Shoe and others will remember our long discussion about Atta texana, the Texas leaf cutter ant. Well, this is the time of the year when okra, their favorite, is prime. I noticed some scouting activity yesterday - a few of the cutter caste checking-out the tall okra with their highly specialized mandibles - and I knew they would attack in force last night.
I got-up at 3:00 this morning and was patrolling the perimeters of the okra patch by 3:30. I soon found them. The cutters had stripped several plants completely of leaves, with piles of neatly cut pieces, about the size of a dime, under the skeletal reamins of each plant. Tens of thousands of transporters, each carrying a piece of okra leaf that weighed several times their own weight, stretched off to the north, through my fence and on into the heavily wooded hunting club that borders my land.
I followed the trail, armed only with a flashlight, into the hunting club, and soon found myself in a dense youpon thicket that a snake would have trouble navigating. Nonetheless, I stayed focused on the ant trail, which was very difficult to follow. The forest floor was covered with dried leaves and the trail would disappeared under the leaf cover from time to time. Worse, they made numerous "s' curves and even a couple full loops. My arms were bleeding all over from the youpon, mosquitoes were eating me alive, I was in prime Copperhead habitat and narrowly avoided a large, sleeping, paper nest of Bald-Faced Hornets. I was sweating so profusely in the high humidity of the woods that my eyes burned and I couldn't see much through my fogged-up glasses..
But I persevered and eventually found their entry hole, well-concealed beneath a rotten log. Then it dawned on me - I had left the gasoline can (our only effective control) back in the utility wagon! I had to at least mark the hole with something so I could return in the morning with the gas can. Trouble was, all I had was a large, yellow flashlight. Since there was a little moonlight filtering through the tree canopy, I decided to leave the flashlight on the rotten log as a marker and work my way back to the fence - likely a few hundred yards away by now.
I thought I knew the way back to the fence, even in the dark, but nothing looked familiar. I was disoriented, having lost any sense of direction after focusing so narrowly on the winding ant trail. I realized that I had been travelling the wrong way. I needed to go south - but which way was south? Being lost in the woods brings out a sort of primeval fear, and I felt a brief sense of panic - like Henry Fonda in the movie "On Golden Pond". It was about 4:30 by now. I got a grip, sat down and waited for the sun to rise. The mosquitoes were undeterred and I was not a happy camper for the next two hours.
I found the yellow flashlight okay later and gave the colony about a quart of 87 octane unleaded - and hope the fumes found the queen. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if they return tonight and I'll have to repeat the process again. But next time I'll have a can of Off and my Boy Scout compass.