Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ants up a Tree

Fence rows often protect trees from typical farming activities, so old fence rows are a likely place to find large trees on abandoned farms. This Shingle Oak began its life in a fence row, avoided the perils of having fence wire stapled to its trunk and managed to grow into a nice, large tree. What caught my eye on this particular morning was a copper colored sparkling of the tree trunk.

Closer examination revealed thousands of Allegheny Mound Ants running on the bark. Some were going up and some down, but they were all moving fast. They reflected the sun as they ran and the effect was that of glitter covering the tree. Very few of the ants were carrying anything. Of those that were, there were just as many on their way up the tree as there were coming down. A few had their abdomens distended with liquid, but they made up a small percentage of the total numbers. They were bypassing side branches and going up somewhere near the top of the tree.

Ants fanned out in all directions from the base of the tree. There were three broad lanes of hurried traffic leaving and returning. Between these lanes were ants in small groups or individual ants moving in no defined direction about the area.

A large collection of ants occupied this hollow at ground level. For the most part, they remained unmoving. It’s not uncommon for this species of ant to occupy or create temporary shelter. Sometimes the reason for their presence is obvious. In this case it wasn’t.

I found a couple of places where small groups of ants were taking apart dead insects. The insects were of different species and there weren’t nearly enough of them to say that this was what the ants were after in the tree.

There was also the sound of rain as small objects fell from the tree top and collided with the leaves of nearby shrubs. By holding out my hand palm up I caught three falling ants in less than half a minute. This is my first experience with a rain of ants. I don’t know what could have been going on in the top of the tree to cause so many ants to fall. I suppose it will just have to be another mystery.

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