The thing you realize when you look close enough is this: You don’t own your house. You may live there, you may have paid good money for it, but there are animals there who used to be there before you, whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents lived there before you. And they make sure you know. To them, you’re that pesky force of nature that keeps sweeping the terrace even though they chose this very stone or this very leaf to raise their kids under. Yes, I do feel guilty sometimes. Yes, it takes me forever to sweep the terrace – I keep running into the house to fetch my camera as soon as I spy the tell-tale white shapes and frantic wriggling. Pavement ants.
Pavement ants (Tetramorium caespitum) have big subterranean nests and feed on carrion (dead beetles and such) and sometimes seeds, and they love dry, warm spaces. Like your terrace. Like many ant species, they carry their young wherever they think the micro-climate fits them best. In this case, that was a small stone on my terrace, and when I moved it, I saw this:
Tetramorium workers, working hard to carry the pupa back down into the hive. So much for that lovely, warm place under the stone! Pesky human. You’ll notice the pupa is much bigger than the workers – it’s because these are special: They’re the pupa of alates, winged males and females that will soon swarm, mate, and start a new hive. These are the most valuable young the hive produces, and they protect them at all cost.
Pictured above is a larva – notice the difference? The pupa above already has all the appendages in place while the larva is little more than a blob with a mouth (sorry, little larva, but… you know it’s true).
Where’s the pupa’s cocoon, you may ask? Well, in many ant species, pupa don’t spin a cocoon. They rely solely on the protection of workers and the nest.
Pavement ants are known to be vicious, especially when defending their young. These were too – after climbing onto my lens and camera, one especially angry ant scaled my thumb and bit me:
She tried hard. But I have to admit I didn’t feel a thing.