The Suitcase Lady


September 7, 2013, 10:13 pm

We have ants. Fortunately none are inside our house, their two residences are outside in the meadow beside our home. And perhaps, more correctly, I should have said, “The ants have us.” They were living on the land before we came and will probably be here after we are gone.

When we bought our acre lot 38 years ago, we noticed two gigantic mounds in the field. Closer inspection revealed that the yard wide, two foot high hills were massive ant colonies. We regard them as a bonus that came with the property.

Linnaeus, the great classifier, put all ants into the family Formicidae. That is now divided into about twenty subfamilies and 300 genera. Our ants are in the genus Formica (not to be confused with countertops) which includes field ants, wood ants and mound ants. I do not know the species of our ants; there are currently 12,762 ant species, and I am not an entomologist.

Formica ants are mostly beneficial to their habitats. Formica ants don’t sting, but they can bite and spray formic acid  from their abdomens. They use the acid to subdue their prey which are other arthropods, many of which are destructive to forests and plants that we cultivate. Their eating habits can be described as “predatory with a sweet tooth.” In addition to eating bugs, they also seek out honeydew which is a sugary liquid excreted by aphids as they feed on sap.

The top of the ants’ mounds is thatched, an amazing engineering job on the part of the colony. The thatched plant materials keep the rain out and are angled to heat the interior of the mound via solar energy.

Edward O. Wilson, one of the world’s leading authorities on ants, sums ants up best. He states in his book, The Ants, “Karl Marx was right, socialism works, it is just that he had the wrong species.”

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