Monday, May 25, 2015

Just Another Night in the Bush

Picture yourself in your tent in the beautiful Mara Triangle, going to bed for the night after a long day’s work. It’s a cool night, with a nice breeze coming in through the screened windows, and in the distance you can hear calls from various animals, lulling you to sleep.
Sometime in the middle of the night you’re woken up by a light rain on the tarp above you, but you quickly start to drift back to sleep. Except…there’s something biting you. They’re crawling all over you, maybe the sound on your tarp isn’t rain? You fumble for your head lamp to see what’s going on, all the while trying to brush off whatever it is that’s on you, and as the light goes on your stomach drops; there are thousands of Siafu crawling all over you and your tent. You take the only way out you can think of, you run for the door.
Siafu is the Swahili word for ant, however it commonly refers to a specific type of ant known as the Safari Ant or the Driver Ant. 
Safari Ants - Photo by: Eli Strauss
Safari Ants Swarming - Photo by: Eli Strauss

And here's a short clip of the ants in action, taken by Eli Strauss: (much cooler in HD)

These ants are found primarily in East Africa, and are fairly easy to distinguish from other ants. They are normally seen traveling in large lines about 20 ants wide, with the smaller ants in the middle and the larger “warriors” on the outside. Although all of these ants have pincers and are quite capable of attacking for food or when they feel threatened, the warriors are significantly larger with much stronger pincers as well as a stinger. In their lines, they’re fairly easy to avoid; such a large number of army ants tends to catch one’s eye from far enough away that you can simply step over the line. If you’re unfortunate enough to come across a line in the dark, or while you have your head in the clouds, however, and if you step in it, there’s not a whole lot you can do but try to shake them off and hope you didn’t have any warriors crawl up your leg. If you’ve seen this happen to somebody, you can really appreciate where the expression “ants in your pants” comes from.
They aren’t always so easy to avoid. When they’ve been scattered by something in their path, or when they find something to eat, they begin to swarm (as they did in my tent on that lovely night). They’ll scatter all over the place so that stepping over them is no longer an option. Luckily, they’re not poisonous, they aren’t lethal and their bites are by no means excruciating. So, looking back on the experience, I can’t help but laugh and feel fortunate. As far as animal invasions in my tent at night go, it could have been a lot worse than ants.

1 comment:

dee said...

Sorry dude. I myself have done the "siafu shuffle" when the little buggers climbed up my pants and didn't start biting until a gazillion of them couldn't climb any farther. I scared the bejeezus out of several baboons and two dik diks who will never be the same.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science