The Insect Underworld
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The Insect Underworld

Common insects find urban life so accommodating that their populations explode and they form super colonies consisting of a series of underground chambers.

In 1963 in central Cappadocia a large labyrinth was discovered quite by accident. Other discoveries followed, and now we know of 150 underground sites, most still unexcavated. Previously there was little to attract tourism in this small town, but Turkey has since opened access to some of the underground cities of Cappadocia and visitors now enjoy them. Yet as fascinating as they are, my mind focuses upon the likewise remarkable insect underworld and wonders such as the amazing underground cities of insects

Chief among the underworld insects are the ants. The leafcutting ant has one of the most complex social structures in the world. The leaves the ants carry to their nest are 30 times their weight, a feat equivalent to a human carrying a bulldozer. They build mounds containing three hundred and fifty cubic meters of soil, right above an underground city of three thousand chambers and four million ants, the approximate population of Arizona.

Likewise, researchers who study insect behavior, have discovered that those common household ants you see in your home have found urban life so accommodating that their populations explode and they form super colonies consisting of a series of underground chambers, connected to each other and to the surface of the earth by many small tunnels. This is a surprising discovery because usually in forest settings, these ants number around only 50 to a colony with one queen. However, in urban areas, they seem to multiply by around 1.2 million times, with more than 6 million workers and 50,000 queens within a single colony. These common ants that are referred to are odorous house ants  originally lived in the forest, but over time they migrated to more urbanized areas in search of better living conditions. They're called odorous because they have a coconut, or rum-like smell when crushed. They're considered one of the most common house ants you will ever find in your own home.

I will never forget the occasion when I witnessed millions of these ants flowing out from the earth like a river. It seemed there was no end to them and it was impossible to believe what I was seeing. I am not certain what event triggered this eruption of living creatures pouring like lava from the inner earth, but they seemed especially fond of a type of caterpillar which was heavily populating the area.

Another amazing underground dweller of the insect world is the remarkable mole cricket. They spend most of their lives burrowing underground. Their spade-like front legs are used for digging and resemble the feet of a mole or tiny hand. They have a dense coat of fine hair that prevents dirt from sticking to their body. They lay their eggs in tunnels and both the adult and the nymphs feed on the roots of plants.

There is a usually harmless spider called the trapdoor spider that makes long burrows in the earth, lining them with silk. They fashion at the entrance a, hinged, accurately fitting trapdoor often made of alternate layers of earth and silk. The upper surface of the door may be covered with earth or gravel, thus disguising the entrance.

The nests of trap-door spiders are generally in groups. The young hatch in the burrows of their mothers and live there for a few weeks; they then leave the nest and begin small underground burrows of their own. Trap-door spiders subsist largely on ants and other insects

The cicada killer is a solitary wasp, however several females will work together to build a nest of branching tunnels with two or three cells at the end. From one to two cicadas are placed in each cell. The venom from the sting does not kill the cicada; rather it keeps it alive in a state of suspended animation. A single egg is laid on the last cicada of each cell, and the cicada serves as food for the emerging baby wasp. One amazing fact about this enormous wasp is its strength. It will sting a cicada on the ground and carry it as it tediously climbs to the top of a tree. From there it will launch into flight still carrying the cicada as it brings it to the underground nest. Although they are very large and intimidating, they seldom sting humans. They protect their underground lair by buzzing so loudly when the nest is approached that it sounds like there is a whole colony buried in the soil. The noise serves to drive would be predators away

The ant lion larva is one of nature’s clowns. The adult resembles a damselfly, but the larvae dig pits in the sandy soil and hide in a burrow at the bottom of the funnel-like pit. When an ant or other insect tumbles into its pit the little ant lion tosses sand at it to cause it to fall into its open jaws waiting at the bottom. They are easy to catch and much fun to watch.

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Comments (6)

I used to drink coffee with sugar and remember one morning watching an ant that had apparently drunk my sweet coffee. He was staggering around in circles, probably from caffeine and sugar overdose. The insect world is fascinating to watch.

Interesting chronicle of the ant world. Reminds me of Ant Z.

Intriguing title, superb article Londis.....keep it up!

Wow! Fascinating article. There is nothing I hate more than ants. I would rather have spiders any day. I think there is a gazillion ants living under my patio.( *shudder*) Every year I take steps to eliminate them with diazinon and various other things but they always come back. rt'd and voted up

Interesting things about these critters.

Thanks for sharing...