Ant behavior: June 2012 Archives

Hello,

I have a two part Ant question that I am just so curious about.

We have a patio paved with stones and we have an Ant nest under it.We have seen the small reddish ants and their activity.

1. My question is are the Ants able to predict when it will rain? A day before rain comes we notice small sticks sticking out of the Ants nest holes.The sticks are in a very regular pattern,spaced about 6-10 inches apart.After the rain is gone for a day the sticks go away.

2. Is there more to plugging the holes beyond keeping rain out? Are they funneling water?


It is just so fascinating,we love watching wild creatures and their behaviors and when it's right out the back door, WoW!

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Thank you so much for your time. We hope to hear from you soon,

Chance and Rois



Hi Chance and Rois,

Thanks for contacting us with these puzzling observations! I am not entirely sure about both your questions and here are some thoughts. As far as I know, it has never been scientifically proven that ants were able to predict rain, but there are many stories which claim it. There are also studies that claim that ants might even be able to predict earthquakes, because they sometimes nest on fault zones. It is hypothesized that ants detect Helium which is released before an earthquake.

Coming to your second question, I can only guess. I have never observed this behavior myself, but I've seen ants that cover their nests with rocks. This might be to prevent intruders from coming in or for keeping the rain out. In my own driveway, which has lots of cracks in the concrete because of tree roots, I also sometimes observe little sticks standing out. But we have little ants in the driveway and I think that earth worms are pulling the little sticks in to feed on them. They seem to chew them down. However, the sticks I see are much smaller and look softer than the one that you were showing. I found a picture online in which an earth work pulls a leaf into the ground to feed on it.

I think the only way to find out what is pulling the sticks in would be to dig it up. Let me know if you do so and what you find.

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Here is a picture of an earthworm pulling in a leaf. (image taken from http://www.planet-wissen.de/alltag_gesundheit/landwirtschaft/wiese/wiesenaufbau.jsp)

I hope these thoughts help!

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

When in Borneo, I noticed that the Diacamma ponerines on the forest floor of primary forest surrounded the entrance to their nest at the bottom of saplings with nests of twigs like birds' nests. Do you know what these are for? They also turned out to be regularly spaced.

Thanks,

Ruth Levy

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Hi Ruth,

The stacks of twigs over the entrances of the colonies you found are likely required for proper nest thermoregulation. Temperatures in ant nests must be maintained within particular limits or the ants may die or their young may fail to develop correctly. The twigs can contribute to temperature control by keeping nests out of direct sunlight and protecting against wind. We have several previous posts on colony temperature regulation here, here and here.

Thanks for your question,

Alexandra Westrich, Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

Today,

I witnessed something that peeked my curiosity. I saw hundreds of ants moving in a straight line on a curb for about 50 yards. 1. Why would they do this? 2. 99% were moving in the same direction but occasionally one would fight the tide, why?

Thanks,
Mark


Hi Mark,

The behavior you witnessed could have been a colony moving to a new nest site. Parts of an ant colony or an entire colony move to a new nest if the previous has gotten too small or if resources around the nest have been exploited. It's also possible that the ants were performing a "raid", where they quickly swarm a food location. Did you happen to observe whether the ant workers were either carrying brood items or prey items? This might help to understand whether they were moving to a new nest site or were on a raid. The solitary ants moving against the tide were likely recruiting those which were still behind.

All the best,
Arista Tischner & the AntAsk Team

Hi, great blog. I've got a question for you if you might have the time...

Last week during the solar eclipse my family and I drove out past west Phoenix, AZ to get a clear view of the horizon - we ended up out in the dessert. I noticed a huge ant colony of large black ants about 1/4 inch in size, they were busy walking in lines in and out of their hole. I decided to collect about ten for an unused gel ant farm I have. I had the ants for a week and all but two of them just sat around in a group cleaning themselves, while two of the ants started digging tunnels. I figured I inadvertently collected mostly foraging worker ants. Now, one week later, this weekend I decided I would go back and try to capture ants that were bringing debris out of the hole, and avoid ants bringing thing into the hole, to try to get more digger ants. BUT! The ant hole was void of all activity, no ants. ... I trekked into the raw untamed dessert for about an hour and discovered many ant holes - not one ant the entire time! Figuring I was unlucky, I drove and explored a dirt road that took me deep into the dessert for about four miles, looking out for large ant holes along the way, and again, many holes but not one single ant! Is it an ant conspiracy? But seriously, I was scanning the ground for activity and not one ant the whole time?! Whats going on? This all took place in the afternoon to late day and the temperature reported 84 degrees on my iphone.

Thank you!
Bracken

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Bracken,

Glad to hear you are keeping ants! Ant farms can be a great way to observe and appreciate ants.

As for your observations about the missing ants it is possible that the original colony may have moved locations. Some ant species move their entire nests from time to time. Also, many ant species have ideal times of the day and temperatures to be active and it could be that you were there when the ants were deep in their nests for the evening.

Hopefully the ants will be back out and active the next time you venture out to the desert.

Best of luck,
Corrie Moreau & the AskAnt Team

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