Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ants and Dragonflies

The year is full of seasonal events.  Some I like and some I don’t.  As I was heading home yesterday evening, the road through our nearest town was closed in preparation for the annual fall street fair.  That’s one of those events I don’t like.  When I finally pulled into my driveway, I saw a large dragonfly swarm circling the Prairie Garden.  I always enjoy the fall swarms of dragonflies and this one was partly created by another of my favorite events.  Ants were swarming.

Ants taking off on their mating flight remind me of chumming the water for sharks.  Dragonflies come from all directions to feed on the ants.  This is usually an evening event and the lowering sun lights up both ants and dragonflies.  Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible for me to capture a photo that comes close to illustrating the beauty of the interaction between these two insects.  Nobody would guess that this photo contained a couple dozen flying ants and four dragonflies.

Occasionally I’ll capture an image that is recognizable as a dragonfly.  They all appeared to be Common Green Darners.

Other photos seem more suited to proving the existence of pixies or tiny x-winged fighters cruising above the fields of Blue Jay Barrens.

The dragonflies seemed to be targeting the large queen ants.  The queen’s flight was rather slow and there was a good bet that a dragonfly would nab her before she topped an altitude of 12 feet.  I think I just caught the tail end of the swarming event.  I probably would have been home in time to see the entire swarm if I hadn't had to detour around town.  During the peek of the swarm there would have been far too many ants in the air for the dragonflies to have caused much damage.  Those last few ants would have been trying to survive a sky full of predators.

The ants attempt to reach a high point, such as the tip of a blade of grass, before launching into the air.  This queen kept running up the grass blade and plummeting from the tip back down to the ground.  That’s probably why she’s one of the last to take to the air.  Maybe it’s best for her to be eaten, so she doesn’t pass on those bad swarming traits.

The workers and winged males were very small.  I had to crawl with my face almost to the ground in order to find them.  During the search, the neighbors drove past the house.  They just waved.  I guess my behavior no longer strikes them as being odd.

Amidst all of the workers was one that carried an ant cocoon in its jaws.  I guess being late hatching doesn’t excuse you from swarming.


  1. Every fall we have 15-20 Green Darners feeding in the back yard. I just like to get in the middle and watch the activity,almost like a pack of wolves.

  2. I like this fall event, too. The menacing clacking of the dragonflies' wings as they dip down on the upward flying ants is somehow primally fearsome!
    While it is true that the workers and males of the first ants you show in your first pictures are considerably smaller than the females, it looks to me from your later pictures that you might have photographed two different species of ants, the first being what E.O.Wilson dubbed the "Labor Day ant", Lasius neoniger, and the second the much smaller Brachymyrmex deplis. Of course, Of course, I'm going on Gestalt, not technical characters, so .....

  3. Hi Rick. I enjoy doing the same thing.

    Hi James. You could be quite right about the species. I found the winged males by tracking the female's departure point, but although I found females in the grass in that area, I never saw any interaction between the queens and the workers I photographed.