National Geographic : 1974 Jul
BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC NATURAL SCIENCE PHOTOGRAPHER ROBERT F. SISSON Bulldog Ant LOW MOUND OF SANDY SOIL rose amid the eucalyptus trees. "Don't get too close or even cast your shad ow on the openings," Australian scientist Robert Taylor warned. But my photographer's curiosity got the better of me. Suddenly a stream of inch-long ants boiled out of the entrances. A few managed to climb my pants legs before I escaped the pursuing furies. Dr. Taylor-who had told me that thirty stings by these bulldog ants could kill a man-carefully plucked them off with long tweezers. But one eluded him. I felt something like a hot needle on my knuckle and looked down to see tenacious jaws grasping my flesh as a poisonous stinger stabbed deep. I felt waves of pain that would stay with me for ten days. "I warned you," reminded Dr. Taylor, one of the world's authorities on ants, including Myrmecia gulosa. I had come to Australia to try to capture on film the fascinating and little-known home life of these giant ants. While I nursed my wound, we returned to Dr. Taylor's laboratory in Canberra to set up a colony I could study and photograph over the next ten weeks. With glue and sand, we patiently formed tiny cham bers and tunnels for a glass-fronted plywood nest. Hypodermic needles, some mounted through the back of the home, provided water for drinking (left) and for humidity. Some 200 bulldogs took to our idea of what a nest should be. Soon the labyrinth of gal leries looked like a tiny Grand Central Sta tion. The ants scurried about, excavating, cleaning, and repairing; nurses tended the young; foragers hunted for food. At the hub of activity was the queen, a matriarch of absolute power. Without her tremendous egg output, the colony would ex pire; she alone lays eggs that hatch workers and daughter queens. Once a year the ants produce a few males for the sole purpose of joining virgin queens in a once-in-a -lifetime nuptial flight. The young queens leave dying lovers in their wake, then discard their tem porary wings and go underground to found colonies of their own.