Ant behavior: March 2012 Archives


Hello,

I have an old half buried patio next to my house that I plan to un-bury and relay the bricks. There seems to be a large ant colony that lives within these old bricks though. Last year, it was there as well, and in observing the ants, I noticed there were more than one species present (not living peacefully but rather keeping one another in check, perhaps?) Obviously I don't want to have a patio where there are several ants, but I was wondering if there is a way to get the ants to move the colony without getting rid of them? The yard seems to have a good level of checks and balance of living things, and I don't want to disturb that balance.

Any help is much appreciated.

Thank you
Jackie

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Hi Jackie,

The ants visible in your pictures are probably Formica subsericea. These ants sometimes host so-called slave-making ants, caring for their dominant partners without having a queen of their own. It is possible that the Formica subsericea ants you have seen are living as slaves of another species, explaining the presence of other types of ants. If this was the case they would act peacefully towards each other as they are members of the same colony.

Moving a colony without destroying it is very difficult. However, many ants regularly relocate their nests on their own, and it turns out that this behavior has been previously studied in Formica subsericea (Smallwood 1982 - full citation below). According to Smallwood (1982), Formica subsericea change nest sites about every 90 days. So if you wait long enough, they may leave on their own, though they could be replaced by yet another colony. Ho¨lldobler and Wilson have a section on ant nest relocation on page 171 of their 1990 book, "The Ants". They discuss a number of factors that are known to motivate some ants to relocate their nests including mechanical nest disturbance, flooding, competition, and predation. I doubt you want to prey on these ants but, given enough disturbance, they may choose to leave on their own. Digging up your old patio may be all the motivation the ants need to leave.

Thanks for your question and good luck with your patio,
Ben Rubin, James Trager, & the AntAsk Team

Smallwood J (1982) Nest relocation in ants. Insectes Sociaux 29:138-147.

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