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Posts Tagged ‘giant ant’

Okay so I’m bowing to a little peer pressure and presenting additional images from a project I did the last month.  The day I made my Styrofoam ant project I also kept crossing areas on the riverbank where iridescent flows from something oily was percolating up through the sand and mixing with slow flowing water.  In my original story…imbibing this stuff is what mutates the ant into a giant!

I still don’t know what this prismatic film is that is seeping to the surface?  It could be old long-buried petroleum or some oily residue from decaying vegetation?

These rainbow flows are a fact of life at the Falls and gives me another setting my sculptures can help interpret.  The colors and patterns on the water and sand can be very striking.  Here in quick succession are several more abstract images created the same day as the ant project, but minus the Styro-insect.

In the above image, you can see a few recognizable objects including nuts, sand, and coal.  I’ll close with a final image of why the ants are so large here…they are drinking the sheen and it’s the Godzilla effect all over again!

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On a warm Saturday morning in mid February, I was exploring the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  At first glance, I had the place to myself and I began my systematic sweep of the shoreline looking for whatever the river had temporarily marooned here.  Usually, I will walk down to the water’s edge first and then I comb the bank walking back and forth until I hit the treeline.  This typically takes an hour or so and my collecting bag quickly fills up with all kinds of river treasures both natural and artificial.  This morning was to prove to be a memorable one when I came across a creature new to me and I believe science as well?

Years of bird watching had trained me to key on the slightest movement that might betray a creature’s location.  Such was the case when I came across this extraordinary insect that was exploring the same territory as me!  I saw a little motion from the corner of my eye while scanning the riverbank that proved to be this very large ant’s wiggling legs.  This is not my first encounter with a large insect at the Falls of the Ohio.  Previously, I had discovered five other giants of different species all belonging to a genus I had dubbed “Polystyrenus”… because their exoskeletons look like they are made from weathered Styrofoam.  The following is my report complete with photographs and observations made in the field.

I would estimate that this insect’s body, (which looks to be an  “ant”), to be about a foot in length.  Of course, the articulated legs make it seem bigger.  Its eyes appeared to be simple and its mouth parts seemed feeble.  I surmised that whatever it fed upon didn’t require the shearing power of larger mandibles.  I could be more certain of this, but I refused to “collect” or kill this creature in the name of science just to complete a more thorough morphological examination . The thought crossed my mind that this could be the young of the Giant Blue Ant I had seen here a couple of years a go?  I also noticed that many of its legs were different from one another and each appendage might be a different tool like blades in a Swiss Army knife?

While the ant explored its world I discreetly followed along.  My camera is equipped with a telephoto lens nearly as big as the bug.  Still, I found this particular specimen to be amazingly tolerant of my presence.  I watched it while it moved to the river’s edge, but I could not gauge its purpose here.

Interestingly, I did observe it checking out a couple of frayed barge cables that were snagged and unraveling among the willow branches.  It seemed very intent with the fiber strands and used its six legs to gather up the strings into a ball.

Here’s the ant on a different branch.  I wonder if it is responsible for the cuts on this cable?  You can see an intact length of this heavy rope on the sand below.  Could this be some form of play?  This is a question to be answered later.  I never saw the ant do anything else with these two cables .  Does anyone out there have a hypothesis?  Moving on, I did get some very interesting images of the ant either feeding or drinking that show how unusual this ant is from its smaller kin.

On several occasions I was able to observe our remarkable ant taking “sustenance” from iridescent water which flowed in rivulets from the sand below.  What is this stuff?  Is it petroleum pollution or the oils and minerals leaching from other biodegradable materials breaking down below the sand?  As it fed, the ant was at its least cautious.  Perhaps it was drunk?  I walked up to it and was able to take this aerial view.  The rainbow-effect on the sand contrasted nicely against the whiteness of the insect. You can easily see the basic insect body plan with its head, thorax, and abdomen.  Of course, all true insects have six legs.

Here’s another image that comes as a revelation and shows clearly how it feeds.

Like a butterfly, the ant unveiled a long proboscis or feeding tube and lowered into the sheen.  Its abdomen pulsed while it sucked.  I kept thinking about what this stuff is that bubbles to the surface and could it be responsible for the appearance here of these large insects?  Is this some local version of the “Godzilla-effect” where pollution mutates the endemic creatures into giants?  Well, at least I think Clarksville, Indiana will be safe from this ant for the time being.  Now if millions of these ants were to show up at the same time…then this story could change.

