Colonies at War

Where does all the time go?  Already in 2024, half the calendar is in the trash and the gasoline and gunpowder gang’s biggest holiday of the year is upon us.  Instead of bringing you the memory-making odors of quick-burning sulfur or the noise and multi-faceted irritations that revved-up combustion engines bring, we thought it best to provide our readers with a taste of history for this Fourth of July.  Join us, won’t you, for a look back at one of the many events that shaped the landscape of our present-day world.

The early morning’s sun had just begun bathing the verdant gardens of the olde towne centre with a warm glowing light.  Birds were singing and the local folk were beginning to stir in preparation for their day’s chores.  Then, suddenly, something was stirring afoot.

The great battle had commenced.  Within minutes, thousands of colonists spilled onto the pavement to join the melee and defend their homes.

There’s no towne crier spreading the word on horseback.  Sensing aggression from a neighboring colony, a worker Pavement Ant (Tetramorium immigrans) functioning as a sentry issues the alert.  The aroma of pheromones produced by the sentry warns of danger and calls other workers to drop what their doing and instead respond to defend the nest.
Pavement Ants Join the Fray
Engaged in a dispute over territory, two colonies of Pavement Ants clash.  Though native to Europe, there is no evidence of Napoleonic tactics in their warfare.  All maneuver seems to be by chance.
Two Colonies of Pavement Ants in Battle
The workers doing the fighting are the sterile daughters of the one queen in each colony.  In addition to defending the nest, they do all the foraging and care for the queen’s eggs and young.  The young in each nest are its workers’ sisters and will include one or more new fertile queens.  These new queens, along with fertile males (brothers of the workers), develop wings and fly away to mate.  After mating, a young queen begins a new colony, excavating her own nest wherein she raises a first brood of workers to tend her forthcoming generation of eggs and young.  As the new colony grows, the queen’s workers expand the size of the underground nest by carrying particles of soil to the surface, depositing them around the entrance as telltale mounds.
Male Pavement Ant Amid Fighting Workers.
A winged male Pavement Ant gets caught in the fury of combat.  His primary role in life is to make a nuptial flight and mate with a queen to start a new colony.

The fighting was at close quarters—face to face with dominant soldiers sparing no effort to prevail in the struggle.

Pavement Ants in Combat
Worker Pavement Ants, all females, assume the role of soldiers to defend their nest, their colony, and their queen.

After about an hour had passed, the tide had turned and the fighting mass drifted to the south of the battle’s starting point.  The aggressors had been repelled.  The dispute was resolved—at least for a little while.

Pavement Ants in Battle
Thousands of Pavement Ants at the high-water mark of their desperate struggle.  It was a fierce, jaw-to-jaw contest to tear one’s opponent to pieces.
Pavement Ant Casualty
A winged Pavement Ant, probably a male and not a queen, falls victim to the fighting (upper right).  This casualty will not take part in a nuptial flight and will not contribute its colony’s DNA to a new population of ants.
Aggressive Pavement Ants Repelled
The tide turns and the invaders from the south are pushed back in the direction from whence they came.  Within minutes, the soldiers transitioned back to being workers.  No visual signs of the fight remained; casualties were carried away.

It wasn’t a struggle for independence.  And it wasn’t a fight for liberty.  For the sterile Pavement Ant worker, all the exertion and all the hazard of assuming the role of a soldier had but one purpose—to raise her sisters and become an aunt.  Long live the queen.