18 August, 2014

Harvester ants and harvester termites with Malmesbury gousblom

by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity

Harvester ants

Indigenous ants are a vital part of the web of life, especially these harvester ants which live on seeds. At the entrance to the nest is a heap of husks. Some of the seeds which they take underground into their nests are able to grow, and they work at seed dispersal. They live in “dry areas” - Field guide to insects of South Africa, by Mike Picker, Charles Griffiths, and Alan Weaving.

Harvester ants bearing gousblom seeds

Harvester ant with gousblom seeds

These ants were carrying bundles of mauve fluff in August 2009. What on earth is it? But ants can’t walk that far, then we saw the seeds of the Malmesbury gousblom. Which to our neighbours is green, nasty, take it away.

Gousblom gone to seed

Arctotis candida is an annual, restricted to clay soils around Malmesbury - South African Wild Flower Guide 7 – West Coast, by John Manning and Peter Goldblatt.

Arctotis candida in August 2009

One of the Ungardener’s free spirited plants. Leaves like a fleshy version of the dandelion, slightly fluffy and delicately shaped. It trails and sprawls, and is generous with its subtle two toned yellow flowers. The central disc florets are black.

Harvester termites - Tiny assistants clear gravel paths

The soul of the white ant by Eugene Marais. 1925 in Afrikaans, 1937 in English. From Wikipedia - Embittered by the horrors of the Boer War, Marais refused to translate his works into English. His book was plagiarized by Nobel laureate Maurice Maeterlinck, who published "The Life of the White Ant" in 1926, falsely claiming many of Marais' revolutionary ideas as his own.

Now we call white ants termites. Harvester termites. I mulch the garden with chipped prunings. They harvest, inch by inch, and take it away underground, where they digest the cellulose. A few favoured plants get the termite treatment. Disconcerting, when bits of lavender, Pelargonium or Coleonema wave goodbye, as they walk away. Neatly trimmed, taken to the nest entrance, left in the sun to dry, until ready to take down below.

The harvest of the harvester termites

When we first came to our empty plot, the termites were responsible for zoning regulations. We had crop circles, fairy circles. Especially the lush winter weeds were manicured down to perfect velvet like a putting green. Now the harvest is often left stacked up on the gravel path. My tiny six-legged assistants, who are NOT on lunch, unless the weather is grey. They only work when the sun shines. Gathering up the seeds from the ash trees, mowing the winter grass. If I want to defend a waving-in-distress plant, I just have to water it.

Harvester termites making hay while the sun shines

The termites with red helmets are the soldiers for defence against ants, white heads are just the workers.

One harvester termite hauling his 'log'

Imagine a lumberjack, lifting a tree as large around as he is and five six seven times as long. Then carrying it across this monumental gravel path. Glacial moraine. They move so fast, the camera and I had great difficulty capturing them.

Harvester termites ready to fly in November 2007

Ready to fly, back in November 2007.

Fly casting its shadow on my mother's white Pelargonium
(all pictures on this post taken with our 2 departed cameras
which were MUCH better at the macros I love)

Closing gently with a flower fly casting its shadow on my mother’s white Pelargonium.

Pictures by Diana and Jurg Studer of  Elephant's Eye
(in Porterville, near Cape Town in South Africa)

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  1. Dear Diana,
    great pictures! The ants in the first look like dancers in Rio, with feathers on their heads.

    1. when we first saw them, I was utterly mystified!

  2. We had termites in our lawn in our old, old house in Fourways. They wrre very unwelcome because they dessimated the lawn :(

    Gorgeous photo's as always :)

    Any news on your potential house sale - have been thinking about you for most of the weekend.

    1. No lawn, no worries.

      Our house is under offer, still WAITing for theirs to sell in turn. Tantalising!!

  3. Interesting perspective on termites and harvester ants. We don't have termites here in the north, but we do have lots of fascinating ants and other insects. Last summer late in the growing season, I watched a nest of flying ants disperse to form nests for the winter--it was fascinating! Great post!

    1. as I watch, they each seem, such a quiet and efficient society.

  4. While the strength and determination of ants is amazing...I would sometimes wish they could live somewhere else then my front porch.


    1. these harvester ants are welcome in the garden. Not so happy with the others which are nesting over the winter in my potted plants. But.

  5. Always interests me to watch ant and termites working and lugging stuff so much bigger than themselves.

  6. Amazing photos, Diana. There is so much going on in the natural world if we just stop and pay attention.

  7. Fascinating! Your amazing photos give us an appreciation of these tiny creatures, though my thoughts about termites have not been so kind since they decided to eat part of my little blue woodland bridge!

    1. oh, sob, I love your little blue bridge!
      Grateful that our termites simply harvest mulch, and don't chew wood.

  8. Insects are so fascinating and yours are really interesting Diana. Our ants also spread seed around...but I have never seen this type of termite...luckily we do not have issues with termites here but the ants can certainly get into everything..


Photographs and Copyright

Photographs are from Diana Studer or Jurg Studer.
My Canon PowerShot A490

If I use your images or information, it will be clearly acknowledged with either a link to the website, or details of the book. If you use my images or words, I expect you to acknowledge them in turn.

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