Monday, January 27, 2014

The Procession of the Mexican Cutter Ants

 We have lots of processions and parades in San Miguel de Allende.  Luckily only this one is inside the walls of my gardens.  It is no small feat for the cutter ants to march from wherever they begin to strip a plant of all of its leaves, and I do mean ALL, to the street where they take it down, underground to their ant homes.
I came home today to see this procession heading across the flagstone directly in front of my door to the casa.  It's an annual thing so I don't get excited.  I used to try to control them with ant poison, water or whatever means anyone would suggest.  However, I've learned over the years that these wily creatures WILL survive and I could die of frustration.

So now, I just step over them and go into the house.
Last year, a kind friend gave me five or six large oleander bushes to plant on the side wall of the garden.  In my mind I was thinking, "They're big; oleanders are poisonous; the ants won't touch them""   Au contrare  They had those shrubs deleafed in three days.  Every last one of them!  Add to that, any time they started to releaf, they stripped them again.  I checked today and they still have leaves.  I'm anxious to see if they forgot about them and will leave them alone this year.

When I asked my son, whose  first degree was as a wildlife biologist about this, here is what he told me.

"They don't eat the leaves.  They carry them below ground once the earth becomes warm enough for them to do so.  They use them to pad their nests in preparation for the rainy season."  Okay, the rainy season is five months away, at least! 

Then I started thinking of how slow they go.  How many of them there are.  How far a distance it is from plant to street.  Yup, about five months to get it wherever it is underground seems about right.

I'm just amazed and fascinated by this annual pilgrimage.  It's my way of waiting for the groundhog to come up to tell us if winter is over.  Here it's the cutter ants. I think they know when the earth is going to start warming.

By the way, last night was the first time since December that I haven't had to turn on the heater all night.

Isn't it incredible that something so tiny knows what's going on?  Knows what it has to do.  AND, gets it done without complaining.  Well, at least as far as I know, that is.

The other incredible thing to me is the fact that I have time to notice such things!


Croft Randle said...

I once watched these Cutter Ants for hours as they made their way in an endless procession across a trail beside our motorhome. They are amazing creatures.

Calypso said...

Of course we have those critters here in Puerto as well. We continue to do battle with them (think Afghanistan) it is probably a losing battle. They are to be credited for their industriousness and honorable deaths (which I make every effort to lead them to ;-)

Babs said...

Croft, I'm so happy to know that I'm not the only one who is enamored these amazing creatures.

It reminds me of a book that I read to my children when they were small. It was the little train that said, "I think I can. I think I can" and did.

Babs said...

Calypso, I got really mad when they ate three rose bushes in a few hours once. I determined to remove them totally from the property. I've spent a tiny fortune attempting to do so. In the last thirteen years, they are the ones winning and I have succumbed to their ability to survive!

Dean Wylo said...

As long as they don't venture inside and go for the house plants....

Did your children ever have an ant farm? Fascinating to watch.

Also - off topic though I must say as I believe you are the one who mentioned Willie Nelson's CD "To All the Girls...". At your suggestion I ordered it and since receiving it have listened to it again and again and again.

Willie breaks your heart in such a good way....

Thank you!


Nan Talley said...

Those critters are a demonstration of tenacity. Love it.

gringosuelto said...

So do the plants survive defoliation, or do you have to replant them?

Fascinating creatures. Especially because one would think that if the nest isn't in your garden, there must be closer plants. Maybe yours are especially tasty?


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where it remains a mystery to us how the ants and all the other bugs survive in such cold temperatures with the ground frozen solid.

Steve Cotton said...

The ants in these parts choose specific leaves -- depending on the season. The leaves are then used as farm material to grow a fungus they feed to the ant young. They are quite an interesting society. I just returned from battling with them in the garden. Several thousand (they were spread out over half o the garden)and invaded from outside my fence. But it is an every night task. Fortunately, when they win (which is more often than not), the plants tend to grow back with dense growth -- as if they had been properly pruned.

Babs said...

Barbara, I'm so glad you're enjoying the Willie Nelson album. I too am still playing it over and over and over, which is unusual for me.

Babs said...

Nan, it seems persistence and tenacity pay off. I've given up fighting them. it is a losing battle.

Babs said...

Kim, I marvel at nature's creatures. I had not seen any activity in their ant mounds out in the street for quite a while. Then, one day and they are on the march.
True tenacity.

Babs said...

Steve, give up the battle. It can't be won. I've tried for 13 years and have no surrendered.
Instead of spending money on poison, I'll spend it on more plants!

Sissy said...

DE/diatomaceous earth will kill ants - great for decimating those red ants- is natural and won't harm the environment. Wonderful for many other things. I feed it to my dogs for parasites, dust them for fleas and ticks. I use no poisons.