Friday, April 17, 2009

Harvesters in Spring

Enter the ant.

So, my daughter's doting grandmother (this would be my mom, Queen of Backyard Naturalists and Internet Shoppers) recently found out how much Abbey likes watching the fire ants that build mounds all over this great state. Abbey's been bitten more times than I can count by the little buggers, but still she loves to watch them. And, I must admit, I do, too. Though I probably spend more time watching her feet to make sure she doesn't get close and get bitten again.

Well, Grammy's aiding and abetting my daughter's nature study in the most wonderful way: she sent us an ant farm.

We never had an ant farm when I was a kid. (Mom says her naturalist tendencies have taken the last few decades to mature.) Now that we've had one for about 24 hours, I can say this:

It . . . is . . . AWESOME.

Abbey likes it. She looks at the industrious little insects whenever we remind her. (This is serious interest for a two year old.) I, however, am completely enthralled.

The fifty or so harvester ants in there have already dug two side tunnels half way down the eight inch mound and are carefully depositing each grain of sand that they move to a very precise location. They have a plan.

They also often fall down the outside of the domed "hill" but, protected by their hard exoskeletons, they quickly right themselves and start back up again. They are determined.

I must do more research to find out about these harvesters. All I know right now is that their bite is even more painful than a fire ant's bite, and I can tell you from experience that those are no fun. (I take breaks from studying the ants to check that the lid is still securely fastened at least a half dozen times a day.)

I want to learn more than the power of their bite, though. I know I'm not the first person to be intrigued by the seemingly utopian society of Antville, but where there's interest in the natural world, there's generally a good reason for it.

So, off to Google and Wikipedia and my stash of nature books and ID books I go. I'll be back with more info soon, but in the meantime, I think it's apropos for Earth Week to start thinking about these little sand movers: Each of us, doing just our little part, can make our home planet a more beautiful place.

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