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   Undertoad  Wednesday May 24 02:46 PM

5/24/2006: Ant tunnels

Picked up by Boing Boing, suggested by multiple users, posted by glatt, and "nominated" for IotD in another Cellar thread.

How can you tell what ants are doing, when they build their nest? An ant farm shows it to you... as if the ants only had a little rectangle to build in, and if they only had to build it in two dimensions. Don't limit your ants!

This clever method of "excavating" ant tunnels is described thusly:

In the second method, the nest void was filled with a thin slurry of orthodontal plaster poured into the nest entrance (Williams and Lofgren 1988). This produced a (usually) perfect three-dimensional rendering of the nest's voids. The hardened cast was excavated and then reassembled to produce the finished cast. For reassembly, chambers were supported with steel rods driven into holes in a backboard. Because the shafts of P. badius are large in diameter, the thin slurry often completely filled a 3 m-deep nest in a single pour. The sandy soils of the Florida coastal plains allow the plaster slurry to displace the air within the chambers, filling them completely. Heavy clay soils often produce incomplete casts and voids within the plaster because of trapped air. Although a few images of the nest casts of several ant species have been published (Tschinkel 2003), the details of the nest architecture of P.+badius are presented here for the first time.
Good idea, and the result is as the above... an amazing 3D view of what the ants are really digging when they head underground.

Many more images are available at the gallery at the link above.

Griff  Wednesday May 24 02:49 PM

Can you see all the little carcasses up close or are they sealed in their rubbery grave?

Stormieweather  Wednesday May 24 02:53 PM

Cool! Their little tunnels even have switchbacks.

glatt  Wednesday May 24 02:54 PM

Reading the link, they mention different materials they had tried, including molten aluminum. They had a problem with their socks catching on fire when standing in the bottom of a two meter deep pit, trying to pour the molten metal down into the final portion of the tunnel system. Crazy scientists! I love 'em.

ferret88  Wednesday May 24 03:14 PM

kinda looks like a houseplant coated in something.

wonder how long it'll be before the scientists start to theorize about what each chamber was for.

Happy Monkey  Wednesday May 24 03:23 PM

Originally Posted by Griff
Can you see all the little carcasses up close or are they sealed in their rubbery grave?
The page mentions that the ants up and move to a new site multiple times a year, so the cast was probably taken after the nest was abandoned.

Griff  Wednesday May 24 03:36 PM

So, how am I supposed to get the insect rightists fired up?

rkzenrage  Wednesday May 24 03:43 PM

I want one of these recast in aluminum so bad!

milkfish  Wednesday May 24 04:06 PM

I'd looked the article up when I saw it on Boingboing. I think they mentioned that they would recapture the ants before making the cast, because I was wondering about that part too.

I liked the part at the end where they made an artificial nest, put ants in the chambers, and dug it up some time later (thus finding out that the young ants would go to the bottom and the older ones went to the top). Lots of fun was had by all, I am sure.

capnhowdy  Wednesday May 24 04:39 PM

A painstaking process to say the least. I'd like to have one.

Trilby  Wednesday May 24 04:48 PM

Is that some kind of deep-fried something or other?

Flint  Wednesday May 24 04:55 PM

Originally Posted by Brianna
Is that some kind of deep-fried something or other?
Yes, it's a deep-fried failure to read the thread title.
How did you know?

rkzenrage  Wednesday May 24 04:57 PM

How long before the first apt. complex or hotel reproduction?

Kagen4o4  Wednesday May 24 05:11 PM

imagine being an ant at the bottom and being told someone has some mad sugar at the bottom of one of the other tunnels. would you bother?

id be scared by ants if there were connecting tunnels. i mean really scared. it would show an intelligence like no other considering their size. i mean looking at that is amazing enough.

Flint  Wednesday May 24 05:28 PM

Originally Posted by Kagen4o4

id be scared by ants if there were connecting tunnels.
...what if the tunnels aren't connected for a reason?

BigV  Wednesday May 24 05:34 PM


Kagen4o4  Wednesday May 24 06:59 PM

Originally Posted by Flint
...what if the tunnels aren't connected for a reason?
then it may already be too late

xoxoxoBruce  Wednesday May 24 08:35 PM

The tunnels that go deep have few chambers. I wonder if they are looking for water or a temperature gradient, down deep?
Or maybe they are drains for excess rain.

