An Afternoon at an Anthill

Martha O'Kennon

On Sunday, April 7, 2019, I noticed a small anthill in the portion of grass owned by the City. The hole was situated amongst some green moss and seemed to have some ants moving around it. About 1 pm, getting down really close, I could see little winged black ants and even smaller reddish-brown wingless ants.

I went out to check what was happening as the afternoon progressed. Here is a moment when the small ants seem to predominate. Picture 2 is a closeup of one of them. These are Small Honey Ants. They used to have other names, such as Winter Ant and False Honey Ant. Picture 3 shows some of the black winged males as well.

On Monday, April 8, 2019, I revisited the Anthill about 2 pm. It probably should really be called an Ant Hole, since there was no hill but a hole about an inch across. A few winged ants were moving about, but the motion was almost still, since the Sun was blocked from the Hole by the shadow of a small limb on a tree overhead. Fortunately, the tree had not leafed out or this adventure might not have happened. As soon as the sunlight fell around the hole, ants began to pick up energy and move out of the hole. Now I could see that the ants were Small Honey Ants, one of the most common ants around here. Picture 2 shows a group of Small Honey Ant workers, the form we usually see when it is not mating time. So now we've seen the workers, the ones with no wings, and the winged black males. Finally the main actress appears in mouth of hole. Picture 1: Hole in shade; Picture 2: Sun on hole; Picture 3: This is the queen, a winged red ant. When she is impregnated by one of the waiting males she will fly off to start her own new colony.

Two more queens are out, answering the question, does the nest have only one queen? The males gather round the first queen. She seems to want to escape all that attention.

The queen is getting further from the nest, but the boys still pursue her.

The boys seem to be fighting for her. Fewer and fewer of them remain.

She seems to be loose. I suppose she got impregnated somewhere in the previous episode. She makes a couple of trial flights, the first about a foot. I lose track of her after the second try.

At 4:53, a red queen appears on the shop door on the opposite side of the house. I don't know if it is our girl or not. She still has her wings. She should drop them soon and burrow into the ground. There may be room in the earth below the shop.

I hope this little story makes you want to watch ants too. They are all around us. Look for a little hole surrounded by sand about the second week of April, especially if it has been warmer outside. This year has had very strange weather, so the date might be different but probably will be close to this one. Happy ant-watching!

copyright Martha O'Kennon 2019