ANT Apartment in the Sky!

This is a post that combines Photography and Entomology: The Entomology part of it I don’t know much about, but I’m curious about Ant behavior nonetheless.

Anyone besides me, and others of my generation, familiar with the TV sitcom, “The Jeffersons”? You know…”Movin’ on up, to the East Side, to that deluxe apartment in the sky…”

Well, George and Louise have nothing on the ants that have made a home out front, in my yard. Well, not in the yard, but high above the ground. OK, not so high, about two feet off the ground, but in Ant-size measurements, that is a big distance upward to construct a hanging ant apartment!

BLACK ANT HOME ABOVE GROUND AROUND CANS-Edited-March 05, 2009, btl

[Above Photo]: An engineering masterpiece. A colony of black ants (I don’t know the species) have outdone themselves with a hanging nest. From a framework of several aluminum cans hanging from wire (attached along the fence), the ants have carried up the fence various natural resources to construct their nest, including sand, dirt, leaves, grass, and yes, dead ants and other insects. They have plastered the materials all around and underneath the cans. This construction is how they have made their home in the sky.

This ant apartment is literally defying gravity. The mortar holding their home together is strong enough that the vast portion of the nest is hanging securely from underneath the cans. The ants have created numerous holes in the soil for entry and exit points. It appears most of the activity in the nest is from the holes in the nest’s soil, not the aluminum can holes. [See Below]:

BLACK ANT HOME ABOVE GROUND AROUND CANS, No2-Edited-March 05, 2009, btl

In my humble opinion, this species has done something quite ingenious:  Hanging above ground their home is completely safe from heavy rains (floods), and that is ‘naturally’ important because this is the tropics. A very big Neem tree provides much of everything these ants need, including shelter from heavy rain, and resources for building, and maybe as a food source.

I have observed the colony in the daytime and nighttime and they are always busy working. The next several photographs are from my nighttime observations.

Maybe ants build nests above ground all the time and I was never aware of this marvel. However, this is the first time I’m seeing something like this, where ants have used aluminum cans to secure an earthen fortress, strategically hanging above ground under a huge Neem tree.

There are several questions for which I have no answers…yet:

  1. What ant species is this?
  2. Is this behavior peculiar to this species?
  3. Is this a survival strategy…to keep the nest off the ground away from other competition (earth diggers), and also protected from natural elements (i.e., Rain)?
  4. Was this construction purposeful or just a workable accident?
  5. What does this ‘Ant Apartment in the sky’ look like on the inside?
  6. Do the aluminum cans provide more purpose than just as a  sturdy and hollow construction material?
  7. If the colony increases, will the size of the sky apartment increase?  Will the ants build further downward, or outward?  Or, will the ants abandon the nest?
  8. It looks like these ants have used their own dead as part of the mortar: Is the “recycling nature” of using dead ants as part of the nest mortar a common thing, or unusual?

Well, so much for Ant Sociology & Ant Engineering:  That’s all I have for the moment.

I find this hanging nest quite interesting.  I knew that ants were great diggers, but now I also know they are skilled engineers as well.

BLACK ANT, no1-Edited-March 05, 2009, btl

This ant (above) stopped and tried to look menacing at the camera when I accidentally touched the can it was sitting on. It is all important to guard the nest.

BLACK WORKER ANT AT NIGHT 7418-Edited-March 08, 2009, v2,BTL

[Above]: An ant carrying…ah, something…not sure what that is, maybe food. Anyway, he’s heading back to the sky apartment with this “thing”. This is a nighttime shot.

Black Worker Ant at Nighttime 7419-Edited-March 08, 2009

Here’s another ant with another one of those ‘things’ (hummm…could it be a weird egg sack, but I always thought ant eggs were more smooth and whitish…). This is also a nighttime photograph.

Black Ants at Nighttime, IMG 7426-Edited-March 08, 2009, v3, btl

[Above]: Nighttime activity all over the aluminum-earthen ant apartment.  The best I can guess, this nest is about 4 weeks old.  At least, I first noticed it about 4 weeks ago.

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