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Ants and the Dinosaurs?

I was listening to NPR the other day and there was a guy talking about the importance of ants. It had never occurred to me how important they are (and how little known they are). One point stuck in my head as evolutionary important in the rise of flowering plants. Ants break down animals, plants and insect matter very quickly into smaller bits. Bits that are full of the nutrition trees need to grow. Additionally their colonies break up the earth, in a way terra-forming the land.

I don't know if you're ever looked at the ground on a pine forest and a rain forest like I have, but they are very different. Pines, which shoot more or less straight up, do not much alter the surface of the ground around them, while flowering trees will litter the ground with soft flower matter, fruits and likely leaves too (there are some ever green flower trees but most are deciduous, that is they loose their leaves). Here think the difference between pine growth and tropical tree growth is important to note. Pines grow up. If they don't they die. You do not have a pine living for years as a bush and then suddenly growing. Tropical trees grow depending upon light. They can remain bushes on the ground floor, in the darkness beneath the canopy for years. Only when there is a break (because say a tree falls) do they spring up. Then the other main difference is that pines grow up mostly, while flowering trees grow bushy, once they're high enough the grow up and sideways to occupy the space in the canopy.

Ants evolved from wasps in the mid-Cretaceous, at the end of the Cretaceous the flowering trees exploded, and the dinosaurs went extinct. In my previous post on the subject I argue that these are both related (causal), not just correlated. Now I'm thinking the ants may have played a key part in this. Ants are everywhere: all the continents (except Antarctica), massively specialized. I wonder if ant species suffered an explosion at the same time as the dinosaurs went the other way.

Oh and btw I had no clue that ants had evolved from wasps till I heard it on NPR, I thought it had been the other way around. But the fact that they went from flying insect, to ground life, is interesting.


  1. Ants are fascinating. I have watched ants pick up their dead and carry them along in their line. They are extremely interesting how they meet/greet and carry on...


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