Friday, August 28, 2015

A Neat Little Ant Byer

The Allegheny Mound Builder Ants, Formica exsectoides, are famous for the large earth mounds created as a home for their colony.  What typically go unnoticed are the numerous less imposing structures created by the ants to be used as temporary quarters for their foraging activities.  One such construction is seen at the base of this small Tuliptree.

This pile of cedar needles contains tunnels and galleries used by the ants who are gathering food in the Tuliptree.  These strutures are sometimes called byers, an old English term referring to a small log and stick structure built to shelter livestock.  Pile of sticks is an apt description of the shelter built by the ants.

Here’s what attracted the ants.  That lump beneath the lower branch is a Tuliptree Scale.  Click HERE to read an earlier post about the scale insects.  As a byproduct of their meal of tree sap, the scales produce a sugary liquid known as honeydew.  The ants cannot resist the sweet treat.

The ant in the upper right is about to collect a freshly secreted drop of honeydew.  As long as honeydew is being produced, the ants will stick close to the scale insects.

Other ants work to maintain the byre.  This one is hauling a cedar needle up to the top of the pile.  Once the ants abandon their temporary shelter, the cedar needles will quickly settle down to a shallowly raised ring around the base of the tree. 

This type of ant byer is quite common at Blue Jay Barrens.  The unusual thing about this particular structure is the fact that it is in the open where it can be easily viewed.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a nice byer uncluttered by adjacent vegetation.


  1. Hi Steve -
    Way too long since I last checked in, and scrolling through, I see I missed a lot!
    Looking at these ant pictures, and the structures they build, I'm pretty sure these are something other than F. exsectoides. To all appearance they are F. integra, another species to add to the list of cool critters you have there.

    1. Hi, James. I'll make sure to collect a couple of these next year and see if I can make a positive ID. I really need to spend some time working with my ant identification guides.