Ants Collecting Feathers: More of the Story Revealed

Back in 2015, we asked why ants collect feathers. We suggested food, moisture, or that feathers are left behind by anting birds.

Photograph by (Bob) Ricardo Solar at Flickr, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Now a recent article in Scientific American has another answer. Brazilian scientist Inácio Gomes, of the Federal University of Viçosa,  suggests Pheidole oxyops surround their nests with feathers to lure other insects to the area, where they fall in. Thus, the decorated ant nests serve as pitfall traps.

Gomes discounted the moisture idea by adding wet cotton balls. The added source of water apparently did not change the ants’ behavior.

This is cool, but since ants also drag the feathers into  the nest, it is likely there is still more to learn.

The original study was published in Ecological Entomology in Feb. 2019.

Buzz Pollination for National #PollinatorWeek

It’s  National Pollinator Week (June 17-23, 2019).

Right in time to participate, I caught a pollinator on video last week.

As I was walking past a sweet potato bush (also  known as blue potato bush, Lycianthes rantonnetii) I heard a familiar “bizzzzz” sound.

You may have to turn up your speaker because it isn’t very loud. I apologize for the background sounds. It is near a school.

 

Do you know why the bee is making that sound?

The answer has to do with the structure of the flower. At the bright yellow center are a tight bundle of anthers, the structures that make pollen. The visiting bee bites down on the anthers, curls her abdomen around them and vibrates. When she does this, pollen comes spilling out like when we shake salt from a shaker.

The pollen that falls onto the bee’s body goes back to the nest to be used as food. If any of the pollen brushes onto or hits the female parts of the flower (stigma), the flower is pollinated.  Because the vibration makes a sound we can hear, it is called buzz pollination.

A number of species of solitary bees –including carpenter bees — and bumble bees will visit this type of flower, but honey bees do not. I’ve noticed that the smaller bees make a higher-pitched sound like this one.

If you have ever eaten a tomato grown in a greenhouse, it was probably thanks to buzz pollination. Growers use bumble bees to pollinate tomatoes indoors and ensure a healthy crop.

So, the next time you hear a buzz, look around. It might be a pollinator in action.

___________

If you’d like to find out more about National Pollinator Week activities, visit their website.

Question for the Consult-Ant about Ant farms

There’s a question for the Consult-Ant this week. (The “Consult-Ant” started on the Leaping from the Box website, where I answered questions about ants and ant farms. From now on I will post the answers here, and when Karen has time she will also post the answers on her site.)

___________

1. How many ants would be comfortable and happy in an ant farm with sand? 

The answer depends on what kind of ant and how big the ant farm is. One of the small commercial ant farms will hold a dozen or so big ants like harvester ants to roughly 50 tiny ants of the smallest species.

Note about sand: Some commercial ant farms come with sand because it is easier to fill the farm. However, sand has two distinct disadvantages. First of all, it dries out very quickly. Because ants need at least a little moisture to survive, it will need to be watered regularly. Another problem is that it is easy to over water. And finally, tunnels in sand, particularly dry sand, collapse easily, trapping the ants.

In the past people used plaster for ant nests, but it grows mold quickly. Nowadays it is more common to see grout or clay to form chambers for the ants to live in.

2. Also can a queen be put in a farm like this to make the experience last longer then a few weeks to a couple of months?

As for your second question, treated properly, queen ants should live for a number of years, perhaps even decade or more. However, it is important to provide the best care for the specific kind you have.

If you are interested in raising ants, I strongly suggest you explore on of ant-keeping forums, such as Formiculture.com or the other forums listed here.

Happy anting!

A system for raising small ants