Archive for the ‘Ant Behavior’ Category


and then there were Four…

April 6, 2010

The ant farm experiment is slowly winding down.

Here’s how things are looking for the four who remain:

The Final Four

As you can see, many of the tunnels have been blocked off.  Most of the right-third of the habitat is now inacessible and some tunnels on the top left have been capped off as well.  The algae has spread although there is much less visible condensation, so things do appear to be drying out.

Their work at closing off the tunnels is done at a leisurely pace and they continue to spend most of their time grooming.


Leaf Day

February 28, 2010

As noted in the last post, I have been worried about the ants.   I read in the AWM that one of the food treats they will enjoy is a piece of leaf from a fruit tree, so I decided that was just the thing to add some interest to their possibly lackluster lives.  Yes, I am using food as an attempt to conquer ant boredom.

I dropped a small piece of leaf into the habitat and the ants responded with immediate excitement.

Everyone Gathers Around

Unfortunately the leaf piece dropped to the back side of the Farm House and was wedged into the sand.  It took a lot of work for them to free it.

Digging Out Below

Almost Clear


The elapsed time for all this activity was about 25 minutes.  After the leaf was freed from behind the Farm House, the ants brought it around to the front. And then they more or less lost interest, at least for the time being.

When I checked back a few minutes later, someone had left the remains of a dead fellow nearby.


Later still, the leaf was moved safely underground (and the dead parts disappeared again).  You can barely see in the photo below that the leaf is under the Farm House portal – its a green shadow under the closed off port.    Perhaps they closed off the port to keep the leaf safe?

Leaf Sequesterence


Day Twelve

February 24, 2010

Is this a Happy Ant Habitat?

As noted in the last post, and as you can plainly see, not a lot of new tunneling is taking place.

The ants seem less infused with purpose.  Listless, even.   I am worrying about them.

Worry #1:  Ant Death

I have done several head counts and it seems that there are now only 10 living ants – one more loss today.   Sure, the first few deaths are easily attributed to shipping trauma, but after 12 days, I am starting to take it personally.  The AWM does indicate that the ants they ship are at various stages of their life cycle, so I suppose I can assume that this one is from old age…but at this rate, I am questioning whether there will be any ants at all at the 2-3 month mark.

Worry #2:  Ant Ennui

Sure, these 16 ants were doomed from the start.  They’ve got no queen, no manner to reproduce themselves, and no escape (and even escape would not change the basic futility of their situation).  Do they mind boredom?  Are they able to adequately entertain themselves?  There is quite a bit more grooming going on nowadays, so maybe they are.  It just seems unnatural, though – ants are meant to be busy.

Worry #3:  Humidity

I haven’t added any drops of water to the habitat in a few days now, and yet there is moisture condensation throughout the tunnel area.  The AWM says to stop watering for a few days when this happens, but in the mean time, I can’t help but think that the humidity is not a sign of a well-functioning ant ecosystem.

While I can’t stop the aging process, I do have one idea to make their little ant lives a bit more exciting.  I have a plan for Worry #2.  More tomorrow.


Day Eight

February 22, 2010

I am sorry to have to report the first casualty in several days:  Only 11 ants appear to be among the living; one dead ant (oddly, not curled into a ball, at least not yet) is behind the Farm House.

The cause of death is unknown, but since there were no signs of foul play, I am assuming that ant’s demise is due to natural causes (or the delayed result of shipping trauma).

Here is a look at the Ant Farm in Mourning:

8:11:34 AM

More tunnels, certainly, and it appears the grooming area has moved to Cooper’s Mound (not surprising due to yesterday’s tunneling of Smithie’s Mound).

Checking back in with the ants this evening, one interesting activity was taking place:

Foraging for Dinner

You may have noticed a tan-colored smudge directly underneath the Farm House.  That smudge is composed of the pre-packaged Ant Food that came with the ants.  I put a pinch of the food into the habitat back in the beginning and some of it went down the portal.  At that time, the ants didn’t treat it as anything special and filled in sand over and around it.

8:11 AM: Not Hungry Enough Yet

5:24 PM: Dinner Time

10:37 PM: Foraging Concluded


Grooming Habits

February 19, 2010

I suppose that my obsession with ant death is not too surprising given that Edie continues to parade about with the ever-deteriorating dead bodies.

So when I see an ant curled up in a ball, I immediately wonder if it is dead, and if so, whether it is a dead ant that I’m already familiar with, or a newly dead ant?  I know that they’re all going to die sooner than later (the AWM has prepared me for a 2-3 month life expectancy), but I’d like to keep the deaths prior to that time-frame to a minimum.

Initially, I was under the impression that ‘ant curled into ball = dead ant’, but it turns out that the ants turn themselves into balls as part of their grooming routine.

No Dead Ants Here

Dead Ant on Left

You can see where I might get confused.  Also, ants are more flexible than you’d think.

The next ant-death-related-panic I had was due to an ant appearing immobile whilst another ant was interacting with it in some way.  Again I am thinking: “Here’s Edie come to fetch the next dead ant.”

