It happened in an early summer thunderstorm with wind. The top of the red oak was broken. Not simply a limb, the entire top of the tree fell to earth.
It was my pleasure to clean it up for my neighbor today. While working from the top down, small limbs to the main trunk, the reason this oak snapped off became clear: ants
Precisely stated, the carpenter ant felled this mighty red oak. Based on its size, it easily weighed 5 tons from earth (we are not counting the roots!) to tip of the out most branches. Felled by ants.
The Red Oak tree will grow across most of eastern even southern United States. In fall its leaves are usually a brilliant burgundy. The acorns of the tree are highly desired by wildlife from squirrels to black bears. It is a majestic, beautiful tree. It is cold and winter resistant. It survives winter temperatures as extreme as -35 F.
This tree grew where temperatures regularly reach -20 to -30 F. At its base the trunk is about 30 inches in diameter, its large. Yet this large tree did not survive the onslaught of carpenter ants. From the point where the wind broke the trunk, carpenter ants had colonized the inside of the tree for a vertical distance of at least 12 feet. At the break only two inches of solid oak remained on the trunk. It did not take a severe wind-just a gust, and crack, the entire sizeable top came down.
While carpenter ants can be destructive in the wood of our homes, they play a vital role in the food chain of a forest where they are native. They break down wood. They do not eat it. While this tree was severely weakened to the point of breaking, carpenter ants hollow other trees creating nesting places for woodpeckers, ducks and mammals like squirrels, and raccoons. While the ants inside the trunk of this tree were safe from predators, wood peckers had been exploring what would have become a major banquet for a strong bird such as a pileated woodpecker if the tree had remained standing.
There were possibly 10 thousand individual ants in this colony. Likely there are nearly 10,000 more in the still standing and large trunk. Since they emerge from their colony after sunset, they escape daylight predators. They use chemicals to scent their trail back to the nest. Colonies may use the same trails for years. Worker carpenter ants come in 5 different castes. Only 10-15% of the workers are outside at any time searching for food including human food and of course insects. Inside workers are creating new nest space, caring for the larva, pupa and queen. Different sizes mean ability to do different things. Amazed yet? 10,000 individuals all with the same goal: a healthy colony. Does any ant stop its work and take a different task? Never, workers work whether inside the colony or outside.
How can a colony of 10,000 individuals consistently work together with an unchanging mission? Have we considered how 10,000 humans are able to work together? How do they-every individual-know what to do? How do we explain this always balanced work? Amazed is not strong enough-stunned is better. Finally, have we considered how these worker carpenter ants are able to chew through OAK-with insect mandibles?
The wisest man in the world, Solomon, an ancient king of Israel applied his God granted wisdom to explaining how things in nature worked. The Bible tells us he spoke 3000 proverbs. In one of them, Proverbs 6:6, Solomon reflects on the mind-blowing industry of ants. He said, “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazy bones. Learn from their ways and become wise .”
We can learn a great deal from the ants. They are plainly stamped with the initials of their Creator: God.