Dandelion Salad

Winter hung around for a long time but spring finally found its way to our corner of the forest.

This past week yellow appeared on the menu for these red and black wood ants.

There are about 21 species of wood ants in Alberta. As the name suggests they live in or near the edge of wooded areas, building large hills from forest litter and soil.

Although dandelions caught the attention of these ants, poplar buds are even more popular. They’re like the main course to the dandelion appetizer.

This leaf bud hasn’t even opened yet, but the ants have already moved their “herd” of aphids into position. The aphids feed on the sap, then excrete a sweet sticky “syrup” that the ants eat.

This thistle gives an idea of how big well-tended aphid herds can get.

Wood ant Formica spp.

Closed for the Season

First snowfall of the season arrived yesterday. Not a lot. Just enough to let us know that winter has checked its bags and is on its way south.

A walk along the fence line revealed that many local inhabitants have already hunkered down.

On sunny days just a week or so ago, wood ants in this ant hill still foraged outside for food. Now all is quiet, muffled beneath the white.

Wood ants   Formica spp.

The Tree

Once upon a time there was a tree.

For nearly 100 years it stood. Tall. Resilient. Firm against the wind.

But ants arrived. Tunnelled chambers deep into the heartwood.

Woodpeckers appeared. Drilled holes in search of ants.

Wind returned. This time a century of life fell.

Now, in a long-forgotten woodpecker hole, a green heart beats. Again.

White spruce   Picea glauca

The Art of Ants

Carpenter ants build colonies in rotten, dying and dead trees.

They create artful designs inside spruce and pine and poplar where some tunnel walls are paper-thin.

Unlike termites which eat wood, carpenter ants cut it up with their strong jaws and dump it outside. Piles of sawdust at the bottom of a tree are their calling card.

Large ants with attitude and a nasty bite. They don’t let go. They’re the pit bulls of the insect world. Ask me. I know. Stick pins in your skin for the same effect.

Carpenter ant   Camponotus sp.