Thursday, September 15, 2011



If I have one enemy here in Melaque, it is ants.

Not just any ants.  Leaf cutter ants.

But you know that.  I have written about them several times.

When I returned from Pátzcuaro, I discovered that the summer rains had sent the ants into a feeding frenzy.  The list of stripped bushes was long.  Bougainvillea.  Hibiscus.  Coffee.  They had even launched attacks on my flamboyant, lime, and sour orange trees.

Their nests were easy to spot.  They had built mini-volcanoes throughout the garden to keep out the rainwater.  But the best clue was the long line of frantic leaf-carrying ants that crisscrossed the garden each night.

Along with the usual queen ant who would fall victim to my Dow-oriented ways.  That is one at the top of the post.  She made the mistake of visiting my reading table on her way to (or from) a rendezvous with her DNA-sharing beau.

I knew that the ants did not eat the leaves they cut -- even though they are very choosy about which leaves to take back to their nests.  For good reason.  They use the leaves to cultivate a fungus they feed to their young.  For the ants, that fungus is what determines whether the ant colony thrives or expires.

As often as I have heard about the fungus, I have never seen it.  Not surprisingly.  The farming usually takes place deep under ground.

Today that changed.  I was following a line of ants to their nest.  To get to the opening, I had to move several flower pots out of the way.  When I moved the first pot, I discovered it was filled with ants.  They had used it as an artificial mound.

But not just any mound -- a farming mound.  It was like uncovering a myrmecoid Archer Daniels Midland field.  Instead of corn; it was fungus.

A quick spray of Raid calmed down the ant frenzy.  And gave me a chance to look at the ant truffles.  The cultivated result of turning my garden into a 1945 Dresden.

I apologize for the lack of focus.  But you can see the structure.  As light as a dust bunny.  But obviously a fungus.

While I was trying to get a better focus on the fungus, I pulled back a bit, and caught this.  The ant’s handiwork and the pot rim added its own bit of whimsy.  Just as I found it.


Dan in NC said...

Steve, it IS Mexico! I always thought of leaf-cutter ants as endemic to the tropical climes you inhabit - BUT, walking my ward last month I noticed a small green line wandering down a bougainvillea stem... These little buggers even live in the mountains! Or perhaps they were on holidays as well?
Dan in NC

Steve Cotton said...

Maybe you brought them home in your San Miguel luggage.

Laurie Matherne said...

I have a plague of tiny, spider ants living in my home. They creep along my fingers and arms as soon as I touch a surface downstairs. Planet of the Apes? I live in the Planet of the Ants. 

Steve Cotton said...

During this past week, I have discovered itty-bitty ants everywhere.  They used to confine themselves to the counters.  Now, I find them all over the couch and in my bed.  I swear they have built a nest in my left ear.  (I suspect that is as symptom listed somewhere in the DSM.)

Jonna said...

Trompa.  You need some.

al lanier said...

If you find the definitive cure the leaf cutters, let me know. they are relentless and destructive, particularly during the dry season here. they went at a bunch of small trees we planted and damn near destroyed them. 


Steve Cotton said...


Steve Cotton said...

I suspect moving to Nome may be the only answer.  Even though I suspect the ants could survive there, as well.  Amazing creatures.

Croft Randle said...

Your last photo looks a little like the "Face" on mars. Perhaps there are ants there as well?

Steve Cotton said...

Take a look at that flying queen.  He obviously came from Mars.

Jonna said...

the brown pellets.  I put them in their path at night and they immediately abandoned everything else for the pellets.  I kept refilling the pile until none came for more.  It kills the fungus and thus the colony.  If you have more than one colony, which it sounds like you do, then you have to keep baiting their trails until they are all gone.  

Steve Cotton said...

For some reason, my ants have shown little interest in the pellets.  They just match around them.  But I will try again.