Backyard Cataclysm

Backyard Cataclysm

I’ve taken to sitting and reading in a particular piece of lawn furniture on our back patio, a chair that bobs gently up and down, next to which is a little round table for drinks. I keep these in the same spot, where there’s a pleasant view of the house and trees, or at least I did until yesterday.

When I carried my current book and a big glass of Coke outside, I became dimly aware of something strange: the patio beneath the chair seemed to be undulating. Looking more closely, I saw that the undulation wasn’t the patio, but a torrent of ants—thousands of them, maybe hundreds of thousands, streaming from one side of the patio to the other in a band about six feet wide.

Startled and, yes, a little bit frightened, I looked more closely. These weren’t the friendly little black ants that we often saw out there; they were large and red, what I would call fire ants, though honestly I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Whatever they were, these guys were busy. The stream went in two directions: empty ants in one direction and loaded ants in the other. The loaded ants carried identical small white bits of what I assumed was food. I strained to see what the bits were but couldn’t. I considered stopping (okay, killing) an ant and checking out its cargo but decided not to. I tried to imagine carrying something that big, which for us, relatively speaking, would be about the size of a boulder.

I pictured one ant finding whatever it was, breaking off a piece, and racing back to show its friends. “Guys, look, look!” And off they went, the entire vast colony that lived (I now realized) beneath a tree in our yard.

I looked sadly at the spot where I like to read, where I would never again be able to sit because it had been taken over by ants. Sighing, I moved the chair and table away from the ants, then sat down and opened my book.

I glanced up every few minutes and soon realized that the undulations were letting up. Two minutes later, the torrent was gone. The ants had finished their work.

Amazed, wondering if my brain was failing—did I really see that?—I moved the chair and table back to the usual spot. Later I told Yvonne what had happened, and she gave me a funny look.

The next time I saw Dale, our pest control guy, I described what I’d seen and asked if he could explain it.

He said, “It was an ant colony moving its nest. The white bits weren’t food. They were eggs. Not many people ever get to see that.”

“Why do they move the nest?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Lots of reasons, or no reason. We really don't know.”

And so, once again I’m back in my spot, reading. More often now, I look up from my book and check the yard.

What else is out there?