Nature Notes Index


Next Month (Sept 99)





Been watching the black ants outside my back door. They say that you live in a trailer and you live with ants. Well, that's just fine with me. They're docile and fascinating. These aren't the big carpenter ants nor the little 'sugar ants' that do manage to get inside, but the 1 cm. ants that seem pretty generic.

Watching ants go about their business is pretty interesting. They discovered a drying worm and seem to be plugged into it. Too big to chop up, and too moist still to do much but saddle up (kinda like hanging out at a feeler bar) and taste it. I notice that these black ants, at least the scouts, are very tentative. They'll run across a smaller ant and scurry in a zig-zag pattern or even up a grass leaf as a reaction. Ants are probably pretty blind, they live in a world of chemical trails. I'll run my finger across one of these invisible trails and my hand oil will cause momentary confusion to an ant going somewhere. Still, once they get a manageable scrap of food (sometimes pretty big for their size), they'll do a circle and then head right for the entrance of the nest, even though it's a good 25 feet or so away. I'll watch an individual ant (may be an oxymoron here, as they are a 'group animal' to me), and she'll, just as Mark Twain said, haul this thing many times their size over a hurdle rather than around.

I haven't begun looking into trying to track ants just yet... seems like i want to get to know them and their movements first.


After i watch ants for an hour or so, i can close my eyes and see their movement in either my mind's eye or on the back of my retina or something. Their pattern is a recognizable one, though they seem about as random as a thing can move.


Lots of rain this week. I never promised that my entries would be thrilling. Drove up on the parkway to find a tree struck by lightning.


This must be 'social insect' week. I've noticed in the backyard where i work, a Nissan 300zx rusting in the summer humidity that has a honeybee's nest tucked into the back bumper. They land on the black bumper and walk right in to the nest, but leave the nest somewhere below, seeming to just fall out of the undercarriage of the car somewhere.


Whoah! I came home today and went out back to check on my ant friends, and noticed their usual paths were being traveled by half-red ants. Worse than that, they were carrying eggs and young that were barely dark from drying. I followed the carnage to the black ant nest to find a mass of snapping angry red ants guarding the nest while 'carriers' ran off with the eggs. The black ants, in all their frightfulness seemed confused and unable to muster a defense. Even saw a winged-one (male) displaced from the nest. Maybe they just take 'theft' into account, i don't know. But all in all, it seemed pretty destructive.

Followed the half-red army troops carrying the booty some 60 paces (calculated at 240 feet) to their entrance down the hill. They apparently don't use the black ants as food, but raise them as part of their own. The nest was surrounded by black ants that seemed to get along perfectly with their half-red masters. They weren't exactly guarding the nest, just there. They were a little more aggressive than their free sisters. I'm sure it's all chemical, anyway. Just because an egg is stolen, or adopted, it's really under what conditions it's raised that makes the difference. Sometime I'm gonna take one of these adopted black ants and put her near the black ant entrance and see if it is attacked or ignored.

It's weird too, that this pillaging of the 'nearby' nest is both a great consumption of resources and energy for the half-reds. It's quite a way to travel, and i'm sure they massed in good size before beginning their journey, to insure success. Is their queen unable to produce the volume of eggs that the black queen can? What could be any other advantage? I guess it's the same with mankind and his enslavement... except that it's not just a greater production of children, but there's a sense that you can 'work' your slaves harder, or with more abuse, than your own offspring. That isn't always the case if you hear young people talk. But, i think that's a matter of preference and not abuse.

I heard on NPR that there's still a great deal of slavery (human) in the world yet. Not just the far corners of the globe, but still in America too. People who 'own' another human because of the way they calculate the value of the work performed for them. When a man borrows money for medicine for his family or himself, he borrows using his future (generally unskilled) labor as collateral. This collateral is then used to hold him to an agreement that he isn't able to pay off because of a deflated value of his labor (used in everything to mining towns to the military to actually cause him to owe more than when he started). And, in some instances this debt is passed from parent to offspring. Sad, really, and not much to do with ants, i guess, except that i suspect somehow that the red-colony takes the value of the resource of a stolen black ant for what its worth. They seem to be 'equals' in some sense, even though i'm sure there's a lot of anthropomorphism on my part.

Ants must 'know' ant ways. The red horde knew probably when the best egging was to be done (it's been raining a lot lately); they knew where to go inside the black nest to locate the egg stash; and they knew that the black ants wouldn't defend themselves with any real vigor. Perhaps, too, the black ants hid until the danger was over, recovered their area with their own chemical scent after the red-guys were gone, and continued on with their business. I'll check on them soon, but i suspect they'll be back using their old trails soon enough.


Because of all the rain the mushrooms have been popping up all over. Too bad I can't get many pictures of them and observe their slimy little heads all that much (work is rearing it's own slimy head). One thing i've found, it's really hard to get close-up nighttime pictures of things. The close-up mechanism on the DC-120 forces me to use the viewscreen, because of parallax problems with the viewfinder, and there's not enough available light to see anything but blackness (or blueness) on the viewscreen. I have to take measurements and keep reviewing what i've taken. Hopefully one of them came out decent. Took some pictures of the mushrooms right outside of my porch.

Rain again today, but a soft glycerine rain. Before the rain began i checked on the black ant nest and found that there are still some red guards prowling about. The entrances to the black colony have been covered over. Wonder what's going on down in there?


Cowboy monkey with a bird feeder under his arm. Some days, i have an overpowering desire to explain myself. Today isn't one of those days. Tomorrow isn't looking good either.


One great big rainy day! It was warm enough to go in shorts while it rained off and on all day. Lazy day spent working on the webpage, getting the pictures together. Have enough to start with. Off my porch the mushrooms are going crazy. 3 different varieties and in all stages of development. I also moved one of my potted plants to find that the ants had used the dry underneath as a storage bin for eggs. Big pile of eggs that had to be moved back into the nest before they got soaked. Don't know, but maybe the rain ruined them, in which they became food. Either way, they diligently moved them back to the nest. The process took less than an hour without a major swarm.


Found another honeybee hive in the eaves of the old house where i work. They come and go in two tiny cracks between the chimney and the house. I suppose they're in the wall, but banging on it (on the inside, after listening closely) elicited no response. Seems like once you spot a pattern of how something 'seems' it's all around. Kind of like learning a new word and hearing it everywhere. But both nests, in the house and in the Nissan, were affected by the rain. Seems that flights out of 'bee central' were cut to about 1/3, and they didn't get really started until after 11 am because it was unseasonably cold.


After all this rain, it seems to be the era of the fungi. Mushrooms everywhere! Fungi sucking nutrients out of decaying vegetation. It seems early for the fungal fury of reproduction, but i guess the cooler and wet weather got them worried that they wouldn't get a good reproduction later. I went out with Julie and got a lot of gill, boleta and coral groups. I don't have a book that breaks identification down by species, but i'm sure i'll buy one soon. The variety and colors are amazing. From lemon-ish yellow to blazing orange and bark brown and deep crimson. I found it quite exciting, though Julie, having to concentrate on her pictures for business, took a few groupings that looked good. One problem in the pictures though is scale. From huge shelf fungi to tiny spore-caps that seem amazing feats just to remain upright, it's hard to tell what size these are from the pictures. I try and include some leaf or twig or something that helps hint at scale.

Also noted that the pillaging of the black ant colony is still ongoing. Man! Don't those red guys ever give up? A steady stream to-and-fro from Red-HQ. I note that the nature of their booty has gone from the white eggs to brown egg-sacs and even dead bodies of both sides of the warring factions. My next door neighbor Mel caught me watching stooped over the ants and asked me what i was up to. When he heard my description of the rape of the black ant colony, his face grew complicated. He suggested i had been cooped up too long. Funny thing is, with work on the website, he's probably right!

Today in driving around i noted these plants in bloom: Mimosa, start of the common Mullen, Fire Pink still around in the mountains, Blackberry's are mostly ripe, Goats Beard, Black-eyed Susans, some early pale Jewelweed (forget-me-nots), Great Laurel, Morning glories, One really late Flame Azalea, Galax, Queen Anne's Lace, a few early Turk's Cap Lilies (and many more of those swollen pods indicating future flowers), and a few i've probably forgotten to mention.


Another trek out to get fungus pictures while they're abounding. All manner of fungus out and got some good pictures and some duds. I did step that much more lightly considering that the fungal creature was below me and just its sex organs were sticking out. Some of these creatures are hundreds of years old, and it would seem it by the size of some of the mushrooms, especially a few bolette's that were bigger across than my outstretched hand (measured at the piano as an octave and a third). Took the Forest service road from Mills River to Pink Beds. Lots of people camping even during the week.


Yet another trek in search of fungal frenzy. Stalking the wild bolete. Julia tagged along and we went up to craggy gardens, a mountaintop habitat and found some fields buzzing with a wide variety of flowers. Whorled loosestrife, black-eyed susans, fire pink, solomon's seal (berries still green), morning glories, white beebalm, and just a variety of mushrooms. Also there were, um, some i still need to learn to identify, apparently.


Took a trip south to Carols who lives on Lake Greenwood. Too hot and muggy to do much but visit during mid-day. I wasn't used to it after being in the mountains where there always seems to be a breeze even if it is terribly muggy. Her and i went to Greenwood park, and i got to see swamp mallow, seedbox, several flowering pea varieties, button bush, arrow leaf, and several local mushrooms and other more marshy plants. Got some photographs too and so did Carol.

One of the places we stopped and looked was a cemetery not too far from Greenwood park. It had several flowers along the margin of the woods, but also, one of the memorial stones was "Woodsmen of the World" which was made to look like an 8-foot section of tree, and judging from the bark was probably Chestnut or Tulip Poplar. The kind of thing that if i ever wanted a memorial that would be it.


Watched the moths flit around the lamppost for a long while. They fly like leaves falling from a tree, only somewhat horizontally. The only other flying thing that comes to mind which flies similarly is bats, who, probably do so because moths are their prey.


Today drove to John Rock area and used the same rich woods that found Trout Lilly and Trilliums to locate several new (to me) species, White Alder, several nettles, Dayflower, and some other plants that i got pictures of for the collection. I spent a good deal of time at the creek's edge watching the water striders frisk about effortlessly and attack one another territorially. Also flushed out some crayfish and newts and in general meditated by the waters edge. Also drove along FS Road 475B around Looking Glass Rock to find some other plants and photograph Slick Rock falls and another view of the Looking Glass pluton.

Tonight the katydids came out in force, in voice. It's a jarring sound so some that 'chi-ch-ch-ch', but it takes me back to childhood moments of falling asleep in the south. I think it may be the cooler weather that brought them out, or started attracting mates. Perhaps too, it's the nearly full moon.


Note: Major dental work tends to drive me indoors to recuperate.

Back to Top