Ants are animals. They’re classified under the Kingdom Animalia and are in fact one of the most abundant animals on earth with a known total of more than 10,000 species.
In this article, we’ll break down why ants are animals as we look into the definition of animals and the characteristics of ants that classify them as such. We’ll also touch on the taxonomic classification system to see other ways ants are classified.
What Are Animals?
By definition, animals are multicellular and eukaryotic organisms. Meaning, they’re composed of many integrated and independent cells that each have a nucleus and are enclosed within a nuclear envelope.
They’re also characterized by the following:
- Animals Are Generally Capable Of Movement: Most animals have the ability to move. They do so by making use of energy which power up their muscles and locomotory structures such as arms, legs, wings, and fins. Some animals like sponges and corals, however, are immobile, which make them seem like plants even when they’re not.
- Animals Are Heterotrophs: Animals can’t produce their own food via photosynthesis. Thus, they depend on other organisms for food. In other words, animals are consumers which eat other organisms to obtain energy and nutrients.
- Animals Possess Sensory Organs: Animals possess specialized sense organs that help them recognize and react to different stimuli in the environment. Traditionally, these sense organs include the eyes, nose, ears, tongue, and skin. However, some animals may have different types of sense organs such as antennas and bills that function differently but generally produce similar end results to the traditional sense organs.
- Animals Respire Aerobically: Animals need oxygen for respiration, the biochemical process which allows cells to obtain energy from food. Without it, animals can not obtain energy for metabolic activities and their cells fail to function.
Why Are Ants Considered Animals?
Simply put, ants are considered animals because they’re multicellular eukaryotes which possess the aforementioned characteristics.
- Ants Are Capable Of Movement: Ants use three pairs of legs and their thorax muscles to move around. Through these, they can travel at astounding speeds. For instance the Saharan silver has been recorded to travel 33.7 inches (855 millimeters) in a second. That’s equal to 108 times its body length in a second and equivalent to 360 miles per hour for humans.
- Ants Are Heterotrophs: Unlike plants and algae, ants aren’t capable of producing their own food. Instead they rely on other plants and animals for energy and nutrition. As highly opportunistic eaters, they won’t hesitate leaving their nests to forage for any kind of food they can find.
- Ants Possess Sensory Organs: Ants have two highly developed antennas on the sides of their heads which they use to taste, smell, and hear. It is through these antennas that they’re able to locate food, find mates, communicate with each other, and understand their environment. They also have a pair of compound eyes which allow them to visually perceive their surroundings. But they mostly have bad eyesight and some ant species are even completely blind.
- Ants Respire Aerobically: Ants don’t have noses and lungs so they breathe through tiny holes in their sides called spiracles instead. These spiracles are connected to a network of tiny tubes called the trachea which help distribute oxygen to the cells in the body. They then also use the same spiracles to release the carbon dioxide produced by cellular respiration.
Classification Of Ants
Ants and other animals are classified into a hierarchical set of categories called taxa. These categories are based on shared physical characteristics and consist of different levels which start out broad then go all the way down to the smallest group.
The following list details these categories as well as how ants are classified in each:
- Domain: The domain is the broadest and the highest taxonomic rank in the biological classification system. It’s broken down into three groups, the Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya. Organisms from the Archaea and Bacteria domains are prokaryotes while those from Eukarya are eukaryotes like ants.
- Kingdom: The kingdom historically consisted of five groups, Monera, Protista, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia. Further scientific findings however, have led to the proposal of six Kingdoms which removed Monera in place of Eubacteria and Archaebacteria. Either way, ants are classified into the kingdom Animalia.
- Phylum: Phylum is the largest accepted taxon of animals and other living things with certain evolutionary traits. Organisms in this level are categorized based on physical and internal features. For instance, ants are classified as Arthropods which are distinguished by chitin exoskeletons.
- Class: The class is simply defined as a taxonomic rank above the order and below the phylum. So it basically breaks down the groupings of the phylum further by more specific traits. For example, ants are classified as Insects since they’re characterized by three body parts(head, thorax, abdomen), three pairs of legs, and in some cases, two pairs of wings. These characteristics make them different from other Arthropods like spiders which fall under the Arachnid class.
- Order: The order further narrows down the groupings by categorizing the members of each class based on more specific traits. For instance, ants are classified under the order Hymenoptera along with other narrow-waisted insects with thin membranous wings and biting or biting-sucking mouthparts like wasps and bees.
- Family: The family is the taxonomic rank between the genus and order. It classifies organisms based on common characteristics and ancestry. Meaning organisms in a Family would have evolved from the same ancestors. As such, all ant types are classified under the Formicidae family.
- Genus: The genus is defined in biology as the taxonomic rank of species with common attributes. It includes groups of species that are structurally or phylogenetically related as even organisms in a Family have differences. Through these differences, scientists have described a total of more than 300 ant genera (plural).
- Species: The species is the fundamental unit of classification in Taxonomy. It includes related organisms which share external similarities and are capable of successful interbreeding. A precise estimate suggests that there are about 8.7 million species in the world, with an estimate of 22,000 being that of ants.
Are Ants Arthropods?
Yes, ants are arthropods. They’re classified under the phylum Arthropoda since they’re invertebrates with segmented bodies, jointed legs, and exoskeletons.
Are Ants Mammals?
Ants are not mammals. While they may be both classified as animals, mammals have very different characteristics from ants. For instance, mammals are warm-blooded whereas ants are cold-blooded. Mammals also have mammary glands while ants don’t.
Are Ants Reptiles?
Ants are also not reptiles. Like mammals, reptiles very much differ from ants. Reptiles are vertebrates and covered with scales while ants are invertebrates with chitin exoskeletons.
Are Ants Bugs?
No, ants are not bugs. While often used to refer to all types of insects, the term bug technically only describes an order of insects called Hemiptera. This order includes insects with sucking or piercing mouthparts and other characteristics which are different from ants.
Are Ants Insects?
Yes, ants are insects. As mentioned previously, they’re classified under the class Insecta due to their physical characteristics. Like other insects, ants have three body parts, three pairs of legs, and in some cases two pairs of wings.
Summary: Are Ants Animals?
Ants possess all the characteristics which classify organisms under the kingdom Animalia. They’re multicellular eukaryotes which possess sensory organs, are capable of movement, rely on other organisms for energy, and respire aerobically. With all that said, it’s safe to say that they are indeed animals.