Diary entry in June 2012: "Saw small ants crawling all over the sidewalk."
Almost every spring, we find ants on our kitchen counter and, each time, my wife, Mary Alice, goes ballistic. My usual comment is, "What harm can one little ant do?"
The small ants we watched crawling on the sidewalk most often have a small mound of soil pushed up through a sidewalk crack. For obvious reasons, these ants are known as sidewalk or pavement ants.
They are among the most common ants in the U.S. and not often thought of as being a problem - that is, until they decide to invade Mary Alice's kitchen.
The pavement ant, which is 1/8th to 3/16th of an inch long, is brownish black with pale-colored legs. If their colony is outdoors, it easily can be identified by a mound of soil covering the nest. The colonies are built beneath rocks, driveways, sidewalks and logs.
As the ants tunnel into the soil to excavate their colony, debris is pushed up through the top of its nest, forming visible mounds of sandy-looking soil.
These ants originated in Europe and were introduced into the U.S. several hundred years ago. They now are widespread and occur in all 50 states.
Because pavement ants are so tiny, they can enter buildings and homes through the cracks of foundations, doors, window frames and beneath siding. One of their most common entry points is under sliding doors.
Ants enter homes in large numbers in search of food, eating almost anything that humans consume and some things that we don't, such as live and dead insects. However, their preference is meat and grease.
The Bible tells us, "Go to the ant, O sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise." Ants always have been known for their intelligence and for being industrious.
An ant colony is made up of three types of ants: the queen (a fertile female); infertile females, which are the workers and soldiers; and the males.
The ants seen on sidewalks usually are workers.
In a typical ant colony, the outstanding figure is the queen, who is nothing more than an egg-laying machine. The queen only needs to mate once to be able to lay eggs continuously for the remainder of her life, which is about 15 years.
The queen usually is mated on a "marriage flight" that takes place on a warm summer day, with broods of winged males and females rising into the sky. After mating, the male dies and the mated queen bites off her wings and digs a hole in the ground.
She then produces her first brood and tends to them until they are mature. As soon as the young are able, they begin caring for the queen and enlarging the nest.
Worker ants (infertile females) have all the responsibility of maintaining the nest, even fighting to defend it; however, the responsibility for this remains with the soldier ants that have larger heads and stronger jaws.
Another species that builds mounds is the Allegheny mound builders, which is a native species that can be found along the Atlantic coast, from Nova Scotia, Canada, to Georgia and is named after the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania, where they are the most abundant.
The most conspicuous feature of this species is the large mound that it builds. The mound is excavated soil brought to the surface from chambers that extend deep into the ground.
Mounds can become 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall. The ants inject formic acid into plants and vegetation near the mound, causing the vegetation to die. A process called budding results in formation of new mounds as the ants spread out from the original mound.
When Mary Alice screams, "There's an ant," I know it will be all-out war until the bait is taken back to the nest and the ants disappear.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.