Sunday, September 06, 2015

Florida Harvester Ants ... Congrats, You have rated an A+ on my personal "Stingometer".

Of course Emma and the dogs are cute, but I want you to note the pond level and the height of the dock above water.
This was early August.

Here's the dock a few weeks later.
Note the dock to water distance.
Also, note the two 4x4 posts at the shore end of the dock.
They are good reference points for the changes to come.
And a few weeks later.
I had to wade out to the dock to take this photo of course.
The pond is out of its excavated basin and creeping into the oak forest.

So, you may be thinking ... I thought this was a Harvester Ant post ... when does he start talking about ants?

How about now...

This is the already soggy nest of the Florida Harvester Ant, (Pogonomyrmex badius).
The edge of the pond is about a foot from the nest at this point, but the wet ground has caused the ants to build an uncharacteristically high nest.
For years, this location has been a dry and sandy spot high above the pond waters.

Normally, harvesters have a fairly low sandy mound that is semi-cleared of plant growth. You can often see bits of seed husks and charcoal in a ring around the mound center.

I have always thought of them as one of our cooler ant species, big and obvious, but not aggressive like the hated exotic fire ants.

I have crouched at the edge of many harvester nests and pondered their goings on with never an aggressive act by the ants ... even when some worker wandered up on to my leg.

I have a little different view now ... more on that later.

For the record, knowing what I know NOW about the incredibly powerful sting of the Florida Harvester Ant, I would change that species name from "badius"  to "badassius".

This photo was taken just a few days after the first mound picture.
The water is now up to the edge of the mound.

Harvester ants dig down about 2 meters, so obviously the lower floors are flooded in this colony. For weeks, the ants have been dealing with the groundwater by piling dirt up into a tall mound ... which is now failing to hold its shape as the saturated soil sags.

I visited this ant colony almost daily to see how they were dealing with the rising pond.
In the photo above, the soggy mound is not supporting tunnels and the ants are dealing with the new reality.
The mound is now surrounded by water.
But it's still a mound ... sort of.

Here's a close-up of the teamwork going on.
(I am assuming that the pale ants are newbies)

There's a heck of a lot of instinctual coordination happening here and you might expect that somewhere at the center of one of these "antscrapers" there's a queen safely hidden away.

Outward from the main clusters, there were small groups and even individual soldier warrior ants clinging to grass blades ... a picket line if you will.

I was aware of them as I maneuvered the Olympus Tough camera in for extreme close-ups.
The super macro setting on this camera requires you to be within an inch or two of your subject.
This makes things a little tricky when dealing with bitey, stingy critters.

So it was that I didn't notice the single harvester ant as she hopped aboard my hand.
When I did, she was standing on my right "avian" finger.

I mean, it hurt like the overused "hot needle" cliche, the pain was immediate and intensifying as seconds went by.
So know this ... I am not a wuss AND I have been stung by most of what there is to sting you in Florida ... All the wasps multiple times, bees, jellyfish, giant water bugs, Portuguese Man O'War, saltwater catfish, freshwater catfish, fire ant, velvet ant, mixed spiders, and stingrays.
When I was 17, I took a stingray sting to the foot while out gigging flounder and after a brief pause, continued to flounder until the sun came out.
You get me?
I'm not bragging, just saying I HAVE a sting pain scale in my head and know of what I speak.

What really surprised me ... besides the levels of pain that my finger was passing through, is the fact that it didn't fade out and become just a mild annoyance in the first hour.
That's right ... the FIRST hour.

Guess which finger got stung?
I wish this looked more gnarly to truly represent how much it hurt, but all we have above is a bit of swelling.
I believe it was around 4:30 or 5:00 pm when I was stung.
At midnight, when I fell asleep, it was less intense, but still throbbing and painful.

In the morning, the finger was just a little sensitive, but the true pain had faded during the night.

Holy Smokes!
Who knew?
Well, it turns out others did, ... I was the ignorant one.

