Sullivan:Diversity of Wildlife in Panama Includes Its Ants | Pinhead Institute Notes From the Field
by Jake Sullivan
Aug 19, 2007 | 253 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As I realize more and more every day, Panama has as diverse a community of wildlife as anywhere on the world. In its narrow borders, you find thousands of species of migrating birds, some of the world’s dangerous snakes, vicious jaguars, and colorful frogs, but I learned that its not always the biggest wildlife that is the most fascinating.

Recently I have sparked a curiosity in ants. There are more ants than anything else in the world. In fact if you weighed the mass of all the ants in the world next to the weight of all the humans in the world, the ants would outweigh the humans ten fold! They come from the Hymenoptera order, which contains wasps and bees. However, unlike their cousins, most ants do not have wings. As I have learned with my novice skills of observation, there are different ants in different areas of Madrono. The most prevalent of them is the sugar ant. This 1/24 of an inch ant is known in these areas for being first on the spot when sugary food is left out, hence its name. Today, I observed two incidences of the sugar ants at work. The first was during a card game. Chris, Grayson and I had just finished a game of rummy, when I looked down to find two potato chips floating away. It was only after I bent down for a closer look that I realized that the potato chips weren’t actually floating away but being carried away by at leased a hundred worker ants. The second incident came an hour later after we made chocolate. I was foolish enough to leave my spoon out while I went to the bathroom and when I came back the little red creatures were devouring the leftover reminisce of chocolate. At dinner I asked, “Nathan, how are so many sugar ants were able to get to a piece of food so quick?”

I told him, “I never see them walking around I huge groups.” He responded with excitement as if he was waiting for this question, “Well, the reason you only see one ant when there is no food around is because those are the scouting ants. Their job is to search for food and return to the colony to gather the worker ants.” He paused for a moment, “But do you know how they find their way back to the food?” His face still tangled in excitement. “No.” we replied. “Well, when returning to the colony the scouting ant leaves a trail of urine behind it so the worker ants can find their way to the food. And that is just one of a thousand things ants can do.”

He was right. After dinner that night, I picked up a book called Journey to the Ants by Edward O. Wilson, It was filled with fascinating information on the builders of our world. It tells of weaver ants that sow a leaf shut with a spider-like thread to make a waterproof home, but the amazing thing is how the fold the leaf. They chain their bodies together to form a powerful ant bridge that the other ants can walk across. This enables them to create homes with leaves up to three feet in size.

These social creatures enable the brain to see the awesomeness of the world around us. The boredom that embodies the youth of today’s society is largely because of their unwillingness to see the wildlife of nature. In just two weeks of being in the rainforest, I have seen enough to keep myself busy for the next year.

Jake Sullivan is a Pinhead Intern in Panama.

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