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The ants are coming! The ants are coming! Actually, they’re already here.   Their large numbers are apparent with every stone I overturn in the yard.  Never have I seen so many so early in the season.

Ants tending their young

During mild winters such as the one we just experienced (the third mildest on record according to Environment Canada) fewer ants succumb to the cold. Consequently, their numbers are higher than usual in the spring and throughout the following summer.

Ants are excellent communicators that are super quick to relay information of new sources of food to one another.   If in doubt, see  Ant Labour.  If you don’t clear the crumbs on your kitchen counter, one ant will tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and before you can sing ‘Happy Birthday’, they’re walking away with the cake.

The ants shown in these photos are all female.  Male ants are the ones with wings.  If you like to admire them at a distance, you might wish to take action to make sure they don’t make their way into your home.  Some people use cucumber or citrus peelings around their foundations.  Others sprinkle strong spices such as cinnamon or pepper across thresholds.

Ants sharing information as they cross paths near the pantry

Many animals, such as birds and amphibians, enjoy incorporating ants into their diets.  Making your yard friendly to these creatures goes a long way to controlling some of the ant population.  See Why Every Princess Needs a Toad in her Garden and The Flying Anteater.

Of course simply keeping things neat, especially in the kitchen, helps to control the number of ants dropping in uninvited for lunch.  Spraying counters with a solution of vinegar and water may smell wonderfully fresh and clean to us, but not to ants.

Good luck with the invasion and please feel free to share any tips you might have.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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ants

A social structure that designates its older females as warriors instead of its younger males certainly bears closer scrutiny.  Ants are among the hardest workers in the animal kingdom.  They’re organized with a highly functional and specialized workforce.  Their perseverance alone would put most human workers to shame.

Have you ever noticed how quickly every ant in a colony will diligently get to work when disaster strikes and their mound is disturbed?  They don’t fall into depression or accept defeat.  They keep on building and working towards their goals.

Another quality that makes them so efficient is that they are such excellent communicators.  Much of this is done through the use of pheromones, chemical signals picked up by the ants’ antennae.  But they don’t just let one another know about danger.  They also share information about what work needs to be done and where food can be found.  If one ant finds out that your kitchen is a great spot for dining on sweets, then she’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and before you know it you’re overrun with ants.  And all without the benefit of Twitter.

ant eggs

All worker ants are female which may explain their superior communication skills.  Males can be distinguished by their two sets of wings.  Queens, while being larger, also have wings which are discarded after mating.

Ants are preyed upon mostly by amphibians, birds and spiders.  Bats usually catch the male ants in flight.  In my yard, flickers have to be the ants’ worse enemy.  These are woodpecker-like birds that have a special long tongue similar to the one anteaters have.  They’re able to dig holes in the ground and catch numerous ants, pupae (the cocoon from which adults emerge) and eggs with this raspy tongue.  The holes are everywhere in my lawn.

hole made by flicker

Ants survive Nova Scotia winters by going deeper underground or into dead trees where they receive some protection from the cold.  Worldwide, they’re found on every continent except Antarctica.

No one preaches better than the ant and she says nothing.

~ Benjamin Franklin

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