June 2014 Archives



I saw quite a few of these ants on Capers buds this morning. They are quite large -- around 10 mm.
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Location is Jerusalem, Israel.
Can you help in identifying them?
thanks,
-- Dror

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Dear Dror:

The ants are one of the 30 or so species of the genus Camponotus that occur in Israel, possibly C. alii. The flower buds of capers (and many other plants) have tiny nectar glands on the outside that attract ants. The ants themselves do no damage, and indeed, the ants' presence deters flies, weevils and such from landing on the buds and laying eggs. These insects' larvae could do real damage to the reproductive structures.
Beautiful, clear pictures, by the way.

Regards, James C. Trager of the AskAnt Team



Hi-
We have a huge colony that has seems quite mature. Has been there for a long time. They are small black and red ants and they have a nasty little bite. Unfortunately we need to place a structure right over the ants colony. We do not want to harm the ants and would prefer to somehow move the colony.

It may a good time of year to do something with a deterrent, as they are very active. I thought we might be able to lift the whole colony, using some sort of bucket, during the night, so they are not away from the nest. I imagine this would cause havoc and might not succeed.

We live in Victoria, on Vancouver Island.
Any suggestions? Any input would be appreciated.

Thanks!

Joan

Good afternoon, Joan!

Interesting question! It sounds like you have a colony of the quite charsimatic Western thatch ant, Formica obscuripes, in your yard. Fortunately I have experience with this species, given that there is considerable variation in the construction of thatch nests among the species in North America. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to relocate the colony without destroying it. The above-ground thatch---while impressive in stature, especially in the Pacific Northwest---is not the primary housing-unit of the colony. The thatch is like a compost pile which is warmed internally by the decomposition of the organic material used to construct it. In this way the above-ground component of the nest functions like an incubator, where the ants will place their developing young during the late winter and early spring months, allowing the young ants to grow even when there is snow on the ground. Now, the problem is that the most important members of the colony---the queens---don't like to stay in the thatch part of the nest. The queens are usually encountered in underground chambers which may extend several feet beneath the thatch. Thus, in order to relocate the colony you would need exquisite timing so that way you may move the thatch with the queens in it. Perhaps the best time of day for this would be in the morning or late afternoon when it is cooler out as the queens may migrate up into the thatch (although this idea has not been tested).

If you were to attempt to move the thatch there would be no way to do it without upsetting the workers as they are very territorial and aggressive about their mounds, and there is no guarantee that even if a queen were in the nest that she would be able to successfully excavate a new nest once moved. However, if you wanted to go through with the move I would recommend bringing a few 5-gallon buckets, a shovel, gloves, and duct-tape. What you could do is tape the gloves over long sleeves and your socks over your pants (trust me on this one!), then take the shovel and transfer as much thatch and soil from beneath the mound as fast as possible into the buckets (which hopefully you have lids for). You could take these and dump them together in an area very similar to where the colony is now, presumably near some Douglas firs. You might not have to dig too far down into the ground, as I have found queens at the soil surface and just below---less than a foot. I'm pleased with how considerate you are about these colonies! They may live for over a decade and house several thousand busily working individuals, let alone the fact that this species is ecologically important in your region.

Good luck with the ants, and I hope I helped answer your question!
Best,
Brendon Boudinot & the Ant Ask Team



Hello,
When comparing human infrastructure and ants what would you say is their most common behaviors? Do you think there is anything humans could learn from ant behavior?

Dear Jacqueline,

When human designers, architects, engineers, and computer scientists turn to other organisms for inspiration, it is often referred to as "biomimicry." In recent years, more and more people have turned to the other species on Earth for inspiration. Recent and ongoing work in Biomimicry is highlighted in this TED talk (by the main popularizer of the term "Biomimicry").

However, the speaker doesn't mention much about ants (and neither have I, so far...). One of the reasons ants are so interesting is that they display a wide variety of life-styles, from farming fungi, to raiding termite nests, to foraging in the shifting sands of the desert. And they're able to do all this with very little of what I would call "individual-level intelligence." Ants, like other social insects, function without central control, using what has been referred to as "swarm intelligence." (for more of my ramblings on swarm intelligence, see a previous post here, and also this more coherent article from National Geographic).

So, by studying ants and other social insects (like bees, termites, and certain wasps), we can learn more about true, blind democracies, and how to get things done without central control. For example, by studying processes different kinds of ants (and other social insects) use to find food and tell each other about it, computer scientists and engineers have been inspired to think of new ways to route traffic, solve resource distribution problems, and perhaps even program robots. The tricky thing about biomimicry right now is that many of these are still just potential lessons we could learn from ants - they haven't yet changed the way we get things done in our own lives.

The other tricky thing about biomimicry is that, like things you read in a blog post, sometimes what seem to be cogent lessons need to be evaluated and taken with a grain of salt. For example, in this article, the author uses the example of fungus-growing ants as a system of agriculture that we should learn from (perhaps just because of that charismatic image), but in the same paragraph alludes to the dangers of monoculture, which is exactly what fungus-growing ants (and termites) do: they cultivate a single species of fungus. They can get away with it, because they've evolved the ability to secrete antibiotics and fungicides from glands in their bodies, and they have the labor power to strip acres of vegetation around their nest and bring it back to fertilize their gardens (the most charismatic ants that farm fungi are the leaf cutter ants; other types of fungus-farming ants and termites use some combination of things like soil, partially decayed vegetable matter, the exoskeletons of dead insects, and caterpillar frass to fertilize their fungal gardens). Worse, there are different kinds of ants that make slaves of other ants, ants that are very lazy (surprise!), and ants that just hang from the ceiling all day collecting sugar water in their abdomens (which I would probably try for a while, but might lead to diabetes after a few weeks). So just like the Japanese scholars studying at the "Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books" in the 1800s did with knowledge from "The West," we should study nature (ants included), but pick and choose which lessons to incorporate into the society we wish to build for ourselves.

