July 27th, 2009



   So I had a fun weekend, more on that when I have time to make a suitable update (and get some pictures up).

   I spent this evening reading about ants on wikipedia, because I'm a nerd like that. Ants you see are extremely closely related to bees (relatively speaking. they're in the same Order (Hymenoptera)) so I'd been wondering for awhile if they exhibited a number of traits I know bees have.

   It turns out that new queen ants do go on mating flights (yes flights, the queens and male drones are born with wings) just like bees. Then the drones die (just like bees). Unlike bees though then every mated queen ant finds somewhere to start a nest by herself. Digs a hole and starts laying eggs.

   Read up on army ants. Apparently we have them in the United States but no one notices because the species here are smaller and travel in smaller swarms and mostly at night. In Africa "driver ants" can kill people ... but they only travel 20 meters an hour so one can usually escape. There are species of birds that specialize in eating the insects fleeing in front of moving army ant swarms in South America ... and species of insects that specialize in eating the droppings of these birds!

   One thing I didn't know about army ants is many species, particulary the archetypical one have no permanent nest. They make a nightly nest out of the living bodies of their workers!!

   Also: "Members of the species has been observed using their bodies to block potholes in a path between the nest and prey. The ants will each walk to a hole and measure themselves to see if they are a fit for it and if they are, will lie across the hole to allow other members of the colony to cross at higher speed."

   Jack jumper ants (not a type of army ant) in Tazmania have a sting that can be lethal to humans and annually cause more deaths in Tasmania than spiders, snakes, wasps, and sharks combined! (such sauce!!)

   And speaking of stings...
Schmidt Sting Pain Index (full article)
   This (completely mad?!) scientist named Justin Schmidt apparently made an index of the level of painfulness of 78 species of Hymenoptera. This of course begs the question ... did he purposefully get himself stung by all these insects?!?!
   His reviews read like he's reviewing gourmet food or a fine wine:

1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch.
1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
2.x Honey bee and European hornet: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.
3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic & burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
4.0 Tarantula hawk: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.
4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.