Tag Archives: tunnels

Ants, Nature’s Engineers: Creativity by Necessity.

Ants are one of the few groups of animals which change their environment to meet their needs.  In their case, necessity is truely the mother of invention.

A single ant is  capable of carrying up to 50 times its own weight, so working together as a colony means they’re able to accomplish impressive and seemingly impossible feats. In fact,  a large army of garden ants can construct an underground city big enough to house thousands of insects, within one week.

Ant nant-nest-flatests come in all shapes and sizes. Many species build their colonies underground, but not all. Some build above-ground mounds, while others build colonies in trees.  Some ants will even build a colony within the walls of a building. The exact structure and whereabouts of the nest varies with the species, soil type and situation.

Ants are industrious creatures and excellent builders. Here are a few of their amazing constructs.

Anthills: These nests are created as a by-product of worker ants digging underground tunnels. In fact, ants in general move more ant-hill-in-forrestearth (soil) than any other organism, including earthworms. As the worker ants excavate the colony’s tunnels, they dispose of the displaced earth by carrying it back out of the colony and depositing it near the entrance. They also get rid of any garbage found in the colony in this way. They carry these tiny bits of dirt and garbage in their mandibles. Usually, this combination of materials is dropped off at the top of the anthill, so it does not slide back down the hole into the colony.  Some species of ants work hard to create a specific shape to their anthills.

Tree Nests:  Some ants, such as the Carpenter Ant, build their nests carpenter-antby hollowing out rotting wood; they do not eat the wood. Workers take mouthful-sized chips of wood to the nest entrance, where they deposit the chips. This results in a pile of sawdust at the base of a tree. The nest itself consists of meandering tunnels that are free of sawdust. Nests may be present in rotting wood in trunks, limbs, or roots and even wooden fence posts.

There are a few ant species whose nests are constructed using leaves. The green tree ant (Oecophylla smaragdina) sews together weaverantsnestleaves with the silk produced by their larvae. The colony expands by enlarging existing leaf nests or by adding new satellite nests. Other species use plant fibers to construct coverings which are attached to the surfaces of leaves. These ants live within the chamber formed by the covering and leaves.

Rafts:  During floods and heavy rainstorms, passageways and chambers within underground ant nests fill with water and force the evacuation of the colony.  Fire ants have the unique ability to come together as a colony and build an “ant raft” using their own bodies. ant-raft-of-fire-antsWhen waters start to flood the colony, worker ants link legs and mouths together, weaving a raft in a process that can take less than two minutes.  The fine hairs on the ants trap enough air that those on the bottom layer of the raft avoid being completely submerged. Fire ants can survive in a raft up to several weeks, although they eventually to need reach dry land if they are to restart their colony.

Towers: Fire ants build complex towers as a means of avoiding

Candler Hobbs, Georgia Tech.
Candler Hobbs, Georgia Tech.

trouble.  Without any planning, using trial-and-error and only their own bodies, they create a bell-shaped tower structure that helps them survive. According to one study, an individual ant, can support as many as three other ants, which it connects to using sticky pads on its feet. Scientists think that their towers act like makeshift shelters until the ants can build more safe and durable accommodations.

Rules for building ant towers:

  1. Don’t move if there are other ants on top of you.
  2. If you are on top of other ants, keep moving you’ll find your spot.
  3. If you find an open parking spot next to other immobile ants, pull in and link up with your neighbors.

Bridges: Army ants build living bridges, moving ant-bridgehundreds of thousands of ants daily. They are creating shortcuts through their environment saving time and energy, and optimizing traffic flow. Other ant species form structures out of their bodies, but their constructs are not such a huge part of their lives and daily behavior as is the bridge building of the army ants.  Building “living” bridges across breaks and gaps in the forest floor allow their notoriously large and vicious raiding swarms to travel efficiently.

Fun Facts about Ants: On the order of 10 quadrillion ants live on the planet at any given moment. That’s about 1.4 million ants per human, based on a world population of 7.3 billion people.

What Do You Give a Gopher for Christmas? The “Boot”!

Gopher It! Give Gophers the Boot!
Gopher It! Give Gophers the Boot!

That gopher that’s been living in your front yard for the last 2 years,  now considers himself part of the family. Just like creepy Cousincouch-potato Earle, that came to visit two Christmases ago and is now living in the basement, your gopher is entrenched and living rent free in your yard.   So, what do you give your gopher this Christmas?  The same thing that you give Cousin Earle.  The boot!

Pocket gophers live solitary lives in underground tunnel systems (sound like Cousipocket-gopher-close-upn Earle in the basement?), which they vigorously defend. They prefer loosely compacted or sandy soil for easy excavation. Their systems are typically made up of shallow feeding tunnels that run downward into deep nesting tunnel systems that can be several feet underneath the shallow systems. The average shallow tunnel depth is between 6-12 inches.

Gophers can heave up large amounts of soil in random mounding patterns, each forming a crescent shaped mound. (Mole mounds are conical in shape and form almost linear directions pocket-gopher-tunnelsin their digging patterns.) Gophers will forage above ground very near the tunnel opening for food and nesting material, just like creepy Cousin Earle, who makes his way up the stairs from the basement to raid the fridge. They have been known to create up to 70 mounds a month destroying gardens and lawns alike.

Gophers do not go dormant or hibernate, but they will take prolonged rest periods when temperatures or humidity reach uncomfortable extremes, and will go to deep nesting runway systems and live off stored food caches. Sounds like Cousin Earle again.

The most frustrating thing about gophers (and Cousin Earle), besides their year-round, daytime and nocturnal activity, is their ability to thwart your most creative and diligent eviction tactics.

Gopher resistant plants, natural predators, smelly repellent concoctions, Juicy Fruit gum, noise makers and vibrators, gas and smoke bogopers being blown upmbs, water boarding (tunnel flooding) and poisons, can all be part of an eviction program.  But the essential action you must take is consistent attention. No matter what method you decide upon, it is important to follow through, keep vigilant and act immediately when activity is observed.

When is it time to hire a professional exterminator? When your best efforts have failed, and all you want for gopher-and-snakes-cartoonChristmas is your beautiful yard and garden back!