Ants Do Heavy Lifting

July 2, 2014 at 6:38 pm (Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument, Dragonflies and Bugs, National Parks, Nature) (, )

Western harvester ants do some heavy lifting when finishing off their distinctive homes.

Their nests are covered with an even layer of gravel – most of which is pretty much the same size.  What to an ant must be like a 50-lb boulder to us is lifted with seemingly little effort. Apparently the gravel serves the same purpose as shingles on a house roof.  It keeps the wind from blowing away all their hard work, and also provides shade from the summer heat and releases a bit of warmth in the cool nights.

Paleontologists often find minuscule fossils such as teeth of small mouse-sized mammals decorating such abodes.  I thought you’d really have to be dedicated to ransack a nest of stinging ants to (maybe) find such artifacts.  But then I read the nests are examined in winter when the ants are hibernating, and care should be taken to only go through the top layer to avoid disturbing the nest that took so many so long to build.

The University of Colorado Museum of Natural History has an exhibit honoring the contribution of the western harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex occidentalis), called Tiny Collectors: Harvester Ants.  Check out the tiny fossils they have gathered!

You can also see the types of seeds these amazing little insects eat.  Those mandibles that so deftly handle the gravel are good seed grinders, too.

To learn more about the harvester ant, see this website. This nest is a fairly new one, and I passed by at night and saw they were still busy busy busy.  Must be the graveyard shift!  The video is at great magnification, so forgive the jumpy hand-held view.


Text and photographs copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

Feel free to reblog or share


Online gallery:  Smugmug and Fine Art America

Original hand-painted BW photographs for sale:  Etsy

Join my Facebook Page

Contact:  cindy at


  1. Pam Leonard said,

    They sure work hard, some of those rocks are bigger than they are.

  2. Pam Leonard said,

    Hey, thought I’d let you know I’m giving you a shout-out in my post this Tuesday!

    • Cindy McIntyre said,

      Hi Pam – that’s great! Your lichen images are wonderful. You do nice macro photography!

  3. TravelBug-Susan said,

    Just how do those ants decide exactly where to place a piece of gravel?

    • Cindy McIntyre said,

      Susan, I’ve wondered the exact same thing! Do they just drop a rock when they’re too tired to carry it any more? Do they look for a place that’s the same shape as the rock they’re carrying? Why do they pass over an open place and deposit the rock on top of another? I could watch them for hours and wonder…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: