ANT ON THE WALL

Digital photography has opened a new world for me. Some years ago I would barely have noticed this ant on an outside wall. I might have thought ‘that’s a large ant’ and walked on – there would be no point in photographing it. All I would have achieved is a dark spot on a blank wall. Now I know that if I photograph it I will be able to crop the image and actually see the ant. What is more, if I crop the image even more on my computer I will actually see what the ant is up to.

Even better: when I saw the ant on the wall, I had no idea it was carrying anything in its mandibles. What that might be I cannot tell, for any further enlargement renders an image too blurred to be useful. It might be a grain or even a slice of something. Whatever it is I am grateful to the wonders of digital photography that allows me to see things that were not easily visible before!

ANTS ON STEPS

There are few conditions like drought and heat to bring the activity of ants to the fore. We have both in abundance. I happened to sit on the steps outside our kitchen for a few minutes the other day and captured these images with my cell phone. My attention was first drawn to this gap in the wall:

The fine grains of sand spilling out of it is detritus from the mining activities of the ants as they have burrowed deeper into the ground behind the stones that make up the edge of the steps leading up to the top of the terrace. A spider has taken advantage of this gap to catch unsuspecting passersby. Where there is ant activity, there must be ants. I didn’t have far to look:

Here some of them are, walking up and down the leaves of this succulent plant growing right next to the steps. All of them were busy – too busy to stop and look around; to chat to their fellow workers; or simply to take a rest. All were focused on whatever job they had to do. Now among these ants are some construction workers, some of which must have tunnelled holes between the stone risers and built these towers:

I cannot help wondering if these are ‘cooling towers’ such as we see at some of our (dysfunctional) power stations on the Highveld.

MEET BIG ANT

I had been watching the interaction between the two Common Fiscals vying for some tasty tit-bits nearby, when my attention was drawn to a large ant making its way across the garden table.

I was intrigued that it followed the edge of the hollow squares instead of walking across the metal ‘highways’ – except to explore the next hollow square.

There must have been something particularly fascinating in this corner, for this hitherto determined traveller halted its journey to inspect this particular area for a few seconds.

It waggled its feelers about a few times before raising its head and resuming its journey across the table – inspecting every hollow square in its path!

THREE VISITORS

On each of the three days we camped at Mountain Zebra National Park we were entertained by a special visitor, other than the delightful presence of a number of birds of course. The first was what is commonly known in South Africa as a Shongololo. This popular name for a millipede is derived from the Xhosa and Zulu word ‘ukushonga’ which means ‘to roll up’ – which is what the shongololo does when disturbed in order to protect its vulnerable underside. They are fascinating to watch for as they walk, their legs move in a synchronised, wave-like motion. There were actually a whole lot of them, in various shades and sizes, all over the rest camp area and crossing the roads through the park. One had to watch out to avoid stepping on them at times!

Apart from the many ordinary looking ants that were around, there were particularly large ones, such as this one, that seemed to be on their own. I was struck both by its size and its colouring, but am stumped about its identification.

While being careful not to touch it or feed it, we were enchanted by the Striped Mouse that often appeared from behind a rock near our tent to scamper across to see what it could find to eat. It was easily scared off by birds and, on more than one occasion, was deliberately chased away by a White-browed Sparrow Weaver.

stripedmouse1