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Monday, April 23, 2007

Ants! ANTS!!!

(NOTE: Those who are squeamish about pictures of insects, particularly pictures of tens of thousands of insects locked in mortal combat with each other, may want to skip this post.)

It is hard to believe that one week after more than a foot of snow fell on parts of this area, it was practically too hot to paint my garage. (The heat also presented at least one other problem with the whole scraping / sanding / painting routine, but I don't think I'll talk about that until I have the issue resolved.) I was able to finish most of the front (East) wall of the garage on Saturday. On Sunday I had planned to deal with the South wall, but I waited until the sun was no longer directly shining on it to get started - about 3:00. I got only about a third of it done, which is about what I expected.

I was mostly finished with the task I had assigned myself when it occurred to me to look behind me at the sidewalk. There I saw a bizarre sight:
A volcano of ants seemed to have belched out from between two of the slate sidewalks. Not for the first time in my life I wished I had Edward O. Wilson hanging out with me. (There really aren't many times when it would be a bad thing to have a kindly old naturalist, author of Consilience, major proponent of the unification of the Evangelical and Ecological movements, and leading expert in all things related to ants by your side.) The ants were not engaged in frantic activity, but rather seemed to be engaged in some sort of orgy or slow-motion mass combat. Closer inspection revealed that the latter was more likely correct, as the ants seemed to be pairing up locked mandible-to-mandible:
Off to one side there were what I at first thought were smaller, immobile ants, but then I realized that these were the crumpled bodies of dead ants:
So what the hell was going on? I'm no ant expert, but I couldn't see any obvious differences in the bodies of the ants engaged in combat - so it seemed like this probably wasn't a clash between two different types of ants. (Of course, the Northern White Rhinoceros and Southern White Rhinoceros are indistinguishable to the non-specialist despite being genetically diversified to the point of being incapable of breeding with each other, although this will cease to be a problem when the last few Northern White Rhinoceroses die in a few years.) Was this a conflict between two colonies fighting for the same territory or resources? A single colony engaged in a family squabble or civil war? A behavior ants normally engage in when temperatures climb into the high 70s in the early part of Spring?

I don't know. Maybe I'll ask Dr. Wilson.

Title reference: It's a line from a favorite episode of Sprockets, the recurring Saturday Night Live skit that featured Mike Myers as the German postmodernist host Dieter. "Now, mein Shprockets, vee dance!"

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