Monday, June 15, 2009

Leaf-cutter ants

I arrived in Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua, about a week ago, but internet at the biological station was spotty at best until last night. Right now it is actually reasonably fast, so I'm going to taunt the digital powers that be by attempting to upload a couple of videos of leaf-cutter ants marching along on the forest floor. These little videos, shot yesterday, may not be epic cinema, but in my humble opinion they're already more fascinating than certain Warhol cinematic releases, such as Sleep (1963). Judge for yourself.

video

This video shows leaf-cutter ants that have cut pieces of leaf from a tree carrying those pieces back to their nest. If you're a leaf-cutter ant, that's what you do for a living. Neither the beginning nor the end of the line was in sight, so you can imagine these little guys have a lot of walking to do. But, as the saying goes, many hands make light work. It's all very well organized: one line with ants carrying bits of leaf to the nest, and a parallel line of empty-handed ants going out to the tree to get more.

Cinéma vérité indeed. The possibilities for slapstick are obvious, I guess. At the beginning of this movie, one directionally challenged ant bumps into another ant, and they both get a little disoriented for a short while. But there is no street scene - the other ant simply takes a few paces to the side, and resumes his journey.

video

Note how in this movie ("Leaf-cutter Ants 2: The Sequel"), the ant in the middle has trouble keeping his load up, especially when another ant starts walking over the leaf bit while the first one tries to pick it up!

There is a bird here - Clay-colored Robin - with a variety of songs, including one that sounds exactly like the opening credits tune of old Laurel & Hardy movies. So for me it is really not hard to use my imagination here in the forest and look at animals performing little scenes out of silent era slapstick comedies, while hearing the signature tune to one of them.

Which reminds me - there was a girl at the Whitefish Point hawk watch last month who remarked that the Black-throated Green Warbler "sang the Ozzy Osbourne song". I've been mulling over that intriguing statement for weeks now, trying to figure out just exactly which Ozzy Osbourne song shares its melody with a Black-throated Green Warbler song. She made the remark in reference to the so-called 'unaccented ending' song of the BT Green Warbler: "zee zee zee zo zee". I'm not familiar with Mr Osbourne's entire back catalog, but I do know a few classic Black Sabbath tunes, none of which come to mind when listening to the warbler. It seems likely that the statement was made in reference to the reality show that the singer and his family had on MTV some time ago, and I just don't know which song they used on that. It can't be "Paranoid", can it?

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