Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Big-Headed Ants

So this morning, I spied a lone teensy-tiny ant wandering around on my windowsill. As an experiment, in the name of science and all its wonders, I placed a small piece of shredded wet cat food - about the size of my pinky nail - on the windowsill. And watched. And waited.

At first, the ant didn't seem at all interested. He walked right past it a couple times in his meandering path. But then a second ant arrived, and inspected it closely. Then he walked away from it for some distance, went to the end of the sill and did something quite odd - he reared up on his hind legs like a meerkat with his forelegs wriggling. Though what I don't know about ants you could almost fit into the Superdome, I began to suspect he was calling, somehow, on his secret nanoscopic two-way ant radio for backup.

That second ant returned to the piece of cat food and began chowing down, accompanied now by the first one. Apparently Ant #2 was a bit smarter than Ant #1 and had to explain to him, "See, this is food. Get all you can carry and start packing." And shortly, hordes more ants, seemingly having received Ant #2's telepathic text message, arrived in droves and set about dismantling the tiny chunk of turkey. (Unfortunately the photo above is the best I can do with my primitive old flipphone's camera.) I noticed that a few of them looked different than the others; they had impossibly enormous heads with jaws so large they were visible to the naked eye.

A quick consultation of the interwebs revealed they're called - yes - Big Headed Ants, aka Pheidole megacephala . Though they do not sting and they rarely bite, they are considered one of the worst invasive species ever, especially in Florida. They tend to drive out all other species of ants in any given area - even fire ants - and gobble up native species of plants, which in turn opens the door to invasive plants. They have a winged version of themselves during mating season that resembles a termite, and they leave debris-covered foraging tubes in much the same manner of termites. Because of this, many a naive homeowner has been duped into getting their property chemically treated by termite companies of either an unscrupulous or imbecilic nature.

Most Big Headed Ants don't have the big heads - it's only the soldiers among them. There were at least three supervising the cat food harvest on my windowsill as the minions toiled.

I take a pretty laissez-faire attitude to invasive species - and life in general, for that matter - and am inclined to not interfere with the local ants who were here before me. Then again, according to this site: "This ant is known to chew on irrigation, telephone cabling and electrical wires." Uh-oh.

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