Deeply entrenched in the moss over many years

Deeply entrenched in the moss over many years

Out There: Ants demonstrate teamwork and co-operation

Web Lead

The “Kootenay Road and Bridge Company” has an excellent environmental track record. It can be said it is truly environmentally friendly. It, to my knowledge, has never committed an environment infraction. And, it doesn’t have much money and so, uniquely, also, has never been sued.

You have probably observed its projects, but it seldom puts on much of a show, except for the close observer. While the company’s bridge projects are small, the road projects can be rather numerous and lengthy. Also, the workers are probably all shareholders. In fact, to me, it seems that most workers in the company are ants.

Once I stood on a moss covered bedrock knoll, from which one can see a lot of west Arrow Creek. Sometimes I look at rocks and have noticed fractures in their surfaces. Across the surface of the rock knoll was a fracture line discernible in the mossy covering. But it was only a channel that went in a very straight course over the knoll through the moss. It was an ant highway, an “antway”. Over it, ants were running in both directions with a lot more haste than they would muster over an indirect route, over and around little rocks, small sticks, tree needles, twigs and pieces of bark. With the forest litter removed, they had a fairly smooth ant road.

Having observed ants, I can expect they use their roadways for travel between main and dry outlying nest sites under trees, logs, sidewalks and eaves of houses, and food gathering areas just about anywhere. I have often seen individuals carrying, over these highways, ant young and food items, such as dead insects, insect eggs, legs, caterpillars and even crumbs from hikers’ sandwiches.

Like many creatures in nature, my ant neighbours have been opportunistic and have adopted, as a highway, one of the garden hoses that lies between the cabin and the edge of the forest. Recently, they found a minute hidden entrance to the basement. It was here that they over estimated their engineering capabilities. Finding this big hole, my basement, as a possible nest site, they began dropping minute rocks into it, hoping, I guess, to eventually fill it up while I continued to vacuum the grit from a table below. This continued all summer until I found the hidden entrances and plugged them.

I have never seen an ant company’s bridge. But I understand they can bridge a gap in their route by connecting end to end. By sheer strength, these small but mighty company workers extend themselves horizontally until the gap is spanned. Some ants give their lives in building a causeway. Again, they extend themselves over the water’s surface to provide a surface to enable the rest of the ants to crossover the water, while some on the bottom surely drown.

The way this road and bridge building company works could be an example to us larger but weaker creatures in our business and personal practices and relationships: teamwork and co-operation in the absence of self-serving projects, bosses and even unions! Ants do it without any of the latter!

Ed McMackin is a biologist by profession but a naturalist and hiker by nature. He can be reached at 250-866-5747.