August 24, 2021

After work yesterday Melissa went out on our front porch to water the succulents suffering in the intense heat.  Even though they are not in direct sunlight, the 100+F temperatures are taking their toll.  I must keep reminding myself that succulents are not cacti.  When she spritzed one of the plants with water there was a huge explosion of movement.  At first Melissa was not sure what it was but only a swarming mass of small bugs that immediately began to climb from the table toward the eaves of our house.  After the initial shock she realized they were carpenter ants, and almost every ant was carrying what I thought to be an egg case to safety.  The exterminator is returned this morning.

When I looked online, I found that Carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.) are large (0.3 to 1.0 inch or 0.76 to 2.54 cm) ants indigenous to many forested parts of the world.  They build nests inside wood consisting of galleries chewed out with their mandibles, preferably in dead, damp wood.  Unlike termites, they do not consume wood, but instead discard the chewed material that resembles sawdust.  While their ability to excavate wood helps in forest decomposition as carpenter ants hollow out sections of trees, they also infest wooden buildings and structures causing major structural damage.  The genus includes over 1,000 species.  

Carpenter ants are considered both predators and scavengers.  The ants are foragers that typically eat parts of other dead insects or substances derived from other insects.  Common foods include insect parts, “honeydew” produced by aphids, or extrafloral nectar from plants.  They are known for eating other sugary liquids such as honey, syrup, or juices.  They also farm aphids.  In farming, the ants protect the aphids while they excrete a sugary fluid called honeydew, which the ants get by stroking the aphids with their antennae.  Carpenter ants can increase the survivability of aphids when they tend them.  While they tend many aphid species, they can express a preference for specific ones.  Seems another example of the teacher’s “pet.”

Thoughts:  Melissa found critical information when she researched why her large succulents were dying.  She had asked other growers and they had all suggested the problem was likely overwatering.  After the exterminator left Melissa was checking her plants and squeezed one of the dying plants.  Once again, the ants swarmed from inside the lobe.  What she found (and confirmed online) was that she had an aphid infestation on her plants.  As the plants decayed, they released a sweet sap that attracted the ants.  The “egg cases” being whisked away by the carpenter ants were likely tiny aphids the ants were protecting.  Now that the pieces have come together, Melissa can resolve the issue of dying succulents.  The same can be said for the rapid development of the vaccine.  Researchers had to determine the root cause of the virus to determine how to fight it.  Once the genetic stain was identified it could rapidly be addressed and a viable vaccine created.  Problem, analysis, solution.  That is why they call it science.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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