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Dork (Dayton)

Picking Logs and Finding Campos

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1 - It is rare that we ever even do that unless the logs are going to be trashed or burned or whatever such that anything living there will be killed anyway.  We will roll logs and lift stones, but rarely break apart stuff that isn't doomed already. That said, we take every opportunity we have to go through "doomed" wood whenever we can, have done it a bunch and have many queens and founding colonies to show for it.

2 - I realize that I am kinda "militant" about this stuff.  But, remember, when you trash a log you are destroying a microhabitat that is a very limited resource and environment in many ecosystems.  And if you've ever done it, you've seen just how many organisms depend on rotting logs. So you are displacing multiple species and reducing the lifetime of that log as a home from 5+ years down to one.  That’s an 80% reduction!

3 - If you're going to do it, IMO, you will kill queens if you swing a claw hammer like that video shows.  Besides, if the wood is so tough that you need that degree of force, it's not rotten enough for a founding queen to set up shop in anyway.  You might find established colonies in tougher wood, but you're not going to get those queens very often anyway and will likely just stress or kill the colony.  You want founding queens ... stick to the superficial rotten wood that comes up easy with the flick of a pocket knife. We generally slide a pocket knife into a seam and gently twist or lift.  Work the surface of the log and leave the deeper stuff alone. That way you destroy less habitat and leave the rest of the log to rot again next year.

4 - If you see that huge scatter of ants, STOP! (unless the log is doomed anyway)  That’s an established colony and your chance of getting that queen is pretty low. She will be deep and protected.  Or you may be in a satellite colony if it’s mature such that she’s not even there. Another good “stop sign” is majors.  If you see majors, you KNOW there are at least 100 workers in that colony. In other words, it’s NOT a founding colony and, hence, your chance of collecting it and getting the queen is considerably lower.

5 - Campos are not like other species.  They don’t do the “Formica freakout” when uncovered.  When a founding Campo queen is exposed, she will often just sit still or bury her head in the most concealed part of the remaining chamber.  And if most of her cell is intact, she will almost always just “hide in plain sight”. Her workers will scatter. But they will also come back if you leave the queen there.  Be patient. A typical Campo founding chamber from the previous year will have 6-8 workers in the Spring, 15-20 in the Summer and 30-35 in the Fall. If the queen is staying still, get the workers first.  They are critical.

6 - If the logs you are looking through are small, carry them to concrete before picking through them.  When workers scatter, you can cup them easily and collect them later. And a queen will almost NEVER disappear into the leaf litter when on concrete.  Right?

7 - If you are working over leaf litter, bring a large bin.  We use a 1’ x 2’ tupperware container to put under wherever we are working.  So when you lift up that bark and ants fall out, they fall into your bin and not the leaf litter nether.  We also bring a fluon lined 5 gallon bucket. If ants fall in the bin, dump them into the bucket and pop the bin back under your work area.  It’s MUCH less likely the queen drops into the “leaf litter oblivion” that way. Also, that 5 gallon bucket is perfect to place a large piece of wood with ants all over it so you can go though it later when you’re not freaking out about all the ants scattering.  And ALWAYS put the queen in a snap cap or cup and NOT in a big bucket. Protect her.

8 - Speaking of the queen, I would never, EVER use forceps on a queen.  Even soft tip forceps can cause mortal injuries. The queen usually isn’t in freak out mode and, frankly, it’s just not necessary.  Take your time and gently pick away the surrounding wood while making sure if she falls, she goes in your bin or onto the concrete. If she runs, just block her towards your container or cup her if you are able.  We bring toothpicks and Q-tips to coax queens out. We also often have used those maple tree “helicopter seeds” as little brushes to bring them out of their chambers. Blowing into the chamber is a good way to agitate both workers and queens to get them to show themselves without having to “dig” them out and risk injury.

9 - We all love ants and we all want to find and collect any and all we can.  But, remember, experts estimate that only about 1% of all queens in a given nuptial flight survive through the founding stage.  That means every time you collect a solo queen who’s walking around after her flight looking for a place to found, you only have a 1% chance of actually preventing a successful future founding colony.  It’s a small risk. However, if you collect (or accidentally destroy) a founding colony, there is a 100% chance of preventing a successful future founding colony. It’s 100 times the risk. If you really love ants, keep that in mind before breaking out the claw hammer on every rotten log you come across.

10 - Instead, talk to people about “doomed wood”.  If you ask around, you will be amazed at the number of friends, family and co-workers who have wood piles that are doomed.  And the vast majority of folks are happy to allow you to come over and look. Picking through these actually puts you in the position of savior.  If you don’t pull those founding queens and colonies out of there, they will be discarded in a dumpster or burnt alive in a fireplace. It’s a great feeling.

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