Day Seven

February 20, 2010

A quick Day Seven Update:

7:40 AM: Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

If you compare this to yesterday’s post not much has changed.  And most of the ants are just hanging around up on Smithie’s mound, grooming, and by all appearances, lazy.

Here’s how things look at the end of the day:

10:57 PM: What?! Again.

Although there is one new tunnel running parallel to the Secret Tunnel, there is also now a total blockage of the portal under the bridge and a dismantling of Smithie’s mound.  Earlier on, there was a similar blocking and subsequent re-opening of the port under the Silo Ramp.  Cooper’s mound has also previously been tunneled through and then rebuilt.

I am really starting to wonder whether the ants have a Master Plan, and if so, what will it eventually reveal?


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


Day Six

February 19, 2010

Here’s how things are looking at 8:30 PM on Day Six:

Architectural Notes:

  • The port below the Silo Ramp has re-opened.
  • The Secret Tunnel is now joined with the main tunnel complex.
  • Allison has given up on connecting the Frontage Road with the Bridge Portal.
  • Smithie’s Mound continues to be the spot for socializing and grooming.

A short post tonight, but at least you can see how the tunnels are progressing.


Day Five

February 19, 2010

The ants are still tunneling this morning:

Morning, Ants

Headcount of moving ants is still 12, so even though I’ve lost track of the position of the dead ones, their number remains constant.  I suspect that once the tunnels get more complicated, its going to be more difficult to take the census.

Smithie and Cooper continue to trail-blaze the main tunnel extension underneath the Farm House.  Smithie is now working on the mound between the Bridge and the Farmhouse, which will now be referred to as Smithie’s Mound.

Charlie continues to work on the “Frontage Road” tunnel that runs parallel to the surface.  She is maintaining the small mound to the right of the Farmhouse and a similar one behind it.

Allison, a newcomer to mound building, is working the Frontage tunnel that is parallel to the surface below the Barn.  Her mound is at the base of the Silo Ramp.   She is essentially adding to the blockage of the port that would have been the most convenient for her access.  Currently she goes the long way around up through the port under the Bridge.

Someone has closed off the port below the Silo Ramp.  I can’t even speculate on that decision.

When I got home from work this evening, there was a bit of a surprise:

Evening, Ants

The ants have made a secret tunnel!  At least this explains why so many of them were in the vicinity of Allison’s work area, even though they were not excavating from there.  Peering around to the back of the habitat, there is a tunnel that goes from the area below the surface under the Silo Ramp through to the back side and down where it suddenly reappears on the front.

As for the ants working on the secret tunnel – its a long walk back up to the Frontage Road and then down and around to the Bridge port.  Allison has not completed the Frontage Road Extension that looks like it will eventually connect with the Bridge Port, so in the mean time, they have to go all the way around.

I know that ants have a reputation for being well organized, but I’m not so sure I see the master plan here.


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 Four

February 17, 2010

Here’s how things looked when I woke up on Day 4:

Multiple Tunnels!

Despite the inefficiencies that I noticed yesterday, they still got a lot of work done in the last 24 hours. Everyone is working now, as well.  Even the last holdouts have succumbed to industriousness.

I checked the ants again before leaving for work, and look at what is going on:


It looks like they’re trying to tunnel through Cooper’s Mound.   Cooper spent a lot of time building that mound, and I’m not sure I understand why they would now be tunneling through it.  I do think they liked using the open barn door to pass through to the back side of the habitat.

Here’s how things are looking at the end of Day 4:

Coopers mound has been partially restored and partially redistributed.  Yeah, the ants are blurry in this shot – I am using a tripod for the full habitat time-series shots, and I didn’t realize that when the ants are that busy they’re moving too fast for my shutter speed.


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.


Day Two

February 13, 2010

Here’s the scene as we begin Day Two, early Saturday morning.

Can we sleep in a real pile?

Death toll: 4 confirmed dead.  Considering there were only 16 ants to start with, the mortality rate thus far is a bit concerning.  You can see the dead ants in ball form on the right and left of the larger group.  Supposedly, once they get themselves organized, they’ll put the dead ants in a designated ant graveyard.

Most the ants are sleeping or at least I’m hoping that they’re sleeping, or resting, or whatever ants do when they’re not busy being good industrious citizens.

They spent most of the day today doing nothing, but as I write this, around 10pm on Saturday night, things have picked up.  There is much more area excavated under the farm house and a lot of digging activity under the bridge as well.

Getting Busy

I’m happy to see some activity.  It seems like only some of the ants are working and others are still relatively immobile.  That ant up on the far right, on the green plastic house, has been in that position for hours.


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.


Moving Day

February 13, 2010

After their 15 (more like 20) minutes in the fridge, I was ready to transfer the lady ants into their new home.

Most of them were quite lethargic from the cold, but one was raring to go and I barely got the tube over the habitat in time.  It was actually quite difficult to pull open the cap to the tube and I think I warmed them up a bit with my hands.

Here’s the first shot of the ant farm with ants.  They’re all in kind of a pile in the middle.

Welcome Home, Ants

The water droplets are there because one of the preliminary steps to setting up the ant farm is watering down the “tunneling sand” (I’m pretty sure the tunneling sand is actually just broken down perlite).  The ants are pretty dazed and confused.

For the first hour or so, most of the ants tried to find a way out of the habitat.  They can climb the farm structures pretty well, but have some trouble on the clear plastic sides.  They fell a lot.  One or two did make it to the top before falling though, so I will be wary of always replacing the caps at the top very carefully.

Aside from looking for escape, they went right for the water droplets.  Some spent what seemed to me to be alarming amounts of time with their heads stuck right into the droplets.  I was starting to think that perhaps they preferred suicide to a life of confinement, but what I am coming to realize is that ants are strange creatures, and I can’t judge their behavior by mammalian standards.

I suppose with ant life must invariably come ant death.  The AWM (Ant Watcher’s Manual) points out that they ship more than enough ants, so if one or two die in transit, or of old age, there will still be enough.  Apparently each individual ant will be busier if there are less ants overall to do the work.  There was one clearly dead ant in the tube and a couple more that seemed unwell compared to the others (not moving, or barely moving).  The only way to tell for sure, though, is when they are curled up completely into a ball.  My limited ant watching experience seems to be that the living ants actually curl the dead ants into ball shapes.  This particular behavior is not discussed in the AWM.