I timed an ant this evening, walking (if you can call it that – “drunkenly stumbling”?) across our front yard with an elm seed as big as she was.
The ants have been with us forever, a big colony living under our driveway about midway between the house and the street. I’m pretty sure they were there when we moved in, and for a long time, before Sadie joined us, I thought of them as our pets. They seem to be seed eaters, because you can sit on the front porch and spot them from a long way away, carrying these gigantic elm seeds over to their hole.
The elm’s seed sits at the center, surrounded by a thin membrane that must act a sail, carrying the elm seed in the wind or something. So the ants have to pick this thing up by the edge and carry it in front of them, and the seed is as big as they are. They sort of flop around, and the ants tip over from the unbalanced weight, or maybe from the elm seed blowing in the wind. It’s hard to imagine how arduous a task this must be. But if you sit back on our front porch and squint, you can see the little flashes of white, several at any one time, as the ants trudge holeward with what I assume must be a great feast.
This evening, I wandered over to watch one, follow it back to the hole. Scaled up, I imagine it being sort of like one of us stumbling a great distance carrying a large blowup kids’ pool that flops some in the wind. Except that we’re carrying it in our mouth, so we can’t really see where we’re going.
My understanding of ants is that the leave pheromone trails for one another, so their little brains don’t have to know much more than “have food->go up gradient”. My ant followed a curving path, but then at the last minute, as she was approaching the hole, veered off in the opposite direction. The final approach looked like a random drunken walk, but eventually she ended up at the hole. At which point she set the seed down, and a bunch of ants converged to work on it.
I was so fascinated that I forgot to look at my watch. I have no idea how long it took her to walk across the yard.