I awoke at 2:30 in the morning to feel things falling on my head and biting me. I squashed what is was but they kept falling. I turned on my headlight to find the screen window above my head covered in ants. So much for a bug proof tent! I got out of bed shined my headlight around to discover that ants were EVERYWHERE! Driver ants. I quickly assessed the situation, threw on my robe, and then stepped outside. My headlamp was fading but I could see ant all along the perimeter of my tent and a meter or two out on both sides. I ran to the main reed hut for relief. As a ran my feet were getting covered in ants. I was also being bitten inside my robe. I am now wrapped in a chitenge (piece of African fabric the women wear) that I found in the hut.
For those of you that don’t know, driver (or soldier) ants are carnivorous and work as a group to bring down their prey. In 2009 at Kasanka me and my researcher friends experienced a group of millions of driver ants come from below ground and take out a wasps next. It was nighttime and the wasps couldn’t fly, they dropped to the ground and were quickly killed and eaten. By the morning the wasps nest no longer existed. I have heard stories of these ants taken down small injured mammals and slowly eating them to death. Fortunately, I don’t think they go after humans on purpose but if they are in your way they give a nasty bite and hold on tight. The most effective way to get them off is to take off your clothes and shake them out. This isn’t very convenient when in the field with a male scout. Instead I have to slowly pick them off.
I suspect my tent was in the way of their warpath and instead of going around they came right through. am now sitting in my main hut (Nsaka) where I do my work and eat just waiting for them to move on through. I have heard of this happening to people in their homes and Urs a German researcher I was working with had to evacuate his tent in the middle of the night in July 2009.
So how do the lizards play in? I have at least four resident lizards/geckos living in the thatch roof above my tent. Every morning at first light they begin scouring the tent for bugs to eat. They are quite handy and I believe we have a mutualistic relationship. Apparently however they are sleeping OR being eaten by ants.
I still have a few biters in my hair. The other day I was wondering if it would have been a good idea to shave my head because with this continual rain my hair doesn’t dry for hours. These ants are giving me yet another reason why this might be a good idea.
I wonder if the baboons have to deal with these ants or if their fur is too thick and/or they just eat them.
No matter, driver ants ARE a good alarm clock. While I am awake I might as well get some work done.
10 minutes later….now they have invaded the Nsaka! Wow they are efficient. Every cricket in here is now covered in ants and slowly being devoured. The ground inside and out is blanketed with these carnivores. I may have to go hide in the loo!