Back To The Desert

About 5 hours South and East of the sweltering heat of Phoenix is a tiny little place called Portal, on the edge of the stunning Chiricahua mountains. Portal has become famous for its ants - not that there is anything particularly special about the ants here - just that there is a research station where some significant ant science was (and is being) conducted, especially experiments which have helped is begin to decipher the complexities of ant chemical communication. Apparently, there are harvester ant nests near here full of little glass beads that were covered in ant pheromones which Deborah Gordon used to work out how the ants knew when they had collected enough food, or when they needed to collect more seeds. This is a significant advance of ant understanding. The casual observer could well conclude that ants have incredible intelligence. And yet it seems they can exhibit complex behaviour with just a simple set of instructions, and a variety of chemical cues.

This morning, these simple instructions led a colony of one species of harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex maricopa - very powerful sting) to attack the nest of the so called long legged ant (no sting). The long legged ants generally like to forage at night, while the maricopas like the heat of the day. They both like similar food, seeds and insects, and technically they share the territory. But when the maricopas get up, they find their patch swarming with long legged ants skirmishes soon break out, leading to a full scale assault from the maricopas who by 8am have driven the long legged ants back into their holes and are swarming around the entrance. Oddly, there don’t seem to be many injuries in these fights, just the occasional antenna or tarsus. But this is exactly the kind of situation where Frankencam excels: Fairly flat, loads of light, bare dirt with no plants in the way.

Incredible images.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you got the opportunity to film the interaction between those two ants. Sounds like a more charismatic setting than the hotel parking lot in Green Valley- I can't wait to see it!

Coincidentally, I just posted some photos of the fights between the two species here.

Eric said...

Very interesting, but look out for the Hanta virus carrying prarie dogs...

xl said...

The cooperative/competitive ants remind me of the Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf relationship!

savannah said...

now i need go go over to myrmecos and see the images! fascinating stuff! will you post a short clip of the action? xo

ammonite said...

I've been over to see Alex - great images!

No Eric no more torture!

xl - not more like Laurel and Hardy?

Sav - not sure if the footage will get processed that quickly but we'll try and put something up.