Ants in my Plants

Ant-plant interactions enjoy a lovely vocabulary. A myrmecophile is an organism (usually an animal) that consorts with ants; myrmecophily (ant-love) refers to favorable relationships between ants and other organisms; and a myrmecophyte (ant-plant) is a plant that carries on mutually beneficial relationships with ants.

The Ants of CESA (Family Formicidae)

Prairie Mound Ants build mounds in peaty, wetland soils, and their lives are governed by the water table. While their prairie relatives may tunnel five feet into the earth, nests in wetlands are shallower, and ants must be prepared to move up above ground level, into the mound, if the water rises.

Pussy Willow Pollinators

People get excited when pussy willows whisper the spring. The BugLady thinks it’s more fun to skulk among the pussy willows when they are actually blooming (the gray, fuzzy “bud” is the future female catkin), ogling the diversity of insects that come to visit. Willows are dioecious (separate house), bearing their male and female flowers on different plants

Night Orange

The BugLady puts out oranges for the birds—orioles, house finches, catbirds, and several species of woodpeckers eat the pulp. The BugLady guesses that ants, flies and German yellowjackets and raccoons would be the first and most numerous guests at the table, but that some interesting stuff would come to the night-time table.

Ants and Oaks

The BugLady was checking a young bur oak of her acquaintance recently, and she photographed these scenes. She keeps an eye on this tree because it always hosts a lot of ant activity (whether this says good things about the oak or bad, she doesn’t know). Ants, famously, farm aphids. They protect the aphids from predators like ladybugs and move them to greener pastures. In return, they get to “milk” the aphids by stroking the aphids’ abdomen.

Western Thatch Ant (Family Formicidae)

Western Thatch Ants build impressive mounds averaging 8” tall, 2 ½’ to 3’ across, and 5’ deep with 17,000 inhabitants (max is 30,000, plus or minus). The ants make chambers in the soil and then they cover the top of the nest with “thatch”—small twigs (up to several inches long) and bits of grass and herb stems. The result is nursery chambers that are climate-controlled (both temperature and humidity). Early (April) broods of eggs and young are located in tunnels a foot or two below ground,.

Ants

Ants have been around for about 200 million years, and ants, which developed from wasps, for about 90 million years, give or take. Although many hymenopterans are solitary, the order is famous for housing the social insects, and all/nearly all species in the ant family are social. Most colonies operate with a caste system that includes a queen (a fertile female that mates only once and then retires to lay eggs, read romance novels and eat chocolates for the rest of her life, which may span up to 15 years), workers (sterile, wingless females who care for the queen, eggs, and larvae, maintain and defend the colony, and forage for food), and males.