Saturday, September 10, 2011

Death of a Super Hill

I was sad to see that the largest ant mound at Blue Jay Barrens has been partially abandoned and is in a state of decline. I know that this happens to many mounds, but I was hoping the Super Hill would continue to grow. There’s always the chance that the ants will reclaim the mound later and bring it back to its previous glory.

Instead of one super hill, there are now several mounds looking much like a string of volcanic islands. I assume that they are populated by ants that were all once a part of the super hill. There are ant highways along the ground that connect the mounds and the ants show no signs of conflict. The super hill has been in existence for about 15 years and has survived a wide range of weather conditions. I don’t know what could have happened this year to cause such a change.

The super hill hasn’t been completely abandoned. There’s still activity about equal to what you would find in a medium sized mound.

The new mounds are growing rapidly. The grass that appears to be growing at the bottom slope of the mound is actually the tops of plants that have been partially buried by the expanding mound. Mounds formed from a colony split grow at an incredible rate. This spot was all grass in the spring, but in a matter of only a couple of months there’s a 30 inch pile of soil that has smothered the plant growth. This is just another example of change and diversity on the prairies.

In the opposite direction, I’ve been seeing flocks of Nighthawks passing over from the west every evening for the last week. A strung out flock of about 50 took around a minute to pass over yesterday evening. If you stop to watch birds fly over, I would recommend moving away from any ant mounds. Before the last bird was out of sight, I had an ant chewing on my ankle.


  1. I saw the first of the nighthawks a few weeks ago here in Minnesota. They are a lovely sight to see, almost worth an ant bite or two. ;-)

  2. Hi, Wilma. I always enjoy watching Nighthawks. I've had so many ant bites that sometimes I don't even notice them.

  3. Those ant mounds remind me of how old family farms used to get split up among the grown children, with each building their own house. I can't remember my ant queen information, but you don't think a single queen survived those 15 years?

  4. Hi, Katie. This is an ant species that maintains multiple queens in the colony. In a large colony, there could be dozens of fertile queens. One or more queens would have been taken along when the new mounds were created. The literature describes single mounds being maintained for 30 years or more.

  5. The dragonflies and nighthawks have really been moving through here (eastern Missouri) the last few days. A few ants (Lasius neoniger, Myrmica sp.) have been flying for them to eat, but we're getting a big rain today, so probably a lot more will fly, after it clears again, for these migrants to fatten up on.
    Some ant queens are recorded to live to about 25-30 years, but my guess about most Formica species is something more like 8-10 years, but colonies can requeen and have multiple queens so a given population/nest or cluster of nests can last longer.

  6. Hi, James. Dragonfly numbers here have been increasing steadily over the past week. Cold weather has moved in behind the storms that went through this morning. It'll be interesting to see if dragonfly numbers are still high tomorrow.