Sally GracieBy Sally Gracie

As was the case when I was a teacher, summer seems fleeting. When the next-door kids board their school bus each morning, I still feel the tug, and wonder how it could possibly be 16 years since I’ve been in my own classroom. Inside each old teacher’s mind is a September calendar marked “back-to-school.”

I have spent hours of each day sitting at my glass-topped table on my back porch. There I’ve sipped my morning coffee and my evening glass of wine. I’ve watched wildlife in my yard and read dozens of books. All-in-all, it’s been a pleasant three months.

Two pairs of robins built nests on the carport beams. Wind took at least one egg, but I think the nesting produced a couple of fledgling birds. The hummingbirds returned to the feeder that hangs near enough for a close-up view.

But it has been the black ants, not the birds, that entertained me most. They arrived soon after I hung the feeder, which they reach by climbing up from a nest somewhere in the ground to the porch railing. They cross the railing and ascend the upward column to the iron hanger and the sugar water feeder.

Several dozen ants may traverse the railing at one time; they move in both directions, coming from and going to the nectar. They travel quickly, purposefully, in a straight line. They seldom lose their way or come to the tabletop. The railing is most crowded early in the evening until after dark, when I’ve turned on the porch light to read my books.

Occasionally ants marching in opposite directions meet head-to-head, touch antennas, then move around each other and carry on. I wish I could tag a few to see how many trips up and down they make in a day. They are certainly energetic. Up and back and up and back.

According to antark.net, ants work to ensure their family’s survival “by any means.” Ants “have developed advanced ways to find and distribute … their food.” Antark reports, “The quantity of food eaten by ants is unrivaled.” Probably because there are so many ants in the world! Some ant scientist or “myrmecologist” might calculate the length of their journey to my feeder in human terms. How many ant miles does this colony travel as they carry out their day’s work?

Each time I replace the sugar water, I find dozens of ants in the bottom of the glass tube. They crawl in through the yellow plastic flowers. Most have drowned, but some – drugged into sugar stupor – feebly attempt to crawl up the sides of the sink. Will the others miss them or is this the way the colony weeds out its greedy members?

Though my hummers have been absent for three days, I’m putting fresh sugar water out today. As long as the ants want the sugar, I’ll hang the feeder and be entertained. I don’t consider them as “uninvited guests” that lead others to ant-proof their feeders. And this concludes my essay on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”

 

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