Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is Ant Chat to Floral?

So I'm the host of Ant Chat along with Cody who hasn't been on the past few shows. But we keep in touch. Recently he was listening to a lot of the shows and said that it's way to floral. I'd like to address this now.

Yes a few of the shows have almost nothing to do with ants. The truth is I'd just like to turn it into a nature show with emphases on ants. And I talk about plants because it's so important to step back and look at what you're doing now and then. If the show were just about ants, it would consist of catching queens, digging up colonies and keeping them. There's a slight undertone there that nature is there for us to take advantage of, and I don't like that.

Yes I do catch queens which doesn't do a whole lot to the environment, I dig up colonies to common species which doesn't do a whole lot either. But the thing is there are people who take this to all new extremes. They find a swarm of ants and catch several hundred queens to one species. Catching so many queens of one species definitely puts a dent in the environment and I would only say it's ethical if this is done by a scientist or if it's a nonnative or invasive species. What are you going to do with 100 Lasius neoniger queens?

For people who buy exotic ants online, this is illegal in most countries but not commonly enforced. But let's ignore that issue for a moment. If you can't keep the ants alive locally to your area, what makes you think you can keep something more advanced?

I'll be addressing some of these things in future shows.

So I'm trying to inspire people to make the world a better place. There are reasons invasive ants are commonly found in your backyard. The image of that "golf course look" is one of them. For at least 200 years now we've been holding flower shows and competitions for good landscaping designs. People using foreign plants tended to win these because they competitions because they had something unique. These unique plants were loved and adored and people bought them on special order to make their landscape stand out. Eventually entire tree farms were devoted to nonnative plants and cultivars of these are mass marketed. Going to any garden center today I would say less than 5% of the plants there are native to the US.

When exotic sod (look at your front yard) was imported from South America it brought with it the invasive Red Fire Ant, Solenopsis invictia, which has decimated a huge chunk of ant diversity in southern states of the US and other countries. The Argentine Ant, Linepithema humile, likely came over with potted plants along with over 100 others nonnative species. Tetramorium caespitum is from Asia and no one knows how it got here but the pavement ant is commonly found in grass or along sidewalks. Myrmica rubra is from Europe and slowly taking over forests in the American North East. Monomorium destructor (The Destroyer Ant) is another invaisive in urban areas but isn't a horrable mennace yet. Where found though they've been known to remove protective rubber layers electrical work and phone lines and can nest in fabric.

So I like to talk about plants on the show in the hopes that I inspire a few people to improve their landscape. But it's hard to recomend native plants just for ants though. There are so many other benefits to these. Milkweed, Asclepias, is the host plant to the Monarch butterfly. But when they die back in the winter the stems are ideal for small colonies of ants to move in. Goldenrod, Solidago, is another one they can nest in but it's also a host plant as well very beneficial to pollinators. There are loads of plants ants will nest in the stems of. Some ants are specialized predators of caterpillars. Leaving dead wood around to decompose is greatly beneficial to the environment. Dead branches and trees also work, and if they're to far from anything to cause property damage don't need to be cut down. The ants and insects that normally take advantage of these will attract woodpeckers and offer a great spot for a grape vine to grow up.

The problem with this issue though is that I need time in order to show this benefit of gardening. One has to look at success in terms of years. Relandscaping your entire yard into a native plant paradice probably won't remove the nonnative ants form your area. But it will attract native ones to come in and eventally hopefully increase the biodiversity of your yard over a number of years.