Sunday, 15 February 2009

Scaling up



Recent hot weather sent garden ants scurrying indoors. Workers from the colony near the back door had kept their distance for months but when the temperature exceeded 40C, they rethought their strategy.

Although the kitchen sink offers many morsels, the choicest pickings are in the laundry. That's where I keep a small collection of native figs. One of the plants — a Port Jackson fig (Ficus rubiginosa) — is infested with soft brown scale (Coccus hesperidum). So well are the scale insects doing that they have already produced several generations. The tiny mobile nymphs are distributed over the stems and leaves, trying to find unoccupied spaces to settle.

While the scale insects feed on plant sap, the ants are crazy for the honeydew exuded from the scales' rear ends. Despite the large number of photographs I've taken, I do not have a soft spot for either the scale insects or the ants. They'll soon be relocated, possibly with extreme prejudice. Until then, I will marvel at the ants' industry, the scale insects' sloth and the exquisite morphology of both species. (Without having any deep fondness for them, you understand.)





16 comments:

Judith said...

How about we swap ... my rats for your scaley ants?

Snail said...

Not a chance. I've already had one rat encounter. Bloody thing running across the top of the fence in broad daylight. I just happened to look out of the window at the right moment. The rat stared at me, I stared at the rat. Then we both went about our business.

Judith said...

r . a . t singular?


pffft!

catmint said...

Hi Snail, found you via Robertson's blog. Love your blog. Won't you miss the ants at all when they're gone? (I am ambivalent about most things.)Magnificent photo subjects at any rate. I have rats on my fence from time to time, I try to think of them as mice, sounds so much nicer.

MaineBirder said...

Rats, ants, scale... yuck!

I get the occasional possum showing up to eat the seed under the feeders.

Denis Wilson said...

Small Port Jackson Fig, or very large Laundry?
Nice post on the busy ants and the Scale insects.
You are tough on the Scale insects "sloth". They have been breeding up their numbers after all, and producing all that honeydew, for the ants. Just because they don't walk around much, doesn't mean they aren't working hard.
Cheers
Denis (supporter of the Scale Insects).

Tyto Tony said...

I'm with Denis, to a point. We praise ants and bees for their industry because it suits our (industrial society's) materialist desire to always be up and doing. Scale insects deserve equal praise.

But when Schumacher said 'small is beautiful' he didn't have insects in mind. Nor did he want to see seven billion(soon to be nine)of us gobbling up a planet with our consumerism. Time we looked more to the sloth for a model!

Snail said...

Welcome, Catmint and Maine Birder. I've only got one rat --- and I haven't seen that around for a while! Scale and ants, on the other hand ...

There are possums around here but none in my garden. I see the odd brushtail squashed on the road. The ringtails aren't so keen to get their feet dirty.

Snail said...

Denis, Tony, I'm a great fan of indolence. (Or would be, if I could be bothered.) Who wouldn't wish to sit around all day and have some one scoop up ... Oh, this analogy isn't going to work, is it?

Eric Heupel said...

Great pictures!
But be careful you sit and study these long enough and you will develop a (grudging?) love of them...then what?

Oh, and thank you so much, for not finishing the analogy! The visually oriented of us were headed to a horrible place with that one.

Snail said...

Eric, it's almost a curse for a naturalist, isn't it? Look at something close up and you realise just how fascinating it is.

Lynette Weir said...

Hi Snail,
Great ant photos - actually I've been photographing ants lately - some large bitey ones in my garden who didn't take lightly being disturbed. So in between the 'ouch' photo 'ouch' ouch' photo I did manage to get some ok shots!
They relate to the A is for Ant alphabet work.
We have had very wet/damp weather up north - I knew it was coming as the ants - tiny teeny ones have been in the house, obviously seeking higher ground.

Dave Coulter said...

We have a number of scale species around here that are difficult to control. They're amazing creatures!

Mel said...

Those guys look busy!
Please, no rats :S

sarala said...

I need some of those ants for my scale infested plant.
Great photos and natural history though.

Snail said...

Scale are pretty groovy insects. As expected, the ants have cut the kitchen out of their perambulations and now just go straight to the scale. I'm thinking of moving the host plant to see how quickly they work out a new route.

It's a bit sad when you get entertainment from messing with ants' minds.