Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the February 13, 2005 Newsletter written at Hacienda Komchen de Los Pájaros just outside Dzemul, Yucatán, MÉXICO

Approaching Komchén's main living area on Monday morning I found a bit of commotion. A dark smudge of army ants was swarming across the shop's walkway into the bushes before the library. Ana María and Lino were on hand and I heard Ana María exclaim "Pobrecita" ("Poor little thing...") as she rushed to the ant- smudge front and scooped something into her bare hands.

She'd saved a mature tarantula somewhat larger than the top of a coffee cup. It was a black one with long, stiff, red-orange hairs mantling her abdomen. The creature had been chased from her nest by the ants and at that point 20-30 ants were still on her, tearing at her body. Ana María carried her to a quiet spot, put her down, and set about squirting water on the ants, trying to redirect them away from where guests were sleeping.

The tarantula remained where Ana María placed her for at least 20 minutes, moving not at all as the ants continued trying to dismantle her. However, the ants couldn't get past the creature's stiff, sharp hairs. The ants did manage to cut two small bunches of hairs from her, fashion them into rough balls, and begin moving the hair-balls through the grass.

However, now those ants had been separated from the main ant swarm and were receiving no chemical instructions from their peers, so they really had no idea where to go with their booty. Eventually they just wandered off individually, directionless. As the tarantula found herself more and more free of ants she began twitching her legs, clearly getting ready to move on. Sad for her, even if she could find her nest again, her babies had surely been cut to pieces and carried off by the ants.

So, that morning, both army ants and tarantula had had their lives drastically rearranged. Ana María had interviened on behalf of the tarantula, but I had just stood there watching, feeling equally allied to ants and tarantula.

One other thing -- as the army ants continued advancing through the herbage, some Hooded Warblers and Ovenbirds overwintering here from North America appearead to be having some fun. They fed on many small insects abandoning their hiding places as they tried to escape the ant hoards