But no – it turns out that the ants will also groom each other, and when doing so, the one being groomed will freeze, motionless, sometimes in quite a strange position, while the other ant does the grooming.

It turns out that Smithie’s mound is communal grooming central.  More often than not, I will find 2 or 3 or more ants there grooming each other.

A Little Tenderness

Lots of Grooming Going On


The Myth of the Ant Graveyard

February 17, 2010

As you might have noticed in previous posts, I’ve been a bit concerned about the disposition of the four dead ants.

Edie continues to move them to and fro about the habitat (and some of the bodies are starting to lose parts) with no regard to whether those locations are in the way of progress.  I watched her move one of them from Charlie’s Mound (on the far side of the Farm House) to Cooper’s Mound (oblivious to the activity going on there) past Cooper’s Mound to the Silo Ramp and then back over to Charlie’s mound again.

I am starting to think that the “Ant Graveyard” is just a myth.

Dead Ant Rolling

I suppose the fact that the dead ants are curled into balls makes for easier transport.  I know I talk about the dead ants a lot – but really – every time I turn around one of them has been moved somewhere else, seemingly dropped at random onto a mound or down in the tunnels.

Yesterday, a dead ant appeared at the head of the tunnel below the Farm House:

9:31:05 PM

Minutes later, another:

9:38:15 PM

Now they’re gone:

10:35:24 PM

Its getting hard to keep track of where the bodies are, but I can say for certain that they’re not entombed together in any Ant Graveyard.


Day Three

February 14, 2010

Here’s how things are looking at the start of Day 3:

Let the Tunneling Begin!

The ants are really getting to work now.  I stayed up way too late last night obsessively watching Smithie and Cooper work on that tunnel, although there was a fair amount of activity overall:

  • Smithie and Cooper:  Excavating the Main Tunnel
  • Charlie:  Excavating the area below the Farm House
  • Ruthie:  General Patrol, Renewed Attempts at Vertical Escape
  • Edie:  Moving Dead Ants Around
  • All others: Resting or Dead

I realized I could name them, at least for the evening, because they each continued to work on the same task for the duration.  Making things even easier was the discovery that even if multiple ants are digging the same tunnel, they will dispose of the excavated sand in unique locations.  Smithie, Charlie and Cooper each maintained their own separate mound.  And they were very particular about building that mound – they expended quite a bit of effort to get each bit of sand in exactly the right place, sometimes re-adjusting and re-packing the mound all together.

Cooper created the mound that is just outside the barn doors, so that area will be known as “Cooper’s Mound”.

Smithie didn’t actually create a mound at all, but instead he has been working very hard to fill in the large gap to the left of the silo.  Working so hard at it, in fact, that he would often steal some of the sand from Cooper’s mound rather than going directly back into the tunnel for more excavations.  It is kind of a long trip from the end of the tunnel, over Cooper’s mound and past the barn.

Large Empty Area beneath Silo Ramp

Smithie filled it all in!

It is interesting to note that each ant takes away a piece of sand, moves it to a specific mound, and then makes the trip all over again.  For an insect that is supposedly known for its organizational skills and teamwork, you’d think there would be an assembly line approach.  Instead each ant was really working independently on its task, even when that created extra work for each ant.


A Rescue Attempt?

February 13, 2010

I spent much of Friday evening, officially Ant Day One, watching the ants.   They really are fascinating to study –  I suppose its because I expect them to begin organizing their little world, so I assume that every move they make is filled with some kind of purpose, a purpose that might be revealed if I pay close enough attention.

Once the ants had established that they could not escape their little plastic prison, they divided into two camps.  Some ants went busily about exploring and others clumped together in groups and did nothing.

There was one ant that appeared to not be doing so well.  She fell down into the tunneling hole.  I was pretty sure she was dead, but there would be an occasional leg movement.  Then I was pretty sure she would eventually be dead.  But then one of the busy ants took notice and it appeared that something was going to happen.

The ant down in the sand had been there for a while, with slight leg movements indicating some struggle:

I've fallen and I can't get up...

The rescue(?) ant(s?) come in and dig her out:

6:08:49 pm

And suddenly she is freed:

6:09:15 pm

In a matter of 25 seconds, the injured and/or mostly dead ant was moved from the hole and brought above.  I wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly, so I missed the moment when she was first above ground.  Doesn’t it look like one of the ants is raising its arms in celebration?

Unfortunately, not long after this “rescue” photo was taken, the ant in question was shoved back into the hole.  And then some effort was expended on the part of the shoving ant to compact the injured and/or mostly dead ant into a tiny space down inside.  And then I had dinner.

After dinner, the dead/mostly dead ant was removed (again) from the hole and placed next to the other dead ant, the one who had been dead all along.  I’m pretty sure there is another dead ant on the far side of the plastic barn and one or more other ants who don’t look as perky as the rest.

I would like to believe that the rescue attempt was genuine, and that the ant’s injuries were determined to be without hope of survival.  But I’m not sure why all the trouble of putting the mostly dead ant back down into the hole only to dig her out again later.