Cowgirl ants have a flock of aphids exactly where they want them.
Having rained the day before, the sky hung low and menacing over the warm, muggy, quiet clearing. Strangely at that moment there were very few insects in a place I expected to see many. I was reminded of an old jungle movie. The words – “It's quiet. Too quiet!” – ran through my mind. Where were the bugs? It is unusual to not see any.
Just to have something to do I took a shot of a thistle in perfect full bloom and my eye was drawn to a dark spot behind a leaf axil. It moved, so I looked harder. It was a fairly large ant, nearly half an inch long, working diligently herding a flock of aphids. I have read about this behavior. The ants diligently protect and care for their charges. In return, the aphids secrete a sweet substance called honeydew, which the ants eat.
If the aphids are their cows and ant workers are all female, it makes them “Cowgirl ants.” Menace them with your finger and the ants will take a threatening pose, even attacking if you push it.
I took a few photos using the flash as supplemental illumination, finally returning my little camera to my pocket. It occurred to me to take another photo from a different angle. As I was retrieving the camera there was a flash. I thought I might have left it “on” until the flash I saw was followed by a very loud sharp thunder crack. Alone in an open clearing, I decided to let that last shot go and hustled my way out of there only to get drenched by rain on the way.
I guess the rest of those insects knew something I would have been wise to heed, that inclement weather was on its way.
Ants herding aphids.