Friday, 25 July 2008

The Ant War

Just a brief note on something I saw at work the other day...

There's a theatre camp at the park where I work, and I overheard from the kids that there was a massive ant battle. Well, I had known there was a carpenter ant infestation nearby, so I just assumed that there had actually been two. The kids showed me the battlefield, and it was indeed littered with little ant corpses. The teacher and most of the kids mourned a little, which was surprising and heartening. Two girls asked me why they would suddenly start fighting, and I explained that ants are territorial. Because food can sometimes be scarce, ants are 'programmed' to try to destroy any nearby colonies. Often this results in large battles and the wholesale destruction of both colonies. I had almost said that, in this, they were remarkably human, but I decided they were two young for such cynicism and, really, that way of thinking is terribly unhealthy. The Cold War did end without nuclear holocaust, right?

Ants are interesting things. I was given ant-extermination literature at work so that I could deal with the ant problem, and learned some things about carpenter ants. They will have six different castes of ant in their nests. Their nests, tunnelled into wood, are called "galleries." A single queen establishes a parent gallery, and then other colonies are started as the population grows. In this sense they really are imperial. Unlike other ants, however, the queen does not usually reside in the parent nest, but either goes out starting new colonies or forages in the nearby area. This means exterminators have a harder to eradicating carpenter ants than other kinds, since servant ants cannot bring the queen toxic food and destroy the population at its source.

I also had the luxury of seeing aphid farms on trees and weeds at work. Since none were on seedlings or plants we want, but instead plants we don't and mature maples that can handle the low populations, I saw no need to exterminate them. It is really interesting, watching the ants scurry about the aphids. I'm led to wonder whether they herd them to new food sources when the local one runs out. I had read that this does happen, but I don't recall how reliable my source was. I certainly didn't see that sort of activity when I was watching them.

Incredible things, ants. Very interesting.

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