Pavement Ants Love Fritos! And Have Big Nests!
Back on March 23, 2012, I found this Frito corn chip on the floor at work, covered with a few dozen pavement ants. This was in about the same place as I had previously found an ant-covered snack chip, and the ants probably came from either the same nest or a daughter nest.
They evidently like the oils. The chip looked dried out and porous, as if they had excavated out all of the oil-rich regions.
I’m getting a little better at photographing ants, so these pictures of individuals are slightly more clear than last time. They are still hard, though: ants really hate to hold still.
One way to get them to hold still for a moment is to get them to make a threat display at the camera:
They can’t hurt a person much, but they sure do try. When you open up a nest of pavement ants, they swarm up your arms and bite as much as they can, and it feels like being lightly poked with hundreds of tiny pins. They also seem to try to pull out your body hairs. It doesn’t so much hurt, as itch like crazy.
This only shows a small portion of the entire huge nest. There must have been tens of thousands of them under that stone, swarming everywhere. And there were tunnels leading down, so the nest must have extended well below the stone proper.
You may note that the grubs the ants were tending were a lot bigger than the ants themselves. This is because those grubs were going to grow up to be potential queens, which would fly off, mate, and mostly get eaten by predators. But a few would establish new nests. At any rate, those big grubs were very convenient for feeding to the ant lion we were rearing at the time. The grubs were about the size of a grain of rice, and if we had wanted to, we could have probably harvested a cup or so of them. I’m told that ant grubs are pretty tasty when fried up with rice, by the way. And if you use brown rice, your
victims dinner guests may not even realize what they are eating until you tell them.
 Shortly after I took the March pictures, I noticed that the building custodians had put out some ant-baits. I haven’t seen any of the pavement ants around that area since, so the nest has probably been killed off. I suppose I could drop another chip there sometime, just to be sure . . .
 Once an ant nest gets established, it can last a long time and emit thousands of potential queens. So their success rate in establishing new nests doesn’t have to be very high for the species to be successful.
 Browsing around, I see pretty frequent notes that pavement ant nests often have multiple queens, which would certainly account for both the size and the longevity of the colonies. The only question in my mind is, how does the multiple queens thing work? Do some of the queens fly out, mate, and then come back home to live with Mom? Do groups of sisters band together after mating to form a colony together? Do new queens find existing nests of relatives, and set themselves up on the outskirts so that their colonies can gradually merge? Or do they manage it some other way?