Monday, June 1, 2009

More about Insects

Those of you who were rooting for the rebellious but seasick ants of February should maybe sit down.

Those ants are gone. Dead. They all ate the honey laced with boric acid, or ate someone who did. They're in ant-Valhalla now, where the males all live after mating, and the females' work is fulfilling.

Their cousins, the little nano-ants, so called because of their zippy ways, are still here. They have a fondness for tight narrow dampish places and have one outpost outside somewhere under the companionway hatch trim, and another between the insulation in the lid of the fridge and the bottom of the counter. I can live with that, and apparently, so can they. I'm always glad when I can achieve equilibrium without playing my homo sapien card.

Less entertaining was the cloud of midges we sailed through on Lago Izabal. They're just little insects, and not biters. But there were millions of them, with nowhere else to go.It reminded me of a memorable image from the journal of William Dampier, an early explorer of Australia, and multi-circumnavigator, back when it was quite the accomplishment. He described the native population as so apathetic they didn't wipe the flies away from their faces. I was almost that worn down myself with the midges, though still battling, zip-lipped, squint-eyed, taking shallow little breaths as I flailed away with a towel. At nightfall, thankfully, most of them orgiasticallyself-destructed in the glow of the anchor light and could be swept away.

Ashore, there are some absolute spectacles in the insect kingdom. I'm referring particularly to the leafcutter ants. It's really something to see a parade of them weaving across the ground with disproportionately large sails of flower or leaf. They're not giant ants, but they have worn bare dirt superhighways wide as my foot through thick grass at the marina, en route to their tribal Manhattans or Chichen Itzas or Las Vegases, one tiny footprint at a time.

They look like endless camel caravans in the desert, like Nubian slaves building the pyramids, a line of stevedores loading a ship, a Windsurfer regatta, porters in a safari movie, a Mardi Gras carnival parade with elaborate headdresses, or maybe, like leaf cutter ants.Photobucket

Then, check Wikipedia, and learn that the queen can produce 150 million offspring and live fifteen years. The colonies can be hundreds of feet away with populations in the millions. I have seen them defoliate a hibiscus bush in a day. I'm worried that the bush is finished, but another couple days reveal new budding leaves everywhere. They like the abuse - a chance to 'freshen up' perhaps. There are several lessons here.Photobucket

Then, know that these ants are farmers. All the leaves and flowers they carry are only fodder for their main product, a fungus they're growing. This fungus they tweak like master vintners. These aren't just ants - this is a civilization!

And such a civilization. Here's another quote from Wikipedia:
The waste-transporters and waste heap workers are the older, more dispensable leaf-cutter ants, ensuring that the healthier younger leaf-cutter ants can work on the fungal garden. Off the subject just a little, and don't think I'm particularly paranoid, but the other day, discussing a problem with software I'd bought, I was told "nobody under thirty ever PAYS for anything like that." That was also right after I met a group of backpackers and said something about what a useful address book they were accumulating as they travelled. "Oh", said the young man, "Nowadays we have something called Facebook."

So, Doug is dealing with all 'waste' from now on. I'm busy with fungus.

At Mario's Marina one route carries the ants across the paving near the pool, and every morning it's swept off. Every afternoon they're back. But sometimes their baggage gets hung in puddles splashed out of the pool. It's like watching a tire-change on the side of the road to see the ants unstick a petal from a puddle. Gradually, they're diverting to a dry sidewalk.Photobucket

Rather than gushing even longer, I'll refer you to another nice website about the Rio Dulce area published by a man whose fascination with the insect world, and photography skills, exceed my own.
http://inriodulce.com/links/insects.html#leafcutter
Click on the image for more information. Bees are there too, and lots more.
Kevin does tours and runs a marine consignment shop under the Fronteras bridge.

2 comments:

Sally said...

hey babe. Tom and I have been thinking about you both for so long, so envious...... these ants. Damn, we have tiny ants at the house and I am so doing honey and boric acid!

Alyssa said...

Doug and Anne. Been catching up on you last month of travels today. Been showing the kids where you are and what you’re doing. It’s great being able to keep up with you this time. If you’ve talked to mom, you know we are headed back to Alabama for a year of school at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery. Should find out this fall where to next summer. Maybe in all our various travels, we’ll cross each other’s path one day. We love you and safe travels. Blair