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Insects - Ants

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There are 12,000 known species of ants, and an estimated 22,000 species of ants in existence. Ants are closely related to wasps and bees, and most species of ants have stingers. Ants are very adaptable and often tunnel deep into the ground, protecting themselves from the elements. Ant colonies are also very complex, and are sometimes referred to as a super-organism rather than as separate individual organisms, because ants in a colony work as a unified collective.

Ants have three main segments – the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. The ant’s abdomen is made up of two parts - the petiole node which is the narrow piece that connects the ant’s abdomen to the rest of its body, and the gaster, which is the large end of the ant’s abdomen, which contains the stinger and the ant’s stomach. Most ants are about 2 millimeters in length, but some species of ants, like African Driver ants from the Dorylus genus can grow to be as big as one and on half inches in length.

Ants have 6 legs, which are all attached to the ant’s thorax. At the end of each leg, there is a clawed foot that helps ants climb. An ant’s legs have six joints, and for their size, they are very strong and fast. If an ant were the size of a man, it could run at 44 miles per hour and easily lift 10,000 pounds. An ant’s jaws, or mandibles, open and close sideways like a pair of scissors. The mandibles are very powerful and are used to carry food, build nests, to carry their young, and they also use it for self defense. Ants use their mandibles to carry loads that weigh up to 50 times their own body weight.

Because they are always working and storing up for the lean times, ants have become a symbol for hard work and industry in many cultures around the world. Ants know how to work as a team and survive. They are highly organized, and they work together using a highly evolved system of communication that utilizes all of their senses. Ants don’t complain about their role in life, but they know how they fit into the team and they each do their part to benefit the group as a whole. They know their strengths and do the one thing that they are best at, and they do it well.

Ants are also very good at finding outside resources and forging mutually beneficial relationships outside of the nest that benefit the whole colony. The key there is mutually beneficial. Too often in business we see people who use others for their own gain, but farming ants that ‘milk’ aphids or grow fungus are not in it for what they can get out of the relationship. The other party in the relationship gets many benefits from the relationship as well. The ants harvest their honeydew, but they also carry their ‘livestock’ to places where they can feed, they protect them from predators, and they treat them as a part of the colony.

Not only do they work hard, and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with other species of insects, ants also know when to rest. The nest has rooms specifically for ants to rest when they become tired, and during the winter months, all of the ants go underground and remain dormant, closing off the entrances to their nests and hibernating until the weather is warm enough for them to resume their regular activities. Ants do all of this without having to be supervised. There are no supervisor ants in an ant colony, just ants who know what needs to be done, and who are dedicated enough to their team to do it.

1. Play to your strengths

Ants are hard workers. They each have a job to do and they do it. In business, unlike in the ant world, there are often many hats to wear, but business people don’t always have the luxury of having others around to do the tasks that they would rather not do. If they can find the jobs that they are best at and focus on those while delegating or outsourcing the tasks that they don’t enjoy as much to others, they will be more successful. At the beginning, this isn’t always possible. For example, when a business is first starting, the owner may have to do everything on his own. Like a new queen starting her nest in an ant colony, at the beginning the queen must do all of the work that would normally be done by worker ants. As the colony grows, jobs can then be assigned to others who are more adapted to doing those tasks. As a business becomes more successful, a business person can also outsource tasks to other businesses that specialize in the tasks that he or she is not as good at, or they can hire someone especially to do that job. This ultimately makes the business more productive and successful, while providing work to others as well.

2. Hone your communication skills

Ants have very advanced communication skills, using not only sound based communications, but they also use their sense of smell and touch to communicate in a variety of ways. With humans, less than 10 percent of all communication is verbal and the rest comes from non-verbal communications, including body language and other cues. In business it is a good practice to not only be a good listener, but to also learn to pick up on body language and other non-verbal communication cues. Learning to have the right conversations at just the right time can help a business person to access opportunities that may have been previously unreachable. This can also help a business person have more influence in situations where their ideas and input may have otherwise been overlooked. For example, noticing if another person is irritated or if they have other things on their mind can tell a person a lot about whether or not it is a good time to bring up the subject of a pay increase or to pitch an idea for a new marketing campaign. Also, it is important to know how to communicate calmly and effectively in situations where a problem needs to be solved quickly without closing doors or burning bridges.

