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Sunday, 25 September 2016

A bit about ants

 I am a fairly predictable creature, and my temporary obsessions are fairly obvious to the Tuesday mob, the people who work as volunteer gardeners with me (or with whom I work) on Sydney's North Head.

One of the longest lasting temporary obsessions relates to ants, in part because they reveal what lies beneath the surface. Anybody who has worked where I work will have seen something like the picture on the right. Under the soil that was laid to make the oval, there is a bed of pure white sand. Ants that reveal that are neat.

Bull ants have been an interest of mine since I had a traumatic experience with them when I was three. I will gloss over the circumstances, but suffice it to say that I ended up with a bull ant in my underpants. No, I don't want to talk about it…

Stung into action, as it were, I set out to study the enemy, and while the story of me and my sting is not on the agenda, I will discuss how I photographed the one above: having  captured it in a jar,  I put the ant in the refrigerator to slow it down, then set it on a paper towel on cork in a bowl of ice water. My purpose was simple: a dead bull ant has its nippers crossed, and I wanted a live one.

My first bull ant is clearly alive, as is the second one, on the right, which was in a footprint on a sandy trail, with the camera coming in safely from above. No, I didn't step on it…
 Other ants are safer to study, and there are ants almost everywhere, but they aren't easy to "catch". I have searched all over Australia for a good shot of an ant trail, and I had just about decided that the "trail" is a construct, a figment of the way we see motion — until I found one on a street kerb (right) near the cemetery at Alice Springs, where I had gone to see the graves of Namatjira and Lasseter.
The student of ants is better satisfied by studying ant hills, which are always neat and practical against floods. And the heap also tells us about what lies below.

This one on the left was on another part of the same oval, where there is none of the pure white sand in reach of the ants.

But ants feeding are also fun. Each summer, we need use baits to control the little sugar ants that invade our home. They get everywhere, and make nests inside the furniture: enough is enough! I mix my own borax and sugar.

I do feed the meat ants, the ones seen in the last shot (below), eating steak in a Petri dish: this is part of my ongoing determination to, one day, get ants to form a convincing trail.

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