The Florida harvester ant is not of economic importance to growers and homeowners, is not aggressive and almost has to be forced to sting someone. However, the sting is among the more painful of those received from ants and the pain lasts longer than usual for ant stings due to the poison injected (Haack and Granovsky 1990). Some swelling may also occur as the reaction to their stings spread along the lymph channels (Ebeling 1978).
A personal account of a sting episode by Wray (1938) is as follows: "Several ants stung me on the wrist, and after a few minutes an intense fiery pain began in this area which was about two inches in diameter. It turned deep red in color and immediately a watery, sticky secretion came out of the skin. This area became hot and feverish and the excruciating pain lasted all day and up into the night." At least one death, a child in Oklahoma, has been credited to stings by the red harvester ant, P. barbatus(Haack and Granovsky 1990)."  Source: University of Florida/IFAS

See kids, this is why you need to stuff your head full of information... this would have been really handy to know before my close encounter.

So, what about now?

The pond is at its highest levels since the wonderful hurricane season of 2004 ... 4 tropical systems and 16 inches of rain in 24 hours during one of them.

The almost daily rains here have pushed the pond even farther out of its basin and the ant mound is now completely under water.

Everyone is clinging to each other and the overburdened grass blades.

It's getting more challenging as the grass bends under the weight and the water rises.

I hold no ill will towards them and truthfully, I'm rooting for them.

To the point where I may tether a log next to them as a life raft ... they may do the living raft thing like fire ants do, but they are mainly a dry land species, so it may not be in their instinctive bag of tricks.

And this is where we are as I write this on September 6, 2015.  The shore end of the dock, where Emma and the dogs were in the first photo of this ant tale, is where the 2 posts stick out of the water.

The water drowning the young pine tree is about knee deep and extends to the left for another 10 feet or so.

 The Harvester Ants' nest location is roughly opposite the first cypress trees off in the distance.

The ants still cling to grass blades at the nest site, which is completely submerged. 
Outside,'s raining again.


Julie Zickefoose said...

HOWLY COW. I cringe just reading this. You poor man!!
There's so much in this post--the water levels would be incredible enough--but the living antscraper? Amazing. And the fact that you're sympathetic to the ants' plight even as you recount the most painful sting of your lifetime. You are truly in the .001 percent, sir.
Great post. Three of the middle photos aren't coming through--all I see is a gray minus sign, even when I click on the space where the photo should be. Not to complain--it's a boffo post without them.



R.Powers said...

I thought so. Thanks for the kind words and the photo news. Couldnt tell it it was just my crappy Hughesnet or actual failure to launch.

R.Powers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
threecollie said...

Ow, ow, ow, we do not have those things and I am not sorry, although I do like seeing your amazing photos of their gathering. I stood on an ordinary...although unseen... Upstate NY ants' nest once while trying to get a good look at an Osprey. It was right at the bottom of our driveway. Guess you could call them notsobadius. But they were bad enough that it's been thirty years or so and I haven't forgotten them. Glad you are getting enough water for a change.

Marilyn Kircus said...

Our Texas Harvester ants are in deep doo doo from the invasion of the predator fire ants. And our beloved Texas horny toads are also in serious trouble.

So I'm rooting for the ants and for you to build them a life raft.

But sorry you got stung. I've never been stung by a harvester ant, but have been stung so much by fire ants that the little rings of bits around my socks or tops of my gloves almost don't bother me after the first few stinging minutes.

Thanks for a great ant report.

Ms. Moon said...

I've lived in Florida most of my life and never knew about these ants and I have rambled some woods and water shores.
Thank you for the information. I will be wary!
Baddassius indeed!

Doug Taron said...

I've been zipped by a harvester ant once in Arizona. Memorable. It's a three on the Schmidt pain index. Try the bullet ants some time. They get a 4+.

R.Powers said...

Hey Zick,
The Harvester ant sting was supercalifragilistingistic, but for the record, stingray stings still have the top spot on my own personal sting scale. Pain for days.

robin andrea said...

Wow, that's a lot of rain. And that ant sting sounds like something I shall seek to avoid for the rest of my days. Yikes. I do hope you can put something together for those ants to survive the deluge.

Wally Jones said...

Sorry to hear about that sting! I can relate to the stingray sting. Makes my very old ankle wound ache thinking about it. I just keep thinking our aquifer must be doing a happy dance. 'Scuse me while I go scrape another layer of mold off the truck.