Banging Ant Tree Falls

Last July I wrote a story about an unusual snag I found on the other side of Kickin’ Mule Creek. The base of the standing Ponderosa Pine was covered with ants, and I heard a distinct banging sound coming from this part of the tree. The sound was a sharp snap, like a woodpecker’s hammer but brighter. I was sure it wasn’t a woodpecker, because the sound was coming from the entire lower eight feet of the tree.  I photographed ants excavating tunnels in the bark, and I thought the banging sound might be connected with the ants’ activity.

The banging ant tree as it looked in July 2011.

 

After a few months the tree became silent. I never found out the source of the banging, and perhaps it was not the ants for a friend contacted the world’s expert on ants—E.O. Wilson, and he was kind enough to reply and tell us he really wasn’t sure what type of ant would make exactly the sound I described.

A sharp repetitive banging sound emitted from the lower eight feet of the Ponderosa Pine snag, and the banging lasted for weeks before the tree grew silent. The cause of the banging was never explained.

 

This past spring during a fierce windstorm, the banging ant tree fell. I found it lying on the woodland floor when the water level in the creek lowered enough that I could pick my way to the other side.

The banging ant tree has fallen.

 

Now that the snag is down, the ants seem to have left the tree.  This presents another unanswerable question—at least for me, because it would seem the tree would be just as hospitable to an ant colony, if the tree were lying on the ground, as it was when the tree was standing.  The seemingly ant-abandoned tree is another example of the many mysteries I chance upon at Mule Springs Farm.

The tree lies silent; it may be a host for any variety of grubs and insects, but the ants seem to have departed.

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “Banging Ant Tree Falls

  1. Life is full of mysteries – I don’t have any explanation for either situation, but the underside of the tree will no doubt host a bunch of insects that like it dark and damp.

    1. Life is full of mysteries – I don’t have any explanation for either situation, but the underside of the tree will no doubt host a bunch of insects that like it dark and damp. So true Karen. I’ll go back this fall and look closely to see what might have moved in. 🙂

    1. Very odd! Maybe it WAS a bird, not visible to you, that was busily pecking up the ants (bang/bang/bang/) having a royal feast ? Hi Alison- This is one time I wish I had a video to send out the image and sound to readers. I went back to visit this tree repeatedly for quite some time, and the sound wasn’t a one time occurrence. I think it might have had something to do with the ants creating a space between bark and cambium and the temperature. The ants were creating tunnels under the bark, and maybe this caused the tree to bang. But, I would swear it was not a bird. But, if I am wrong, then you are right — the bird had a royal feast. 🙂

  2. Hi Sher!

    Were you able to get a look inside the trunk and see any signs of the activity that caused the banging? Do you think the tree fell as a result of this and/or the ants tunnelling weakening the base – or simply because of the storm? (Did other trees also fall?)

    This story has reminded me of a wonderful Italian film called ‘Le Quattro Volte’ (Four Times) which features both ants and a pine tree as major elements. Not sure if you would be able to get hold of this but I think you would enjoy this story of rural life in a very different context.

    1. Hi Sher!

      Were you able to get a look inside the trunk and see any signs of the activity that caused the banging? Do you think the tree fell as a result of this and/or the ants tunnelling weakening the base – or simply because of the storm? (Did other trees also fall?)

      This story has reminded me of a wonderful Italian film called ‘Le Quattro Volte’ (Four Times) which features both ants and a pine tree as major elements. Not sure if you would be able to get hold of this but I think you would enjoy this story of rural life in a very different context.
      Hello Joanna- Nice to hear from you! The film sounds intriguing. I will check and see if Netflix has it–though, like you, I doubt.

      So, last year, although the tree was standing it was a snag– it was dead on its feet, so to speak. So, it fell because of the wind. Why it died, I don’t know, except that it was probably a long process of decay. It is hard for me to think the ants killed it, because it was a huge tree. It seems the cause would have been systemic and catastrophic.

      Snags are valuable in a woodland landscape- standing or down they provide a habitat for many insects and food for birds. Plus, lying down they can provide cover for ground birds , such as California Quail.

  3. What a bizarre story, Sher… “A banging ant tree”… perhaps you found a peculiar new subspecies of Ponderosa Pine? 😉

    Personally, though, I’m more concerned about *where the ant colony has disappeared to*!!!

    1. What a bizarre story, Sher… “A banging ant tree”… perhaps you found a peculiar new subspecies of Ponderosa Pine? 😉

      Personally, though, I’m more concerned about *where the ant colony has disappeared to*!!! Hi Reggie–Yes, bizarre is an apt descriptor! I could mail you some ants, if you like? We have plenty around the farm, in fact, I see a trail right now marching across the patio. 🙂 Sher

  4. Sher, Last year the local pest control guy told me that carpenter ants would make a banging sound in your walls if you had a colony in your walls. I thought it was strange at the time.

    1. Sher, Last year the local pest control guy told me that carpenter ants would make a banging sound in your walls if you had a colony in your walls. I thought it was strange at the time.

      Hi Terry- That’s interesting. I wonder if they were carpenter ants? Next time I discover a banging ant tree, I will look closely into carpenter ants. Thanks for the comment. Sher

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