Tag Archives: fire ant (Solenopsis invicta)

Crossing the river of fire

I stood atop the spillway dam and faced east, watching sunrise unfold like a warm blanket on a cold night.

The sun rising from behind riparian woods surrounding White Rock Lake (20081004_12985_fa)

Below me at the foot of the dam, oblivious—or at least uncaring—of my presence, a snowy egret (Egretta thula) raced back and forth searching for breakfast.

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) hunting along the base of the spillway dam (20081004_13003)

Even as I watched the bird, a wee bit of movement beside me drew my attention to a long-jawed orb weaver (Tetragnatha sp.) making its way along the concrete wall.

A long-jawed orb weaver (Tetragnatha sp.) walking along the spillway dam (20081004_13011)

I became enamored with the gangly beast and its awkward, almost clumsy approach.  I scooted backward to keep it in view, which offered me a very close peripheral view of more movement on the wall.

Fire ants (a.k.a. red imported fire ant; Solenopsis invicta) relocating a nest on the spillway dam (20081004_13014)

Fire ants (a.k.a. red imported fire ant; Solenopsis invicta).  A lot of them.  The whole column hugging the concrete seam in the wall.  The river of tiny six-legged creatures flowed mostly from the lake side of the wall to the fishery side where I stood.

Fire ants (a.k.a. red imported fire ant; Solenopsis invicta) relocating a nest on the spillway dam (20081004_13015)

I moved away from the wall and from the ants.  I dared not tempt a sting from these tiny giants.  Yet from a few steps away I once again saw the spider, then the ants, then the coming problem the arachnid would face: how to cross the river of fire that stood unwavering in its path.

A long-jawed orb weaver (Tetragnatha sp.) attempting to cross a river of fire ants (a.k.a. red imported fire ant; Solenopsis invicta) busy relocating their nest (20081004_13018)

Seeing the ants carrying pupae and larvae made clear they were relocating their colony.  The tendency of fire ants to attack first and ask questions never would no doubt be amplified with young being carried in the open to a new home.

Fire ants (a.k.a. red imported fire ant; Solenopsis invicta) relocating a nest on the spillway dam (20081004_13019)

It took the spider nearly five minutes to successfully cross over the streaming ants.  A few times a single ant would grab one of the spider’s legs when it came too close, and a few times the spider slipped and almost fell after trying to reach too far in a single step.

But who could blame it for wanting to avoid contact with the ants?  And trust me when I say that the spider’s gangly shape came in handy when crossing the river of fire.  Body held high above the danger, legs stretched as far as they could reach, thin legs and tiny feet needing little space to take hold.

Insects of June

A brown-legged grass carrier (Isodontia auripes) scampering about in the dirt (20080601_05947)

I really wish that photo had turned out better than it did, for the brown-legged grass carrier (Isodontia auripes) is indeed a beautiful wasp.  Dark and iridescent, this indigo flyer is recognizable as the only member of its genus with the telltale brown legs.

It stood next to my foot when I snapped that picture, but it didn’t stay for long.  We regrettably found ourselves beneath a tree on a partly cloudy day, so I captured the image during the one opportunity I had to see it almost at rest.

A white checkered-skipper (Pyrgus albescens) slurping nectar from a common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) flower (20080601_05980)

This white checkered-skipper (Pyrgus albescens) spent a great deal of time flitting from flower to flower in search of nectar.  In this case, upon a common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), the butterfly paused only momentarily for me to snap a photo, then off it went into the sky in search of more breakfast.

An elm sawfly larva (Cimbex americana) munching away on a leaf (20080601_05986)

The larvae of the elm sawfly (Cimbex americana), like all sawflies, looks much like the caterpillar of a moth or butterfly, but the adult is nothing short of a wasp’s cousin.  Despite visual similarities though, sawflies use their “stingers” as ovipositors rather than as weapons.  Still, given the size of this child, I’d hate to see the mother who gave birth to it.  She must be a formidable creature indeed.

A group of red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) gathering at the edge of a mud puddle (20080601_06170)

In a photo, that to me is death on six legs.  Red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) attack en masse.  The first sting releases a pheromone that causes the rest of them to swarm and assault anything that moves (movement spurs them to sting).

I found this small group at the end of a trail of ants winding its way through the grass.  They huddled together near the edge of a mud puddle, doing what I can’t say.  And I didn’t get close enough to look.  One fire ant sting would be bad enough given my heightened allergy to such things, but the very nature of these beasts ensures that it wouldn’t stop at just one.

A seven-spotted ladybird beetle (a.k.a. ladybug; Coccinella septempunctata) climbing through grass covered by cottonwood debris (20080601_06218)

Finally, this seven-spotted ladybird beetle (a.k.a. ladybug; Coccinella septempunctata) found itself trying to navigate a sea of cottonwood debris that covered the ground for some distance.  As it tried to hunt, it grew increasingly covered with the tree’s fibrous droppings.  I hadn’t the heart to tell it, at least relative to its size, that miles and miles of this summer snow surrounded it on all sides.  Only by taking to wing could it hope to escape.

[all photos taken June 1 at White Rock Lake]