Monday, February 16, 2009

Ant hills and flickers

Wildlife gardening is not just about birds and butterflies, but about other insects that are often ignored or thought of as “pests.” Today I watched a couple of northern flickers excavate one of our ant hills apart looking for ants (see photo above of excavated ant hill). In the late winter, flickers dig up the nests and eat the cold ants . When it is cold the ants move slowly and offer little resistance against predators.

In our yard we have a couple of ant hills that are home to a unique species: the thatching ant. They are common in the forests and grasslands around Missoula but few people know how interesting they are. Thatching ant hills get up to almost 3 feet tall and may be used for many years. Ants build their hills under trees or shrubs like sage on the prairies, where they are protected from weather.

On hot days, you will see the colony busy with many ventilation holes open. This allows hot air to escape so the hill stays cool inside- just like people do to cool off their houses in the summer. This keeps the larvae and the queen from getting too hot.


  1. This blog is wonderful. I hope you keep it up.

  2. I've seen these hills in Idaho too. Of course they gave me the heebie-jeebies then, now I may look with a new eye. Interesting.

  3. Don't get me wrong, they are pretty creepy, but cool at the same time.
    Thanks for your comments-

  4. Very interesting I always keep coming..

  5. So glad to have found this! I just discovered I have one in my yard and was fairly freaked out until I saw yours. Amazing that it took me a while to "find" the mound, as large as it is, but its been "hiding" in a mass of neglected shrubs. Any issues about these in an urban setting?

  6. Hi Pam,
    Thanks for your comments. The only issue about these hills in an urban setting is that you don't want them right next to a building. There are a lot of ants involved, and they could be a nuisance if they get into your house, or other stuff (walls, basement, etc...). But otherwise they are really neat and educational.