As insects, ants have a total of six legs connected to the thorax, the middle segment of the insect body exclusively adapted for locomotion. These legs are jointed, much like the ant body, and consist of several segments which allow for efficient mobility despite the presence of the exoskeleton.
In this article, we’ll discuss if all ants have six legs and if they can grow their legs back. We’ll also look into the anatomy of ant legs and their functions.
Do All Ants Have Six Legs?
With the vast number of ant species, there are bound to be differences between each one. While some ants may differ in color or size however, there are certain characteristics that all ants possess. One of such characteristics is the fact that as insects, ants have three pairs or a total of six jointed legs connected to their thoraxes or mesosomas, the second segment of their tri-segmented bodies.
These thoraxes are further divided into three segments, the prothorax, mesothorax, and metathorax each of which contains a pair of legs.
Now while all adult ants should have six legs in total, there are of course those which may have been injured and lost some of their limbs. With all the fights ants engage in with predators and their competition, it isn’t unlikely for some ants to have less than six legs. Which leads us to the next question, can they grow their legs back?
Can Ant Legs Grow Back?
No,ants can’t grow their legs back. While there are some insects such as cockroaches that are capable of restoring lost limbs or appendages through molting, ants, having undergone complete metamorphosis, are no longer capable of molting as adults. Therefore, any type of damage taken during their adult stage is permanent.
Ant Leg Anatomy
Again, ants, like other insects, have three pairs of jointed legs attached to different segments of the thorax. These legs are called the forelegs, midlegs, and hind legs depending on which segment they’re attached to. The forelegs or frontal legs are connected to the prothorax, the midlegs to the mesothorax, and finally the hind legs to the metathorax.
Coxa. The coxa is the first segment of the ant leg. It articulates or is directly attached to the thorax and connects the rest of the legs to the ant body. The coxa of the foreleg is often termed the procoxa, mesocoxa for the midlegs, and finally metacoxa for the hind legs.
Trochanter. The next and second segment of the ant leg is the trochanter, a rather small segment between the coxa and the femur. In modern ants, the trochanter consists of one segment which in the past consisted of multiple smaller subsegments. Similar to coxa, the trochanters of the different legs are termed as pro, meso, and meta from front to back. Research has found that the trochanter in ants feature an exocrine gland which produces lubricating substances to allow optimal maneuverability between the trochanter and coxa.
Femur. The femur is the third segment of the ant leg. It’s connected to the trochanter and is followed by the tibia. This segment is typically the thickest, stoutest, or the most muscular segment of the leg. Similar to the coxa, the femur of the foreleg is often termed the profemur, mesofemur for the midlegs, and finally metafemur for the hind legs. In ants, research has found that femur size varies between ants from different habitats. Those that live in simpler and open habitats tend to have longer femurs than those that live in complex locations.
Tibia. The fourth segment of the ant leg is the tibia. It follows the femur and is then followed by the last segment called the tarsus. This segment contains tibial spurs which ants use to clean their antennae. Additionally, it also contains the subgenual organ, a major type of chordotonal organ which they use to detect substrate-borne vibrations.
Tarsus. The tarsus is the fight and last segment of the ant leg. It consists of five subsegments, the basitarsus, three unnamed middle segments, and the pretarsus. The basitarsus is the first subsegment which connects the rest of the tarsus to the tibia while the pretarsus is the final segment of the tarsus and the whole ant leg. This pretarsus contains a pair of pretarsal claws and hairs which ants use for climbing.
What Are Ant Legs For?
Ants use their legs primarily for locomotion, that is moving from one place to another. For instance, ants use their legs to walk or run. Technology has revealed that ants walk using an “alternating tripod system” wherein they use three legs, the fore and hindleg of one side, and the midleg of the other, for each step.
To run or walk at a faster pace, they increase their stride length and the number of steps they take while mostly adopting a strategy called “grounded running” in which all their legs, at any point of the run, don’t lose contact with the ground. Doing so provides them with better stability and therefore allows them to turn quickly, prevent unnecessary falls, and travel through rough terrain.
That said, faster ants like the world’s fastest Saharan Silver ants, are known to gallop and leave all their feet off the ground simultaneously when moving at higher speeds. So it’s possible for their gait to vary based on speed.
Aside from walking or running, ants also use their legs to climb walls. They use a number of adaptations including pretarsal adhesive pads, hooked claws, and the dense hairs on the ends of their legs to support themselves vertically or upside down and climb a variety of surfaces including walls, ceilings, and even glass, plastic, or metal.
Lastly, some ants, particularly those with large, muscular, and strong limbs, may also use their legs to move around in water. To swim, they use their front legs to propel themselves while their hindlegs serve as rudders or stabilizers.
As mentioned, ants use the tibial spurs on their front legs to clean their antennae. These spurs are claw-like structures which consist of different types of hair, all finely tuned to effectively remove dirt and pollen from their delicate and very important appendages.
During a cleaning movement, ants use the coarse bristles of the spurs to remove the biggest particles. After that, they then use the finer hairs to remove smaller particles through adhesion.
Sense and Communication
Lastly, ants also use their legs to sense and communicate. Their tibias contain the subgenual organ which as mentioned, is a major type of chordotonal organ that detects substrate-borne vibrations. These vibrations may include drumming or stridulatory signals which ants use to communicate alarm or mating signals, and to complement chemical communication.
Summary: How Many Legs Do Ants Have?
To summarize, ants have six legs attached to their thorax. These legs are called differently based on the segment of the thorax they’re connected on. Legs connected to the prothorax are called the forelegs, midlegs for the mesothorax, and finally the hind legs to the metathorax.
Ants use these legs for a variety of purposes, from the most obvious purpose of locomotion, that is walking, climbing, and swimming, to grooming, and even to sense and communicate.