Possumhaw: Ants in the Prairie

August 13, 2012 9:23:45 AM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


Across the back porch scooted a carpenter ant. You have to wonder how they navigate because they stop, turn left, turn right, back up and then file forward again. Carpenter ants are plentiful right now. Sometimes, if I'm feeling so inclined, I get up and step on them. From the road I look like I'm doing the porch Watusi. Soon, other ants will come along and do the stop, left, right, back thing; then hoist the victims away. 


Ant watching is a Prairie pastime. Having discovered a knot-hole in a cedar board filled with carpenter ants, Sam sprayed poison inside the knot-hole and a zillion ants tumbled out head over heels. 


To locate the ants' nest, an article suggested putting a red film over a flashlight, since ants can't see red, and put out a chunk of tuna packed in water (ants do not like tuna packed in oil), and then patiently wait for the ants. 


The ants will come for the tuna and you can follow them with your red film-covered flashlight directly to the nest. The best time to ant hunt is between sunset and midnight. 


Wonder how it was discovered that ants can't see red? I suppose they followed them with a variety of colored films and deduced that ants can't see a 6-foot human being with a red film-covered flashlight. I guess they also tried tuna in oil and found ants didn't like the oil. I prefer albacore in water, myself.  


There's another ant creature that Sam thought was called a velvet ant or a red-velvet ant. We watched one last week but he seemed to be all alone and just propelled himself along the edge of the porch. I did not Watusi on him as he seemed to be rather harmless. 


Looking up the red-velvet ant I found the "him" ant we had seen was a lone female -- and actually it was not an ant at all, but a wasp. The red to orange color comes from the dense hair on its back. The female is wingless and can administer a terrible sting, earning her the nickname "cow-killer" ant. The ant-wasp makes a squeak or chirping sound when alarmed. I heard nothing from our velvet ant as I didn't try to step on her.  


Like the carpenter ant, red-velvets are most active a few hours before sunset. This would explain why we see so many carpenter ants and red-velvet ants, because sunset is also the most opportune time for porch-sitting. 


The Prairie is home to regular old black ants which we pretty much ignore, except when they get between our toes. We have fire ants whose sting is pretty hard to ignore so we try to poison them, but they just move to the neighbor's field.  


The Prairie also has wasps, dirt daubers and mosquitos and chiggers, also called red bugs, and when they appear it's time to pack up and go inside.

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.