When Chemistry and Biology Come Together: Wood Ants Shoot Formic Acid

These wood ants (Formica rufa) fire formic acid into the air from their abdomens which bombards the potential predators such as a hungry birds.
Source: Paul Quagliana/BNPS

Campbell Biology

Like other animals, ants have structures and mechanisms that defend them from attack. Wood ants live in colonies of hundreds or thousands, and the colony as a whole has a particularly effective way of dealing with enemies. When threatened from above, the ants shoot volleys of formic acid into the air from their abdomens, and the acid bombards the potential predator, such as a hungry bird. Formic acid is produced by many species of ants and in fact got its name from the Latin word for ant, formica. For quite a few ant species, the formic acid isn’t shot out, but probably serves as a disinfectant that protects the ants against microbial parasites. Scientists have long known that chemicals play a major role in insect communication, the attraction of mates, and defense against predators. Research on ants and other insects is a good example of how relevant chemistry is to the study of life. Unlike college courses, nature is not neatly packaged into individual sciences—biology, chemistry, physics, and so forth. Biologists specialize in the study of life, but organisms and their environments are natural systems to which the concepts of chemistry and physics apply. Biology is multidisciplinary.


Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology (p. 28). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.


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