Monday, April 25, 2011

The latest obsession (genus Pogonomyrmex)

As you read this, you can enjoy the Henry Mancini "dead ant" Pink Panther theme song (1963).  Cuz I'm old.

For further evidence that science is everywhere (insert ghosty sounding, "ooooooh!" here), I submit to you, to the best of my knowledge, a red harvester ant nest outside my classroom at Eastside Memorial.  Here we are, addressing TEKS outside my window (you know, cuz they are part of the food web).  But more importantly, it is fun to engage in my favorite step of the scientific method, Observation, and watch my new favorite Formicidae (ant family) live their lives.

Texas A&M, the school my alternate universe self attended, says that by removing the vegetation around their nest,  the ants allow the sun to dry out and warm the soil. They dig tunnels and chambers where the workers (wingless females) store seeds, which are their main food source, along with scavenged insects. They'll eat "alfalfa, burr clover, Johnson grass, oats, wheat, Bermuda grass, wild sunflower, mesquite, beans, and others."   
That looks like a seed.  Food!
Annoyed for the sake of educating us.  Thank you, kind Ant.
Hope I didn't squeeze you too hard, but you were trying to get away!

And to quote Texas A&M
Populations of the horned lizard and the harvester ant, on which it predominantly feeds, have declined in the eastern part of Texas. There are several possible factors contributing to the decline of these species.
  • Red imported fire ants are believed to eliminate harvester ants and prevent new colonies from forming by preying on mated queen harvester ants.
  • Red imported fire ants may prey directly on lizards or on hatching eggs of lizards.
  • Many insecticides used to control or eliminate the red imported fire ant are toxic to the harvester ant, and eliminate the harvester ant more efficiently than they eliminate fire ants. Broadcast applications of fire ant bait products should be avoided in areas where harvester ants are found.
  • Horned lizards normally inhabit flat, open, dry country with little cover. Urbanization, mowing, shredding, shallow discing and other land use practices can eliminate or reduce the production of weed seeds on which harvester ants feed. Harvester ants and horned lizards, which are dependent upon this ant species, cannot survive in these disturbed habitats.
Mostly, they only bite when harassed, but even when I was indubitably harassing them (see above pics for proof), their tiny mandibles never got a good enough grip to hurt me (and cuz I'm totally tough).  So they aren't pests (besides aesthetic issues), AND they are food for our threatened (state-listed) Texas Horned Lizard.  If you need more, the enemy of our enemy (Red imported fire ants) is our friend.  Yay Harvester ants!

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