Treasures of Oz

Celebrating the Natural Gems of Ozaukee County


Written by Super Admin

The Ants of CESA

A few years ago, BugFan Marjie (and several other folks) had a fantastic idea. They wanted to get people out on the trails of the natural areas here in Ozaukee County (Wisconsin). The plan – to staff different sites each year with interpreters, send people on their way with passports to be stamped at each destination, and finish the day with a big party at the Mother Ship - Forest Beach Migratory Preserve. The event – Treasures of Oz. Over the past five years, many thousands of people have made the acquaintance of county nature preserves that were not on their radar before.

This year, Marjie asked the BugLady to be part of the team at the Cedarburg Environmental Study Area (CESA), a property owned by the excellent Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which sponsors Treasures of Oz (find descriptions and trail maps of all their preserves at The CESA site hosts some phenomenal, six-feet-wide ant mounds, and the ant story needed to be told. The BugLady was dubious - the general population, she has noticed, isn't that inspired by bugs, and besides, due to a misspent youth, the BugLady is a tiny bit ant-averse.

First off, what kind of ants are they? BugFan Tom rounded up an ant guy in Mississippi who, of course, requested some ants. The BugLady figured that she would place an old film canister (younger BugFans might have to Google "film canister") on the top of a pretty active mound, and maybe some ants would climb in. What could go wrong? As soon as the canister landed on the mound, ants came pouring out, covering the top of the mound and covering the film canister, inside and out. Now what? The BugLady fished it off with a stick, managed to cap it, and rolled it around a bit to loosen the exterior ants.

The ants were dispatched to Mississippi; the postal worker who asked if the parcel contained "anything liquid, fragile, perishable, etc." didn't ask specifically about ants. Joe, the ant guy, made short work of the ID – the ants are Formica montana, in the wood/thatch/field/mound ant family Formicidae. The genus Formica includes a bunch of mound-building ants that use different construction strategies in varying habitats. Besides mounds, they are famous for defending themselves by spraying formic acid and by biting (often using the "bite-first-then-spray-the-irritating-chemical-into-the-wound" strategy).

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