Archive | July, 2011

Thirsty Bugs

15 Jul
A thirsty honeybee (Apis mellifera) struggles after falling into the water.

A thirsty honeybee struggles after falling into the water.

It’s been a hot, exceedingly dry summer here.  In the African savannah, wildlife congregate at watering holes.  Here in Texas cattle land we have watering troughs.  These oases in the desert are not only attractive to the larger lifeforms, but their smaller six-legged compatriots as well.

During a very dry visit to the gorgeous Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area for EntoBlitz, the effects of the drought could be observed in the multitudes of thirsty honeybees seen clustering along the interior lip of a water tank.  Like the African watering hole, the tank wasn’t without its dangers:  as in the case of the unlucky bee above, who lost her footing and became ensnared by wet wings and clinging surface tension.

Honeybees drink water while one falls in.

Thirsty bees cling to the interior lip of a water tank during a drought (Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area, Texas).

Many thanks to Paul Lenhart for the pictures!  (And surprise to Drew, who didn’t know I was going to stick this picture on my blog.  Hi, Drew!)

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Ant Bridge – Video

11 Jul

Video of the floating fire ant bridge, as promised.  The music is a bit odd, but I couldn’t resist.  🙂

Ant Bridge

8 Jul
A raft of flooded out fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) forms gradually form a path across the water.

A raft of flooded out fire ants gradually form a path across the water.

A few weeks ago we had a big downpour after a long dry spell.  A&M’s an old campus and doesn’t drain well, so a number of sidewalks and fields were temporarily flooded.  Walking along one of these sidewalks I spotted a fire ant colony that had flooded out into three large rafts of stranded ants.  This rafting behavior is a natural adaptation of fire ants to survive flooding, wherein the workers form a living floatation device to preserve their fellow workers, brood, and queens.

Flooded fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) form a living bridge to dry land.

Flooded fire ants form a living bridge across the water to dry land.

I went home to get my camera, and by the time I returned that afternoon, the rafts of fire ants had managed something I haven’t seen before.  They had spread out and connected up to form a living bridge across the water to dry land.  Ants ran back and forth along a path composed of their living sisters, while those at the surface of the water tested the area ahead with their antennae.  On land a trail of ants was busily moving brood into the dry refuge of a light pole.

An elite pest control agent battles a tentacle of sentient ants with a laser (Source: The Hive).

The reaching trails of ants called to mind a sci-fi/horror film wherein a sentient supercolony of ants formed huge hovering tentacles to drag the humans’ boat to shore.  The pest control people had lasers.  It was a pretty awesome film.  Actually, if you haven’t seen the movie The Hive I highly recommend it, if only for the bizarre plot and ridiculous pseudo-science.   Also, the best movie quote ever:

“We are NOT going to negotiate with ANTS.”

Fictional movies aside, reality is pretty impressive all on it’s own.  I took a whole bunch of pictures of the bridging fire ants, as seen below.  I took some video, too, so hopefully I’ll get that posted when I get the chance to edit something together.

Close up of rafting fire ants in a flooded field.

Forking trail of floating fire ants.

Two isolated rafts of fire ants converge to form a bridge to dry land.

Close up: A floating aft of fire ants bridges a flooded field.

A living raft of fire ants bridges a flooded field. To the right, an alate is visible traversing the bridge to safety.

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