sand dunes, ants
I was turkey hunting in the San Isabel National Forest. Four hens walked into my setup, but no toms. A trail camera I left in March showed one hen in the area 11 days prior.
After three days I drove south to Eagle Nest, NM, near Taos, for a long weekend. Public land in New Mexico ended up being closed due to wildfire. It was hot, dry, and windy.
After leaving Taos I came back to my spot in San Isabel for the last two days of spring turkey season. I’d been re-listening to an audiobook of Dune. Great Sand Dunes National Park sits between San Isabel and Taos. It got me thinking about desertification and giant sand dunes; wondering what kind of insects are able to carve out a life in such an inhospitable environment.
Check out this joker, the Circus Beetle, genus Eleodes. If attacked, a circus beetle does a head stand and farts toward the intruder. As they say, “play to your strengths”.
One of the ant species in Great Sand Dunes National Park is called the Sahara Desert ant, and it is famous for its navigation system.
The ants navigate the desert terrain by using both visual spatial memory and patterns in skylight. When light strikes the ant's ommatidia, it is uniformly mapped along the ant's eye, creating a grid that can be used to determine its location.
No known land animal can live permanently at a temperature over 50 °C, but Sahara desert ants push that limit. They can sustain a body temperature above 50 °C (122 °F) and surface temperatures of up to 70 °C (158 °F). If out in the open, they must keep moving or else they will fry.
They forage for the corpses of insects and other arthropods.
They are a member of the genus Cataglyphis.
These are my photography direction notes for making this into a video later:
Camera looking up at a massive sand dune in late evening light. The sky is mostly clear, stars aren’t yet visible, one wispy cloud drifts above the dune. The only sound and movement is sand being carried by the wind.
Zoom in on a rock resting in the sand. Camera is at the height of a human standing up.
Camera is at ground level seeing under the rock the desiccated remains of a moth. An ant is walking towards the rock.
Sound of sand blowing in the wind. It’s just getting dark enough that stars are starting to become visible. The ant navigation system is coming online.
Camera is about two feet above ground level, following a dozen or so ants who are transporting the moth. They navigate maybe 100 meters to get to the opening of their ant hill.
Zoom out on the ant hill to see it is somewhere on a sand dune, not far from some rock outcropping.