Myrmecia In The Mist
It’s February in Australia and it’s hot…. Really hot. The kind of hot that makes human activity reserved only for the absolute necessary. The thought of walking through a muggy forest in southeast Queensland at this time of year would make many screw their faces in derision, but that’s exactly where I’m going.
Finding a new Myrmecia queen is no easy task with most of my finds coming by pure chance. You can increase your chances however by being in the right places at the right times.
When searching for bull ant queens there is obviously no better place to look than the areas where they nest. Myrmecia love Australia’s sclerophyll forests and almost exclusively call them home. It would be a rare find indeed to come across a bull ant in suburbia, so you are going to have to be open to a little bushwalking. Basically you're looking for areas that are undisturbed by mankind. I particularly like walking those long stretches carved out of the forests between neighbouring towns to connect powerlines.
This dumped pile of sand that has been untouched for so long the rain has since washed it into a marvellous natural creation, would be an indication you're on the right track.
Myrmecia are truly fascinating ants in that they are able to see long distances and rely heavily on this sense in their daily activities. They don’t lay scent trails like most other ants and prefer to navigate using visual cues. I find nests will often be distinctively decorated or be positioned near a landmark location, which I believe helps the ants to find their way home. Take the forest trail below for example. Imagine you are a new queen, just landing on the forest floor, looking to start a new colony. Where would be a good location that would be easily found by a future disoriented foraging worker? Well, I would be looking at the base of the distinctive landmark tree on the left. On closer inspection I can see a beautifully decorated Myrmecia nigrocincta nest. When I’m searching for bull ants in the forest, landmarks rarely disappoint.
Attempting to excavate a nest is not advised. If you did somehow manage to get past all the tree roots, rocks and miraculously not get stung by the hundreds of angry and quite capable worker ants, you would also find it difficult to distinguish the queen from the seething masses. This would more than likely result in a destroyed nest and less new queens for everybody. Best to leave them to reproduce and just keep returning on a regular basis to watch for activity. Whilst walking this track I caught a glimpse of something dashing for cover under a leaf, without taking my eyes off that leaf, I took a container from my pocket and scooped her up. A Myrmecia chrysogaster queen.
It may be hot, but it’s also bull ant season and you can be sure you won’t catch one sitting in front of that fan. If you give nature a chance, I'm sure you will be impressed. Of course if this all sounds like a lot of work, you can always purchase one of the many queens from the ant store.
Best of luck :)