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Here's Why Ants Seem to Walk an Invisible Trail

Monday, August 06, 2018

We've all seen it at one time or another: a virtual army of ants walking along a seemingly invisible trail. It's understandable when a colony of ants moves through a jungle, for example, but why do they do it inside a home?

If you don't know what we are referring to, imagine an ant infestation in your kitchen. You may see hundreds of the little insects all walking back and forth in a straight line. While there is visible trail that you can see, it appears as though the ants have found one. Well, they have, sort of.

It's all related to something biology calls the 'trail pheromone'. A pheromone is a naturally occurring chemical secreted by a living organism. There are hundreds of different pheromones to choose from. A trail pheromone is secreted specifically to help living creatures find their way. That's exactly what ants are doing when they walk back and forth in a straight line.

Calling the Whole Gang

Ants leave the nest at the start of the day in search of food. Each one secretes trail pheromone as it goes, guaranteeing it has no trouble finding its way back to the nest. Let's say one of those ants finds a food source. It will take some back to the nest by following its own trail. It will also alert others of the find.

What happens next is what makes ants so fascinating. Each worker ant that picks up the pheromone trail will secrete its own pheromone as it follows the trail. The more ants on the trail, the stronger the scent becomes. This attracts more ants to follow the trail and leave their own pheromones. What started out as a single ant looking for food can turn into hundreds of ants in mere minutes.

Note that the trail pheromone is not used only to find food. It can be used to guide groups of ants from the nest to some external area where a threat exists. That's why when you use something like bicarbonate of soda solution to kill ants, you tend to attract more ants to the same location. As more ants arrive on location, fewer will eat the bicarbonate of soda concoction because they understand it is a threat.

Short-Acting Scent

Nature has a built-in mechanism to prevent ants from following the same trails long after they are no longer useful: the scent of the pheromones fades away. Indeed, trail pheromones are rather weak in that regard. The scent produced by their pheromones is a short-acting scent that wears out in a couple of hours.

Now you know why ants seem to walk an invisible trail. If you've observed such behaviour inside your home, we urge you to call the pest control specialists here at Control Services. We offer licenced and experienced pest control in Berkshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, and other surrounding areas. We are more than equipped to safely and effectively handle all your pest problems.

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