C'mon folks, there must be an ant expert lurking out there.

rkzenrage  Thursday May 25 03:53 AM

If those are harvester ants, which I think they are, they do that because they get attacked (isolation of the enemy), and the chambers are grow areas for their gardens. Keeping them separated is about always having resources regardless of what happens anywhere in the colony as well... it is never just for one reason. They go deep for temperature control as well, the queen goes deep with the eggs.
Their mounds are often mistaken for fire ants for some odd reason.

"Myrmecologist Walter Tschinkel of the University of Florida holds up a partial zinc cast of a seven-foot-deep Florida harvester-ant nest. The flat chambers are living quarters as well as storerooms for seeds, which the foraging harvesters collect, shuck, and deliver to the workers underground for stocking and sorting."

LabRat  Thursday May 25 09:59 AM

Ants nests are cool hanging in a museum/lab/type place, but the little bastards are costing me $350 to get 'em out of my house. That's the going rate around here for 3 treatments to get rid of carpenter ants. They apparently decided that we have done such a nice job fixing up our house, they are moving in too. Blech.

wacho777  Friday May 26 04:08 PM

Why pay more

All you nead to get rid of ant is 1 to 10 borax and sugar mix with water and leave for the ants to find. takes 2 to 4 weaks 5 to 20 dolars and 10 minuts of work

capnhowdy  Friday May 26 04:51 PM

I'm no chemist, but did you mean boric or maybe boron?

Wouldn't your concoction/solution be dangerous to other wildlife?

Just wonderin'.........

wacho777  Friday May 26 05:00 PM

nope like the soap

Na2B4O7 -10H2O, Hydrated sodium borate

Kagen4o4  Friday May 26 06:39 PM

why just use boiling water? wont do much but would be more fun

BrianR  Saturday May 27 09:48 AM

Along those same lines, when I lived in Florida, I used 3:1 baking soda to sugar to get rid of the Paletto Bugs (aka roaches) without worrying about harm to my dog. He ate some once (ONCE!) and aside from some foaming at his mouth and a lot of burping he was fine. This was suggested by a vet so do not hesitate to try it with your insect problem. Children and household pets will be fine.


Elspode  Sunday Jun 4 02:28 PM

Originally Posted by Kagen404
id be scared by ants if there were connecting tunnels.
Actually, I see at least one tunnel connecting chambers on adjacent downlines. By this, I mean a ways down, rather than up high, where they are clearly connected.

I assumed the source of your potential fear was how they'd be able to know to dig across from chamber to chamber? Well, in at least one case, they did it in this example.

Kagen4o4  Sunday Jun 4 07:18 PM

where? i cant see it?

Elspode  Sunday Jun 4 11:33 PM


Kagen4o4  Sunday Jun 4 11:46 PM

i think thats just the angle. i dont believe they are connected, that chamber is coming towards the camera i think

Kagen4o4  Sunday Jun 4 11:47 PM

nice looking pets 'round ere

xoxoxoBruce  Monday Jun 5 07:24 AM

Another pic. If it is connected, it would explain why that one tunnel doesn't go as deep as the other three.

LabRat  Monday Jun 5 10:43 AM

Re: chemical vs. homemade insect repellants...

We have done a lot to decrease the attractiveness of our home to pests (de-humidifier, replaced mulch with river rock, boric acid powder in inconspicuous places) and last summer had no trouble. We decided this would be the best for us since I didn't want to have to be messing around with making bug stew every week. Within 2 days, no ants antwhere in or around the outside of the house at all. We had them come and spray on a Fri, when we were going to be out of town for the weekend. This treatment actually takes care of virtually all bugs. We try to go natural when we can, (I hand pull weeds, etc) but this was something I wanted taken care of NOW.

Kagen4o4  Monday Jun 5 09:04 PM

xoB thats the same pic with the guy cut out

xoxoxoBruce  Monday Jun 5 11:23 PM

Actually it's not, but unfortunately the same angle. I have the PDF of the story with several pictures but none of them show that juncture more clearly.

Elspode  Tuesday Jun 6 12:28 AM

I still think it is connected. If not, then the tunnel on the far left goes much, much further than any other tunnel without having a chamber. Not much logic in that, even for an ant.

Shawnee123  Wednesday Jun 7 11:31 AM

That just creeps me out.

xoxoxoBruce  Wednesday Jun 7 09:01 PM

Welcome to the Celler, Shawnee123. Stick around, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Your reply here?

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