After imbibing this strange brew, I observed the Giant White Ant exploring the park.  A previous visitor had found an orange life-preserver and placed it over the branch of a tree.  Here the ant gets on its “hind” legs to investigate the ring.  This ant displays a lot of curiosity about its world.  For a short-time, I lost track of the ant which is able to walk across the driftwood more quickly than I, but I was able to relocate it when I came across this shattered plastic barrel.  It kind of looked at home here and so I left it be and moved on.

That’s it…I have more pictures, but they don’t reveal anymore about the Giant White Ant’s behavior.  Of course, I hope to see it again provided it manages to evade its enemies and stay alive.  What will the “Godzilla-effect”  produce here next?  I wonder if E.O. Wilson has encountered anything like this before in all his researches?  I’ll close now with a final image of my ant.

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Giant Blue Ant surveying river, 7/09

Investing time intensively exploring one little patch of the earth can on occasion lead to some big discoveries.  Such has been my experience following life at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  Today’s post is about a recent discovery that has so far been kept very quiet.  How renowned myrmecologists E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler missed this species for their book “Journey to the Ants:  A Story of Scientific Exploration” will have to be answered by the authors.  The news is all the more compelling in light of a passage in Wilson’s autobiography entitled “Naturalist” where on page 128 he says that each September from his early teens until he graduated from college that he spent time with his mother first in Louisville  and then across the Ohio River in Jeffersonville.  It would be interesting to know what if any formative influence the Falls of the Ohio played on the early Wilson?  Wilson does recount a visit to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, but doesn’t mention the Falls which are right in his mother’s former backyard.  But I digress…this story is about the Giant Blue Ant.

Giant Blue Ant, 7/09

I came across this remarkable insect in a section of the park that receives few visitors.  In my efforts to leave no stone unturned I braved many mosquito bites and brushes with poison ivy in an effort to learn what I could about the world’s largest ant.  In words and images here is the story thus far.  I was gathering art making materials deposited by the river after a recent flood when I observed a single individual moving through the plastic, Styrofoam, and driftwood.  So well adapted is the Giant Blue Ant to this environment, that to evade detection, all it has to do is remain motionless.  It’s an effective strategy since our kind are loath to notice the debris in the first place.  Over the course of several days I was able observe aspects of its behavior and I think, gain it’s partial trust.

Head of Giant Blue Ant w/egg?, 7/09

Ants are social animals, but I was only able to confirm this lone specimen.  From what I understand about ant morphology it appears to be primitive and may account for why it isn’t more socially evolved.  The most remarkable aspect of its behavior that I was able to watch centered around this honey-brown orb it carried around in its mandibles on the last day I saw it.  My first reaction was that this was some aspect of its food.  Like leaf-cutter ants, I thought this was some kind of fungus that it cultivated from organic matter scavenged at the Falls…but I now think I was in error.

blue ant and willow roots, 7/09

I now believe the orb was in fact an “egg”.  I observed the Giant Blue Ant wandering around the park looking for a place to deposit its treasure.  Above is an image of the ant “considering” this willow tree with exposed roots, but in fact I don’t know where “she” eventually hid it.  I’m sure I don’t want to know because it’s too important a secret.  What if this is the last of its kind?  The responsibility would be too much for me to bear.  I’m not sure of this specimen’s gender and since I haven’t seen others of its kind…now wonder if in fact it reproduces parthenogenetically like aphids do?

Giant Blue Ant w/egg, 7/09

Two images of the Giant Blue Ant walking along the river’s shoreline and showing both sides of its body.  I did observe that one of the two holes on the right side of its abdomen held an active spider web.  Is this an example of some unknown symbiotic relationship between the ant and spider?

Blue ant facing left, 7/09

Blue Ant with bug spray can, 7/09

The very last time I saw the Giant Blue Ant I took the above image.  I don’t really know what to make of it?  Why is it carrying this old discarded can of insecticide?  Did I get too close and it was warning me to back off?  Was it asking me to put it out of it misery?  Was it trying to communicate the eternal question of Why?  Perhaps if that egg hatches and the new ant thrives I can eventually learn the answer to these and other questions.

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