3. Save for a rainy day

Most species of ants store up food for times when less food may be available, carrying it into the nest and stashing it away in storage rooms. This way, during times when food is harder to find, the ants that live there can use the stored food and keep their colony running smoothly. Ant colonies have rooms set aside for storing extra food, and in some species of ants, they actually have specialized worker ants that store food in their abdomens. One specialized type of worker ant in the honey ant species found in Australia stores sweet honey like liquid in its abdomen, which gets so enlarged that it immobilizes the storage ants and they must be cared for by other worker ants in the colony. Like ants, businesses that keep money set aside for setbacks also do better than those that don’t. For example, having money set aside can help prevent a business from losing money because equipment necessary for the function of the business breaks down. It can also help pay overhead costs during lean times when cash flow is tight. Money saved in an emergency fund allows repairs to be made quickly without interrupting the flow of business.

4. Forge mutually beneficial relationships

Most species of ants have symbiotic relationships with other insects or other organisms that allow the colony to function more smoothly. Ants who maintain ‘herds’ of aphids for example, never have to worry about lack of food, because they feed on the aphids’ honeydew, which the aphids excrete after feeding on plant sap. The aphids are treated very well – ants will carry aphids to places where they can feed, and the ants also protect their aphid flock from predators. This forms a relationship between the two species where they are both benefitting. People could learn much from this – too often, business professionals use others as an asset, having an exchange that is either unequal, with one party getting much more value that the other, or where one side takes what they want and gives nothing in return. Once they feel that the benefits they had been receiving from the arrangement have been exhausted, rather than nurture the relationship, it is abandoned. No one likes to feel used, and if a beneficial relationship is nurtured, both parties will be benefitted. This could even be two competing businesses that refer work to the other when they have more work than they can do alone, or who outsource work to each other when one has more expertise in a particular area than the other.

5. Be a self starter

Ants each have specific jobs within the colony, but nowhere in the nest will anyone find supervisors handing out instructions. Even the queen ant is too busy with her task of laying eggs to spend time giving orders. In an ant colony, every ant does its job without being told what to do. The same holds true in business - business owners, especially those in sole-proprietorships have to be self starters in order to be successful. They need to be able to set their own hours, prioritize daily tasks, and then do them in a timely manner, all without having to be reminded. Clients may call when they are not being served, but by the time this happens, the relationship with the client has been damaged. Many people would rather find a new service provider than have to call for updates all the time. Even in businesses that have employees, no one likes to have to be reminding an employee what his or her job is all of the time. An employee who can do his or her part without having to be constantly reminded will be much more successful at work than one who needs to be closely supervised.

6. Work as a team

In an ant colony, even though each worker ant has her own specific job to do, when each job is put together with all of the other tasks, it forms a whole where all the necessary tasks are being completed. As a result, ant colonies are one of the most efficient and organized animal groups on the planet. Teamwork in ant colonies is so efficient that it is almost impossible to destroy a well established nest of ants once it has been established. In a business, like in an ant colony, the organizations that have the best teams are the ones who are the most successful. When hiring for a position, successful businesses look not only for the skills and qualities that will make a good employee, but they also look for traits that will make that employee a good member of the team. Good team members need to be able to get along well with others, communicate effectively, and have the skills to do well at their assigned tasks. When everyone fits in and works well with the other members of the team, and each member of the team is getting along well with everyone else, they are more likely to be content in their job, and will perform better at the tasks for which they were hired.

7. Know when to take a break

Even though ants are well known for hard work, they do become tired and rest when needed. On average, a worker ant will take up to 250 1 minute naps during a 24 hour period. They simply stop where they are, fold up their antennae, and take a rest, becoming unresponsive to other ants around them. After they have rested for about a minute, they go back to work. Ants that live in colder climates also hibernate during the cold months. For business people who tend to be workaholics, knowing when to take a break could actually improve their ability to accomplish more in less time. Business people who do not get enough sleep, or who overwork themselves are much less efficient, more forgetful, and have a more negative outlook compared to those who make sure they are getting the optimal amount of sleep every night. Getting enough rest or even taking a vacation every once in a while helps improve a person’s judgment, their ability to concentrate, and puts them in a better mood, making it easier for them to handle stress and eliminate mistakes that may cause them to have to re-do work, making tasks take more time than they would have otherwise.