Thursday, March 26, 2009

To The Raft, Boys!

TODAY we saw the most amazing sight, which caused me to do a little research into fire ants. These little red ants look innocuous enough, until they creep silently onto your skin, finally announcing their presence with a painful and persistent sting. They live in the ground and we often find little mounds of red earth in the grass, which you definitely don't want to step in barefoot. Around the baseball field where we walk, these ant nests line the tarmac path and provide much interest to curious onlookers. But never as much as today, when after a rain we saw several seething masses of ants on the surface of puddles.

You have to admire their pioneering spirit. This particular species of ant was accidentally introduced from South America in the 1930s through a port in Alabama, and has since spread across all the southern states. Their successful colonisation is due in part to exceptional resourcefulness and teamwork. When their nests are threatened by rain, instead of fleeing or curling up in defeat, the ants march forth into the face of the enemy. They form a large mass around the queen, creating a living raft that floats until it bumps into a tree or clump of grasses to hang onto. The ants constantly rotate positions so that none stay under water too long. Even though some die, enough survive so that once the waters go down, they can return to the nest or build a new one.

At the time, I thought they were clamoring for a spot on the roof of their home, jostling and climbing over one another to ensure their own survival as we humans surely would do. An unsuspecting caterpillar drifted into the mass, where it was promptly tossed into the moshpit, I fear never to be returned. I was so fascinated by this spectacle that Emma grew quite impatient with me: "Come ON Mama, let's go. There more ants up here!"

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