Saturday, August 13, 2011

If you are scared of insects, this is not the post for you

Do you think the ants would have overrun me if I stepped on them?
Fair warning.

Last week, I saw pavement ants at war. Yes, a giant battle (relatively speaking) raged on the sidewalk outside of house for about an hour.

It started as just a little cluster of ants. I sort of imagine it as a bar fight gone wild. After about 10 minutes, it was about a foot long (see picture to the right). I've shown my feet for perspective. You can assume I do not have giant feet.

I've included some of the action shots below.

Holy crap, that's a lot of ants

Watching this war of ants, I decided to find some interesting facts about ants. I listened to an interview on NPR with Mark Moffett (coined as the "Indiana Jones of entymology") and, wow, ants are a little crazy.

How many of those ants in the previous pictures are male? Before this interview, I thought they all were. I mean, haven't you seen the movie Antz or A Bugs Life? The worker and warrior ants are all male.  But no, turns out every single ant in those pictures are females. Way to mislead us, kid movies.

Male ants are winged and look like wasps. Plus, they are sissies. According to Mark Moffett, male ants "have no social life" and are "only good for sex". Woot! Females are awesome. Moffett continues to say "ants are groups of females without males doing a thing".

Credit to Mark Moffett for the bus shot
These females ants are awesomely smart. They use larger ants as transportation. What, you ask, do I mean? Check it out:

Yes, that is a larger ant transporting like 20 smaller ants. She'll carry them into battle, to food, to the borders, all over the place. She's like a bus except she gets paid nothing and is highly prized. Colonies protect their best, biggest warriors at the expense of hundreds of little expendable ants.

Some types of ants catch their prey by ripping off their legs. Yes, they tear off their prey's legs and antennae, carry the prey back to their nest in one piece and slowly consume them alive. Awesome, ants. Also, again, kids movies are not very accurate.

Hi, I was created solely to mislead you
As if you didn't have enough fuel for your nightmares, let me add some. Moffett also describes Bulldog ants from Australia which are about an inch long apiece. They have excellent vision. Moffett says that if you ever see one of these ants look up to you, recognize you and proceed to CHASE you, you should run. Run fast because they can run just as fast as you. Also, they are excellent jumpers. And they can call for reinforcements incredibly quickly. All of whom are as fast as you and excellent jumpers.

Oh God. I don't like where this is going.

Moffett goes on to describe the reason you don't tie up your cattle in Africa. Because you might come back in the morning and find only your cattle's skeleton.

Now, combine these three anecdotes, and you know why I am not heading to Australia anytime soon.

But as I'm listening to this interview, riveted to my computer, sort of like watching a train wreck, you just can't tear your eyes away, I realize that Mark Moffett is just as nuts as the ants he's describing.

He tells a story about him trying to get the queen of a marauder ant nest. He takes his ax and splits open the top of the nest. Ants FLOOD out of the nest and begin to climb him. You heard me right. He continues to ax until they reach his neck, at which point he "runs like the dickens scraping ants off of him as he goes." Then, he repeats the entire process until he excavates the nest. As if that wasn't enough, somewhere near the end of the interview, a botfly hatches out of his head. Does this sound like a balanced individual?

I leave that answer to you, psychiatrists.

I can just hear my husband, after reading this post, asking me "Wow, so you still think an all female society would be awesome?" I actually think ant dynamics model what it would be like if society was almost all female quite well. We would create some fearsome warriors and be incredibly efficient, but have insane battles and territorial disputes between tribes. Ants never retreat, and from my experience, neither do human females.



    .. huh. It turns out that I do not like ants!

  2. Haha, awesome. I don't like ants when they are swarming up my neck, but otherwise I guess they are alright. I promise I'll make this up to you. I have some posts coming with cute pictures and then hilarious pictures.

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