Page 8 - April 12, 2023
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{ 8 }  SNJ Today  |  APRIL 12, 2023                                                                                                                                                                                                                             APRIL 12, 2023  |  { 9 }

     Mountain of an Anthill
     Mountain of an Anthill                                                                                          Fun Fact

                                                                                                                       Ants who secrete formic acid have
                                                                                                                     a citrus taste. Once, in Costa Rica,
     Allegheny mound ants, besides building massive mounds in our pineland region,                                   the author was treated to the experi-
     arrange grains of sand to capture the sun’s rays, much like solar panels.                                       ence of ingesting one, and indeed
                                                                                                                     it was lemony. But likely different
     NATURE AROUND US                                                     by J. Morton Galetto, CU Maurice River     species pack a different punch, so we
                                                                                                                     don’t recommend eating Allegheny
           ast month I was leading a wood-                                                                           mound ants.
           pecker interpretative walk at
     LPeaslee Wildlife Management
      Area. One of our participants mentioned a                                                                    among those also in favor of elimination.
      spot where he and his wife often see red-                                                                    However the University of Maine exten-
      headed woodpeckers, so I suggested we                                                                        sion information was out of step with the
      caravan to the location.                                                                                     other extension fact sheets that I reviewed,
        On the way the second car in line                                                                          referring to them as beneficial insects.
      pulled over, causing a strange configura-                                                                       As we discuss their propensities you
      tion of people following suit. I was baffled                                                                 will begin to understand their history of
      about why we were no longer following                                                                        persecution by property owners. Then
      the lead car, which had reversed back to                                                                     we’ll explore an advantageous aspect.
      the rest of us. The second driver was Tom,                                                                      These mounds are designed to be incu-
      who said, “Have you ever taken notice of                                                                     bators for the queens’ eggs and larvae;
      these ants?,” as he pointed to a large coni-                                                                 note the apostrophe. It is unusual for ants
      cal mound on the roadside.                                                                                   in a colony to serve more than one queen
        “Hmmm, I think I’ve noticed these                                                                          but this species has several; it practices
      uniform grains as I looked at the foot-high                                                                  polygyny meaning “many women.”
      mound,” I replied. “What are they?”                                                                             The mounds can be very large. The
        With a wry smile Tom replied,                                                                              one we viewed at Peaslee was about
      “Allegheny mound ants. I think the                                                                           one foot high and three feet across. The
      Coastal Heritage Trail interpretative                                                                        depth of tunnels beneath these hills may
      board features them.”                                                                                        extend three feet. The circumference
        “Really,” I giggled, acknowledging the                                                                     of an Allegheny mound ant’s hill can
      obvious; I had not read the board at the                                                                     encompass a much larger area—three to
      entrance road off Hesstown Road. One                                                                         nine feet in diameter. One source sug-
      would think a trip leader might do this                                                                      gests sizes of 15 to 18 feet and three and a
      before leading a walk on a trail, although                                                                   half feet of mound height.
      that is not to say I did not prepare but                                                                        But its reach far exceeds the obvious
      rather to acknowledge that I am often                                                                        knoll. In order to make their nursery/
      hyper-focused on my own agenda.                                                                                      home, this incubator needs sun.
        A few participants laughed, looked at                                                                              The ants inject formic acid into
      me, and said, “I see a story coming.” Ah,                                                                            plants and trees, all around the
      expectations.                                                                                                        stem or trunk, which kills the
        In retrospect I remember seeing these                                                                              vegetation in the surrounding
      ants before while on a botany trek with                                                                              area so that sunlight can pen-
      Gerry Moore, but I didn’t recall identi-                                                                             etrate to the forest’s floor and
      fying them or knowing anything about                                                                                 warm the nursery. The area in
      them. Gerry pointed out the reach of                                                                                 which vegetation is killed can
      neighboring mounds, and I believe we                                                                                 encompass a 40- to 50-foot
      were in the vicinity of Bennett’s Mill, con-                                                                         zone. And if the colony has
      tiguous with Peaslee.                                                                                                divided and multiple mounds
        My subsequent research led me to a                                                                                 are present, vegetative destruc-
      treasure trove of extension service fact   The Allegheny mound ants place grains of sand meticulously                tion can be more widespread.
                                           on a hill above the colony, which serves as an incubator for
      sheets. These rather large red and black   their young. The range of the Allegheny mound ant is from                    A 19-inch mound may harbor
      ants are repeatedly maligned by extension         Nova Scotia to Georgia.                                            up to 250,000 residents.
      services—state universities and colleges                                                                                I always enjoy reading
      given the task of helping agricultural pro-  LEFT: Allegheny mound ants are neither red nor black but                Dr. Michael Paupp, from the
      ducers in each state. And as one would   rather both the abdomen is black and the head and thorax                    University of Maryland’s  Bug of
      expect, extermination companies are             are a red-orange. PHOTO: JUDY GALLAGHER                              the Week, in which he explores
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