Ants and Nature

I remember the first time I saw an ant farm for sale.  It amazed me. I had my own free-range ant farm when I was growing up.  Although I could not see the tunnels, their cave mouth and small mound was plainly visible in the ditch in front of my house on Iron Hill Road.

    In the ditch in front of my house was a nest of big red ants.  I found out they are Florida Harvester Ants, but at the time they were just big red ants to me.  I sat for hours just watching their activities.  It was not unusual for one to crawl around on me but I was never bit by one.

    In the summer I would kill flies and take them to the ants to feed them.  It was amazing how fast they would discover the ant even if I put it a couple of feet from their tunnel entrance.  Scouts constantly moved around the perimeter of the bed, looking for food and danger, ranging out a long way from home. A long way for tiny ant legs anyway.

    An ant would find the dead fly and pick it up in its “jaws” and carry it to the tunnel then down inside. Often the fly was as big or bigger than the ant but they seemed to have no problem.

    To test their strength, I would drop small pebbles over the entrance hole.  The hole was in the center of a shallow bowl that had been cleaned of debris out about a foot. Around that clearing grainy pebbles ringed the bed, making it look like a target.

    When a tiny pebble was dropped over the entrance an ant would instantly move it away. They could carry pebbles bigger than their body. If I put one down too big for one ant two or more would work together to move it back to the edge.  They would seem to communicate someway, with an ant holding the pebble on each side and one moving backwards, much like two people carrying a heavy table.

    Rain would wash away the bed temporarily but it never took more than a couple of hours for the ants to unseal the tunnel and clear their little opening.   Again, they cooperated and seemed to be coordinated in their activity, not just running around like mindless bugs.

    At some point I tried to have a pet bed inside.  I would get a gallon jar and fill it with dirt, then put some ants in it, cover the mouth with cheese cloth and watch them.  I always found black ant beds and dug them up for my captives, never disturbing my pet red ant bed.

    No matter how many ants I managed to put in the jar my farm was never successful.  The ants would dig their tunnels and I could watch them work along the edges of the glass for a few days, but, even though I fed them plenty of flies, all the ants disappeared within a few days.

    I never realized I needed a queen ant to keep reproducing replacement worker ants.  I did get some eggs with the ants I put in my farm but even though the workers would take care of them, with no new eggs to replace the ones that hatched, the supply of workers soon ran out.

    Nature is amazing and fun to watch, even down to tiny ants.