Once upon a time, during the darkest hour of the longest night of the year, a comet appeared in the sky.
This comet skimmed the horizon, shining like the sun’s vengeance on the moon. It illuminated the night and sent the stars into hiding, searing away the shadows with its fiery, fearsome scarlet tail.
This comet arced over the land in silence, a hollow shout that upturned the night without explanation. Just when all the animals thought the inexplicable flame would continue off into space and allow the darkness to return, it veered sharply towards the earth and crossed into the atmosphere.
—– CRACK! —–
Silence was broken, and the explosion became a deafening roar. As it fell, the comet blossomed into a magnificent blazing form that soared on wings of flame.
The beast careened towards the mountains. As it drew closer to the earth, it brightened into blinding radiance, flickered twice, faded somewhat; and then, as its tail was swallowed up by the mountains, the lights went out all at once.
One last terrible snarl ripped over the horizon. It was impossible to tell whether this was the call of the beast, or if it was the groan of the mountains being shaken to their core.
Darkness returned, but peace did not. The night creatures remained uneasy, for some instinct told them that they had not seen the last of the mysterious flame.
What was born of the light would grow under darkness. The enemy of ice would gain strength in the shade.
A mighty flame had sparked into existence. Its impact had shaped the Cave of Thunder.
And so began the rise of the Vermilion Empire.
Welcome to the Cave of Thunder, the lair of Queen Ignis–matriarch and founder of the Vermilion Palace.
Tread carefully; you’ve entered fire dragon territory. In fact, Queen Ignis is a Solenopsis invicta dragon…
Better known as the fire ant!
On warm, muggy days during spring and summer, you’re sure to find them everywhere…
Ants. That’s right.
Fire ants in particular have invaded nearly every area in North America–there’s no escape! They are ferocious creatures indeed, attacking anything that moves on their nest, launching surprise attacks on large enemies by use of pheromones, and hunting and transporting prey. Not to mention that fire ants have their name for a reason. Their venom–solenopsin–burns like liquid flame.
They are the wolves and lions of the insect world. They are mighty kingdoms ruling over tiny ecosystems. And now, one more kingdom seems to be on the rise…
An Overview of Ants
Ants can be found all over the world, and there are hundreds of different species that make their homes in various locations–underground, in trees, under rocks, etc. The world of ants is seemingly infinitely diverse.
Ant colonies begin after male and female alates (winged, reproductive ants) leave their colony, take to the skies, and mate during flight.
After mating, the two ants fall to the ground. The male will die shortly after this, but the female will break off her wings and seek a small crevice in the dirt. She digs a tiny chamber, seals it up, and lays her first clutch of eggs, using energy from her wing muscles to subsist as she raises her young.
The first ants that a queen raises are known as nanitics. Their job is to begin to construct the nest, feed their queen, and get the colony started. Over the next year, the queen will lay more eggs, and the ant colony will grow steadily. After another year, when the colony is established, more alates will be hatched, and the cycle will continue.
Due to the massive variety of ant species, there is also a massive variety of diets between ants. Fire ants are carnivorous and primarily eat other insects. They hunt worms, beetles, and grubs, and also scavenge dead things.
Ants communicate with one another through pheromones. These pheromones can be made into trails that lead to food, danger, or building sites. Pheromones can communicate an incredible amount of information, including the arrival of danger, the need to relocate larvae, and even the exact moment to attack an enemy.
Worker ants, on average, live for about a month, while the queen survives for many years. One queen lived for thirty years, but this is uncommon for most ant species. Fire ant queens survive from 2 to 6 years. Once the queen dies, the fire ant colony follows.
The Vermilion Palace
Queen Ignis, our Solenopsis invicta, crash-landed to the ground on May 25, 2019. She has since sequestered herself in darkness, where she is currently raising her nanitics in peace.
Her home for now is a simple plastic container complete with a moist cotton ball and aluminum tunnels. With time, perhaps her colony will grow strong enough to emerge from the darkness and begin to build a kingdom…
For now, however, the fire dragons slumber in the dark. We will see what happens in the coming months!
Sadly, the life of an ant is a tough one indeed. Mold, mites, and more pose threats to a young queen’s brood. Queen Ignis was not able to establish an empire for herself. Perhaps next year, one of her sisters will rise in her place…
May 21 2020:
A new queen has descended from the sky and now waits in darkness to begin her rise!
Her quarters are more refined than the cave of the late Queen Ignis, as she is treated to the humid warmth of our sun room. Perhaps in these conditions, where the air truly is of fiery heat during the day, she will go on to successfully create her kingdom.
Ant keeping is a fun and rewarding experience, though not for the faint of heart! If you end up successful in raising a colony, you will find yourself with hundreds of lives in your hands–lives that can squeeze through the tiniest cracks, and are always on the move.
For everything you need to know ant-wise, check out this website. You’ll find all you need to know when it comes to catching queens, starting a colony, and keeping your ants secure.