The functions of ants include maintaining the environment and preserving nature's life cycle. Currently more than 12,000 ant species are hard at work improving soil quality and working as impromptu janitors. While many consider ants to be a major inconvenience, without their presence the existence of other species would be endangered.
Incredibly strong jaw muscles, called mandibles, allow ants to lift 20 times their weight. This strength helps ants break items apart and carry pieces back to the colony. Some ants are carnivores and feed on carcasses left behind by larger animals. The remains of one animal can feed a large ant colony. Leafcutting ants who make their home in tropical areas maintain unruly growth by eating leaves that fall to the ground.
Ants make rich soil through extensive and unintentional aeration techniques. Traditional aeration involves manually removing pieces of soil. The process reduces water runoff and increases fertilizer absorption, which eventually increases soil nutrient content. Ants aerate by burrowing through soil and establishing colonies. Additional nutrients are added via waste produced by the ants and outside food items brought back and stored within the colony. Areas lacking topsoil or recently disturbed during construction receive the greatest benefit.
Anteaters are the most well-known animal that consumes ants. Long, skinny tongues help them dig through tunnels to find their meal. Other species that enjoy ants include some frogs, arachnids and serpents. Fish will eat ants that live on riverbanks. The taste of some ant species are irresistible even to human taste buds. In the Amazon rainforest an ant exists that tastes similar to a lemon drop when consumed. Local children trap them for a tasty treat.
Many plant species would disappear without the help of ants. Ants gather pollen or nectar from plants and transport the material back to their colonies. Seeds are left along the way and start to germinate. Ants pollinate flowers that grow close to the ground and do not have long stems. Examples include wildflowers, Small's stonecrop, alpine nailwort and Cascade knotweed. The National Biological Information Infrastructure acknowledges how important the functions of ants truly are.