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Harvester ants are restless, enigmatic architects

Why do Florida harvester ants dig complex, curly nests again and again?

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1:30pm, February 5, 2016
harvester ants

HOARDERS  Harvester ants gather thousands and thousands of seeds to store underground for future meals.

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Florida harvester ants “make a nest that is truly beautiful in its architecture,” says Walter Tschinkel. He has poured molten metal or plaster into the underground nests and dug up the hardened casts to reveal their multilevel shapes. Much about these ant nests, however, defies explanation.

For reasons still unknown, colonies of Florida harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex badius) abandon their lovely nests about once a year and dig a new one. At a study site Tschinkel calls Ant Heaven, the colonies typically move about two to six meters away from their old homes.

He and his students at Florida State University in Tallahassee have found no pattern to the shifts: no tendency to escape tree shade or seek more of it, or to edge away from big neighbor colonies. And the new nests look like the old ones: a tight cluster of interconnected, cookie-shaped chambers that dangle more chambers below on

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