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Friday, Dec. 7, 2001

ANIMAL TRACKER

Black mountain ant


* Japanese name:Kuroyama-ari
* Scientific name:Formica japonica
* Description: Like all ants, the black mountain ant has three clearly defined body parts: a capsulelike head with strong jaws; a thorax to which the three pairs of legs are joined; and an abdomen. There are also three different types, or castes, of ants: workers, soldiers and sexuals (those that reproduce). Workers and soldiers are all female, and all ants in a colony are sisters. They are 4-6 mm long. Male sexuals are slightly bigger than soldiers, and queens -- the female sexuals -- are 10 mm long. Ants in the sexual caste have wings to search for mates. After mating, the male dies and the female loses her wings and forms a colony.
* Where to find them: All over Japan, from March to November, in dry, sunny places near houses. The ants build complex nests in the earth that extend underground at depths of up to 2 meters. Small scavenger beetles sometimes live with these ants and are tolerated for their cleaning skills.
* Food: Nectar from flowers and fallen fruit. Black mountain ants are especially fond of the honeydew excreted by aphids; they stroke the abdomens of aphids to "milk" the honeydew.
* Special features: Ant nests form one of the most complex animal societies. The microclimate of the nest is carefully controlled by workers who open and close ventilation shafts according to the temperature. Other workers are in charge of feeding the larvae, while still others are on hygiene detail, removing feces and dead ants from the nest. Soldiers guard the nest from predators. Ants are symbols of strength for good reason -- an ant weighing 0.004 grams can carry an object five times its own weight and drag objects 25 times heavier than itself. That's like a 45-kg person giving 225-kg Musashimaru a piggyback.



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