking for a mate. Now, not all of them, of course, mate and make it back into the ground. The purpose of this swarm is to try to expand the colony, grow, and create more colonies out there. That's the purpose of it. But a very small percentage of these swarming ants actually mate and make it back into the soil to start a new colony. Many of them are killed by exposure, many are killed by predators such as birds, other insect species, or even some reptiles in some marked areas. So, a very small percentage make it back into the soil and start a new colony. But enough of them do that that species will continue to perpetuate in the environment as long as conditions are right for it there. Now, how do we kill this queen ant? We have to understand a little bit about some of the general biologies of ants. We know, first off, that the worker ant can only swallow liquid foods. The worker ants, which are the ones that are gathering the food, they cannot consume solids. However, we do find them picking up solids, so if you've ever observed ants you've seen them picking up solid pieces of things like sugar inside a home or something like that, and carrying it around, but they don't actually eat it. It's impossible for that worker ant to consume liquid. Excuse me, consume solids. Only liquids. The larvae of the ant consumes solids. It does not have the ability to consume liquids. But by working together, they make a food that can go to the entire colony. So, the adult ant, the worker ant, may pick up these solid foods, they will feed it to the larvae, the larvae will eat that food, that solid, regurgitate some of that food back up, that the worker ant can then pick up because it's liquid. This is a process called trophallaxis. So they will transfer the food from ant, to ant, to ant, until eventually it gets back to the queen. Now, because of this, we have to use very slow-acting types of materials, very slow-acting poisons, if we're going to get control, because we're depending on these ants passing it, sometimes through several hundred insects, to get all the way back to the queen. So, we have to use materials that are very slow acting. That's one of the challenges to ant controllers, because some of these products work so fast, that it just, it wipes out the ants before we really have time to get it back into the colony. Now, just a couple of interesting photos for you. I want to show you, this is the inside of the head of an ant. And there are specific areas that have been discovered by the entomologists. This little area right here, this is where the ant is prevented from eating solid foods. We'll just keep focusing it down until we get right inside this ant's head. And the inside of their throat is lined with these little hairs that actually trap solid foods. Traps the solid food, they then cough that food back up to give it to the larvae, that then digests it and picks it up. So, they will take that food, they consume the solids, or they pick up the solids, they take those solids, throw them up out of this pocket that's inside their head, give it to the larvae, the larvae then chew it up, turn it to liquid and through this process of trophallaxis, feed it back to the adults. This is what the larvae looks like. So, the adult ant will take that food, place it inside these little pockets here, on the abdomen of the larvae, the larvae will then reach down with its mouth, get it, chew it up, and then regurgitate, or vomit, that food product back out so that the adult can then eat it. The adult ant picks it up and then, every time they bump into an ant, they feed a little bit to the next one, and it just keeps getting passed ant to ant, until eventually it's all the way back into the colony and fed to the queen. So, it's a pretty complicated system that these ants live in. It's a complicated system that we have to understand a lot about in order to get control. If we use material that's too strong, we don't get control. If we use material that's too weak, we don't get control. If we treat for one ant, but we have a different one there, a different species, but we think we have this one, we don't get control. So, it's a very complicated service approach, and it depends on us having some general knowledge about, not only the insects, but about the specific species of insects. This can be one of the most difficult pests there is to control. Easy to get into places, because they're so small, and once they get in they can take over, over a very short period of time. You can have a tremendous population that comes in. So, it is the most common insect that we find around the Earth, in our clients' facilities, in their homes and their businesses, so it's one of our most challenging pests to solve. So, your assignment is to, of course, jot down any questions that you might have about the ants, find out what species of ant you think you have there, and we will discuss more about control procedures during your training time here with us.

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Posted by: rbanderas on Dec 20, 2016

05 Ants

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