Field of Science

Ants! Equals Tropics! Aargh!

One of the more distinctive and typical features of the tropics is the inordinate prevalence of ants. This comes to mind because one little fellow just a few seconds ago, a critter only 2 mm long, just crawled out of my laptop's keyboard and stung TPP! What sheer affrontry! No where else are there so many ants, both in terms of numbers and diversity as in the tropics. At our location there are hundreds of species of ants (a colleague says over 500), mostly harmless, and a few real nasty critters, like the inch long black "bullet" ants, to some miniscule ants way less than a mm long that were found in a flower. It's pretty amazing that a 2 mm long insect can sting an organism several orders of magnitude its size, and while not debilitating it still hurt and you don't want the number a swarm of ants can deliver. But what the heck was it (TPP tends to think of an ant colony as a super-organism) doing? The answer is simple: foraging. Your first thought upon finding ants like this is to find the attractant and get rid of it ASAP. Several potential attractants were sharing the table in our cabina, some cookies, some lemon & salt plantain chips (wonderful! try them!), but not much else, and having had experience with ants in several tropical locales, all these goodies were safely being stored inside zip lock bags, a field work necessity for many reasons including excluding ants. But these bloody little ants were everywhere and they seemed centered on my laptop, and then the reason was found, a scent line had been laid along the charging cord! Not that they found anything making this foraging worthwhile, so eventually they would have left, but not before being very annoying. So first you clean off the cord, and then the floor around the cord, and then you shake out your laptop and clean under it, and of course they are coming from under the baseboard, and then you clean off the table and wipe everything down. TPP only got stung another 10 times or so in the process, and a few lingering trouble makers may get him some more. Hmm, forgot about the 3 or 4 stings to the toes. Ouch! Earlier today, a foraging trail of army ants wasn't noticed until quite a few were on TPP's boots. This particular column was raiding a wasp nest, and the wasps were swarming about helplessly while the army ants cleaned out their nest: eggs, larvae, young, trapped adults. Army ants can bite pretty hard, not scary hard, but they make up for that in sheer numbers and the speed of their over whelming attack. So best to watch out. It wouldn't be a tropical field trip unless something like this happened. This is where it would be great to have a graphic of an ant crawl up your screen.

1 comment:

Larissa said...

oh man... ants in your pants, kinda