Flying Ant Day 2012
Here we go again! Another early fall rainy day is followed by a bright sunny morning on which the front yard comes magically to life: tiny, shining wings fluttering skyward from the moist soil, carrying flights of ants – mostly queens, a few males as mobile mating partners – heading off en masse to find new homes.
Last year, I was caught totally by surprise, flabbergasted and enraptured, when I looked out the window and saw the yard full of tiny tinkerbells; see this earlier post for that initial befuddlement, along with the research I did to discover the details of the annual ritual flight.
This year, I could step past confusion (and its flip side, “trying to figure it out”) and right into reverie at the fleeting wonder of it all, along with some close observation. I sacrificed a couple minutes of pure experience in order to get a few pictures to share. The story they tell is well worth the trade-off!
The earth here is always teeming with the tiny black ants that today spawned some new colonies; literally any square foot that you lean down to take a look at will be laced with diligent workers traveling this way and that, intent on their place in this instant of the colony’s extended embodiment here in Lower Cañoncito. This morning, the ground was scattered with patches of the newly-winged messengers:
Some rose right from the ground, though most seemed to seek at least a pebble to climb to the lip of, and a few scrambled up tufts of grass:
All this was exciting enough, but then I looked closer and discovered a bit of extra delight, mystery, and drama….
My most exciting discovery was one of the holes that the new ones were squeezing their way out of, often two or three at a time, and always followed immediately by more:
And wait, who are these baldheads, neither winged nor normal adults – yet legged, not quite larval? What are they up to on this Day of Days?
As the flight wound down, and few of the travelers remained on the ground, the drama revealed itself – the terrestrial workers had decided the Winged Ones were a threat, or perhaps just a ready meal!
As usual in ant attacks, they really ganged up on ’em:
Here’s one that didn’t get off the ground, its moment of glory reduced to tattered shreds, wings scattered left and right….
Camera stashed on the porch for the second time (I’d gone back for it when the grisly dismemberments had begun), I returned to wide-eyed wandering, scouting around a bit to see how widespread the hatch seemed to be. The flight had dwindled dramatically, but a few young queens (still princesses?) were aloft wherever I went. (I also noticed what seemed to be more bird activity than normal on the ground all over the place, as well….)
Just like last year, the flight occurred the day after our wettest single day of the summer (interestingly, in both years, we’d missed out on any torrential summer storms, and the peak rainfall day fell exactly a week earlier this year than last). Today, I imagine the lucky few survivors busily engaging in the pioneer work of carving out their new underground kingdoms, assuming they found any spots where they could get started on that before being overrun by the existing population…I wonder whether some of the queens are accepted into colonies with aging matriarchs?
Once again, I look around this familiar valley with a deepened appreciation of the mostly invisible lives that go about their business here every single day, season after season, hidden underground, or in the trees or the dark….neighbors all, each its own size, with its own mobility and rootedness, its own sensations and its own giving and receiving, each and all combining to play our equal parts in the whole that is this larger body of a valley.