Figuring Out Your Insect Allies: What are Good Ants?
It might be hard to immediately imagine that you might consider an ant to be "good." Typically ants are viewed as a pesky nuisance that invade homes and create assembly lines of creepy-crawly troops on countertops, windowsills, and walls. While it's true that you don't want your helpful ants inside, they do, in fact, provide a variety of benefits to your outdoor environments.
Recognizing Ant Behavior
The first step in discovering what sort of positive effect your ant neighbors might be having is to figure out where they are and whether or not they're actively affecting any given area. If you see one or two ants by themselves, this is not usually indicative of an ant colony. Single ants or pairs are typically scouts, whose job it is to search out new food sources and ways of potentially growing and benefiting the colony. If you see a line of ants, this means that a food source has been discovered, identified, and now is actively being harvested.
Given that there are over 12,000 currently recognized ant species and probably many more undiscovered ones, it may be difficult to accurately identify which specific species are performing which activities. Carpenter Ants and Fire Ants are usually recognized by humans as being more frustrating and less beneficial than the others, but as a united group, ants have similar habits that all help the same way.
In What Ways?
Ants are useful primarily when it comes to maintaining a necessary balance of the ecosystem outdoors. They help in the ways named below, as well as many more that have been observed, and certainly in ways that have not yet been discovered.
- Curating Soil. By digging tunnels and forming colonies, ants help to aerate the soil and turn over dirt that brings nutrients closer to the surface and rain water below.
- Sowing Seeds. Ants disperse seeds to new habitats and store them in their colonies, protecting them and making them healthier when they sprout.
- Controlling Pests. Some species prey on the eggs and larvae of insect species such as flies, fleas, and bed bugs.
Clean up waste. Ants are a big contributor to decomposition. Ants out searching for food often seek the raw organic waste matter that would otherwise rot and possibly become contaminated had it not been consumed by ants. They might not be welcome friends in your home, however, surprising as it may be, ants do provide benefit to the exterior of your home as well as help to preserve the health of the many animals and ecosystems relying on the natural balance of Mother Nature.