Ants are one of the oldest living species on our planet. They first arose around 130 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period and their ancestors were similar to today’s wasps. During that time the first flowering plants were beginning to appear, which helped them to diversify and spread to almost everywhere. After the Great Extinction at the end of the period they were forced to rapidly adapt, eventually becoming the dominant insect species on Earth. Today there are more than 12,000 different known species, with another estimated 10,000 still not classified, all perfectly suited to their environment.
They are very social creatures, living in complex colonies, sometimes stretching for hundreds of kilometers. Within they have a highly organized hierarchy, each ant performing its individual task for the sole benefit of the group as a whole. This selfless behavior combined with a very sophisticated form of communication enables them to accomplish extraordinary feats. They release pheromones - special chemicals, which others detect using their antennas. Each chemical is associated with a certain message and so they are able to quickly send signals throughout the entire colony. This way they can all react as a whole, be that in the search for food or in response to dangers. They are exceptionally strong creatures, with some species being able to carry between 10 and 50 times their own bodyweight and can cover around 300 meters per hour.
Similar to humans, some species are known to cultivate plants or herd animals. For example, the leafcutter ants collect vegetation in order to grow nutritious fungus inside their nests, while others would raise sap-sucking insects like aphids or leafhoppers to establish a constant supply of honeydew. Other species, like the honeypot or amazon ants are not so peaceful and are known to attack foreign colonies. They even take captives, which essentially become their slaves. Adults are forced to do chores, while the eggs and larvae are either raised as their own or used as a food source.
Today ants can be found on every continent except Antarctica, as well as some remote islands. According to scientific estimations there are around 10 quadrillion of them on Earth, or roughly 1 million ants for every human. This means that although their average mass is less than 10mg, ants make up 15 to 20% of all terrestrial biomass on Earth. In some tropical areas this figure can grow even larger, up to 25%.