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  • Helen Kohl

Feeling antsy?

You’re in good company: ants live all over the world

Few in Parry Sound are more enthusiastic about the humble ant than Rob Wilson, an independent consultant to the Nature Conservancy of Canada and supreme insect-lover. Rob loves to learn about and share the “ant”ics of them all—Amazon ants that could be raiding ant nests outside your Georgian Bay cabin right now… ants that raid every backyard picnic in Ontario… leaf cutter ants, army ants and turtle ants in the tropics... you get the picture.

Why the love affair? “It’s just so easy to watch them,” Rob recently explained to the Parry Sound Nature Club. “It’s also easy to watch their behaviour and how they interact, because most species are highly social. Plus, their natural and evolutionary histories are amazing and even hard to believe at times.”

The Amazon ants we have right here in Georgian Bay Biosphere, for instance, are kidnappers. They scout out the nests of other species of ants, leave a chemical trail so their Amazon ant colony can find other nests, and then raid those nests and kidnap their larvae and pupae. The Amazon ant colony raises the stolen larvae and pupae. When they grow up, they are enslaved to feed young Amazon ants.

Citronella ants, also regularly seen in the Parry Sound area, have nuptial flights in late summer that feed our circle of life. Citronella queens and drones take to the air to mate, and are then eaten by dragonflies, which in turn attract nighthawks and other birds.

Ant antics are equally fascinating in Central and South America. Leafcutter ants are the ultimate gardeners, chomping off leaves from entire areas of the jungle and carrying these leaves along a single trail to their huge leafcutter ant nests. These leaves nourish fungus gardens within the nests. The fungi produce spore heads, which are this type of ants’ diet.

Also: a single queen leafcutter ant can mate once and lay eggs from that mating for 17 to 18 years!

Army ants are carnivores. They use their huge stinging mandibles to devour the inhabitants of entire insect nests, along with small lizards, earthworms, and other tiny critters. They move fast, making bridges of their bodies for other ants to climb across and piling up on each other to reach insect nests on plants. Then there are turtle ants. They live high up in the canopy. They get their name from their turtle shell shaped heads, which block entry to their nests. Honeypot ants hang from the underside of leaves to expose abdomens swelled with “honey” to feed their workers.

“And of course you have to love the green tree, also known as the weaver ant,” Rob concludes. “Their pupae exude silk which they use to weave their nests and sew them up—making them a protected home for their eggs, as well as a neat and delicious little snack for their predators.”

Thanks to Rob Wilson for his presentation!

Helen Kohl is a member of the Parry Sound Nature Club



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