Living Sanibel: The facts about carpenter and antlions ants
Once again the sheer number of species prevents any possible identification of a single species of carpenter ants on the island. In the United States alone there are more than 20 different species of ants that are commonly called carpenter ants. The most common of this species is Camponotus pennsylvanicus, or common black carpenter ant.
In the wild, carpenter ants are an important link in the breaking down of dead falls and decaying wood. They carve extensive tunnels and chambers into rotting trees and may take as long as six years to establish a mature colony. They are heavily preyed upon by pileated woodpeckers, rats, mice, lizards, juvenile alligators, possums, armadillos and scores of other insects. The larvae are especially sought after and in the interior of Florida, they are a favorite food for black bears.
Carpenter ants can cause considerable damage to homes. This can be readily prevented by not allowing any moisture to collect in the home or by caulking up any cracks or entrances into the walls of the house. Generally speaking carpenter ants do not pose anywhere near the risk of termites to a homeowner. Some species, especially when disturbed, can deliver a powerful bite.
Worldwide, there are about 2,000 species of antlion. Florida is the antlion capital of the Eastern United States with a total of 22 different species present throughout the Sunshine State. Some of these live exclusively in gopher tortoise burrows, while others do not make the familiar antlion traps at all.
One of the most common places to find antlion larvae is in areas of soft sand where there concave ant traps resemble upside down volcanoes. As their name implies, their favorite food are ants, which fall into the trap and start sliding down the steep slope toward the bottom. Once the waiting antlion detects a victim, it throws sand up above the ant creating a small avalanche that helps to bring the ant into reach. The antlion then grabs the ant with its formidable jaws and injects it with a digestive venom that consumes all but the hard shelled exoskeleton of the insect.
Oddly enough, the larval antlion does not have an anus. All the metabolic waste that is generated during their brief larval stage is stored and eventually emitted as meconium when the adult antlion, which resembles a large damselfly, emerges from its pupal cocoon a month later. Although the larval antlions are seldom preyed upon while in their traps, adult antlions are taken by nighthawks, bats and rodents. Adult antlions exhibit the greatest disparity in size between larva and adult of any of the metamorphic insects.
This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.