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Anne’s post on ants reminded me about the busy ant army on our front gate. They hurry along the top horizontal bar from one end to the other. They are momentarily stumped when the gate is opened for either humans or vehicles to enter or exit, but resume their journey as soon as the gate is closed. While opening or closing the gate one or two might inadvertently drop on you in which case it is better you brush them off promptly, because these ants bite. And ant bites, as everyone knows is no fun.

Though we noticed them at first only during the day while going out (when we had to lock the gate), we realized that it is at night that they look spectacular. Yes, they are active at night too. Looks like they are the kind that do not need sleep. Or may be they are merely doing overtime to finish some ongoing project in time. Whatever the reason, on our after dinner stroll with Luci in the front yard, the L&M and I found them scurrying and stopped to watch, They looked beautiful, backlit by the street lamp across the gate. I did what I always do. Fished out my phone, and tried to take a few pictures. The quick movements spoiled it, so I opted instead to take a video. You can see it below.

Fascinated by the ants smoothly jumping across the tiny gap between the two panels of the gate, one evening the L&M left them slightly ajar. He was in experimental mode. What would they do when they could no longer walk across? When after dinner, he went to lock the gate for the night, he called me to see how the ants had handled it. Two ants on either side were holding on to each other making a sort of bridge and the others were walking over them to cross to the other side. Sorry no picture, my phone was charging. There were quite a few ‘bridges’ of the sort and ants were moving one way and the other with single-minded purpose. About the purpose itself, I had no real clue other than a wild guess that they were headed for the mango tree in my neighbor’s yard which stood very close to our boundary wall. Others were of course going the opposite way.

Not knowing much about these ants other than the fact they preferred to live on trees, I went to Mother Google for information. I learnt that these are called weaver ants. Next I turned to Wiki. Weaver ants live in trees and are known for their unique nest building behavior where workers construct nests by weaving together leaves using larval silk. Yup, this I knew already having seen them right from childhood. Colonies can be extremely large consisting of more than a hundred nests spanning numerous trees and containing more than half a million workers. Wow. That was impressive. I wondered how big the present colony was, and whether it spanned the whole of our street or spilled on to adjoining ones as well.

There was a lot more to read on weaver ants. But what caught my eye me was this that the weaver ant workers hunt and kill insects that are potentially harmful plant pests thus benefiting trees that harbor them. All this while when we thought they themselves were the pests, falling on us from the branches and biting us when we went in search of mangoes, they were actually helping us by keeping the trees pest-free. Aww… Thank you dear weaver ants. You can walk across my gate and all along the wall any time you want. I can tolerate, and forgive, an inadvertent bite or two as well. But I have a request. I need you ants on a particular guava tree that stands to the right side of my house. A slight detour should do it.

© Shail Mohan 2021