And the ANT Came Back/The Very Next Day/And the Ant Came Back/I Thought It Was a Goner/And the Ant Came Back/It Just Wouldn't Staaaay A-Waaaaay!
June 5, 2010 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Ant curiosity: How far can an ant get from its home and still find its way back?

Ants seem to have a pretty wide range, based on the unwanted activity in my house, but is it measured in feet? Yards? Miles? Do they have a homing instinct? A navigational ability? I'm always curious when I pitch an ant out of my kitchen, out of my car, off my shoe while walking down the block, if I've doomed the ant (no great loss there), or if he's just in for a long walk home. Any Mefites out there who know this stuff?
posted by Ys to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You might find this NPR segment interesting.
posted by alligatorman at 7:24 AM on June 5, 2010

I know that ants follow chemical trails that they leave one another so if you carry an ant far away from the trail then it would have difficulty finding the trail. I know that carpenter ants have a range that can cover several hundred yards with a central colony and satellite colonies like spokes on a wheel.

If this questions develops into an obsession with ants you can always read E.O. Wilson's book "The Ants".
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 7:44 AM on June 5, 2010

I came here to rec the magnificent EO Wilson as the authority on all things anty but I see I have been beaten to the punch.
posted by elizardbits at 7:50 AM on June 5, 2010

According to this article in the LA Times from last week, Argentine ants form very large colonies of ants, and if you dropped off an Argentine ant from LA in San Diego, it would just join in with the Argentine ants there; the "California Large" argentine ant colonly stretches from San Francisco down to below the Mexican border.

The wikipedia article on Argentine Ants suggests that new research shows that the "California large" colony is part of a mega-colony of ants including one along the west part of Japan and another stretching 3700 miles along the Mediteranean coast.
posted by GregorWill at 8:32 AM on June 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

I was recently wondering this about snails.

But concerning ants: different species use different combinations of visual, magnetic, distance, slope, and chemical clues. You ought to know your ant's species before you try to make a guess about how it will fare on its return journey.
posted by pracowity at 4:13 PM on June 5, 2010

If it's any house, these are small black Virginia (US) ants. They're probably around 1/8th of an inch in length at the most (small enough you can't really see any detail), and only rarely bite.
posted by Ys at 4:47 PM on June 5, 2010

Thanks y'all! I may not know about my ants specifically, but that was some really cool info!
posted by Ys at 2:05 PM on June 7, 2010

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