Hope this helps!
best,
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Hi guys,

Im from Hamilton Ontario in Canada. My cat found this ant walking up the wall in my kitchen. I apologise for the goopy mess but when she caught it I smucked it afraid with the chompers on that thing that she'd get bit!!! Ive never seen an ant this big and at first thought it was a wasp without wings albeit a bit smaller than a wasp. Can you tell me a bit about it please?? Thanks
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Dear Rogers:

This is a recently mated female (would have gone on to become the queen/mother/reproductive center of a new colony) of what we in the ant biz call Camponotus pennsylvanicus, a.k.a. Eastern Black Carpenter Ant.

This is a very common ant in the deciduous forests of eastern North America, and also well adapted to the human habitat of parks, yards, and urban green spaces. Occasionally, they inhabit the wood of buildings that has been damaged by water and begun to soften, but their preferred nesting space is in a stump or in dead limbs or trunk of a living tree. They are generalist feeders, preying on other insects, and eating naturally occurring sweets such as fallen fruit, nectar from glands or secreted by glands on other parts of plants, or honeydew, a sweet waste product of sap-sucking insects. In the human habitat, they have the additional resources of picnic scraps, candy wrappers, and such. Though they forage around the clock, their peak activity is in the warmer, early night hours.

Most ants start new colonies by means of a queen such as this one raising her first brood of a few, small worker ants, unaided and often without eating, while feeding the larvae a glandular secretion (analogous to the milk of mammals, but produced by salivary glands). During this period of weeks to months of single motherhood, the young queen lives off the abundant body fat (the whitish goo of your squished individual) and the re-absorbed wing muscles that she would never use for flight, following breaking off the wings after her mating flight.

Thanks for writing to the AntBlog,
James C. Trager & the AntAsk Team

Hi guys,

Im from Hamilton Ontario in Canada. My cat found this ant walking up the wall in my kitchen. I apologise for the goopy mess but when she caught it I smucked it afraid with the chompers on that thing that she'd get bit!!! Ive never seen an ant this big and at first thought it was a wasp without wings albeit a bit smaller than a wasp. Can you tell me a bit about it please?? Thanks


**********************
Dear Rogers:

This is a recently mated female (would have gone on to become the queen/mother/reproductive center of a new colony) of what we in the ant biz call Camponotus pennsylvanicus, a.k.a. Eastern Black Carpenter Ant.

This is a very common ant in the deciduous forests of eastern North America, and also well adapted to the human habitat of parks, yards, and urban green spaces. Occasionally, they inhabit the wood of buildings that has been damaged by water and begun to soften, but their preferred nesting space is in a stump or in dead limbs or trunk of a living tree. They are generalist feeders, preying on other insects, and eating naturally occurring sweets such as fallen fruit, nectar from glands or secreted by glands on other parts of plants, or honeydew, a sweet waste product of sap-sucking insects. In the human habitat, they have the additional resources of picnic scraps, candy wrappers, and such. Though they forage around the clock, their peak activity is in the warmer, early night hours. 

Most ants start new colonies by means of a queen such as this one raising her first brood of a few, small worker ants, unaided and often without eating, while feeding the larvae a glandular secretion (analogous to the milk of mammals, but produced by salivary glands). During this period of weeks to months of single motherhood, the young queen lives off the abundant body fat (the whitish goo of your squished individual) and the re-absorbed wing muscles that she would never use for flight, following breaking off the wings after her mating flight.

Thanks for writing to the AntBlog,
James C. Trager & the AntAsk Team

Hi guys,

Im from Hamilton Ontario in Canada. My cat found this ant walking up the wall in my kitchen. I apologise for the goopy mess but when she caught it I smucked it afraid with the chompers on that thing that she'd get bit!!! Ive never seen an ant this big and at first thought it was a wasp without wings albeit a bit smaller than a wasp. Can you tell me a bit about it please?? Thanks


**********************
Dear Rogers:

This is a recently mated female (would have gone on to become the queen/mother/reproductive center of a new colony) of what we in the ant biz call Camponotus pennsylvanicus, a.k.a. Eastern Black Carpenter Ant.

This is a very common ant in the deciduous forests of eastern North America, and also well adapted to the human habitat of parks, yards, and urban green spaces. Occasionally, they inhabit the wood of buildings that has been damaged by water and begun to soften, but their preferred nesting space is in a stump or in dead limbs or trunk of a living tree. They are generalist feeders, preying on other insects, and eating naturally occurring sweets such as fallen fruit, nectar from glands or secreted by glands on other parts of plants, or honeydew, a sweet waste product of sap-sucking insects. In the human habitat, they have the additional resources of picnic scraps, candy wrappers, and such. Though they forage around the clock, their peak activity is in the warmer, early night hours. 

Most ants start new colonies by means of a queen such as this one raising her first brood of a few, small worker ants, unaided and often without eating, while feeding the larvae a glandular secretion (analogous to the milk of mammals, but produced by salivary glands). During this period of weeks to months of single motherhood, the young queen lives off the abundant body fat (the whitish goo of your squished individual) and the re-absorbed wing muscles that she would never use for flight, following breaking off the wings after her mating flight.

Thanks for writing to the AntBlog,
James C. Trager & the AntAsk Team

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