Greer Beach, at the north end of Longboat Key, is always a good area for birding; black skimmers and least terns are more common here than anywhere else on the island. Among other common species are ospreys, yellow-crowned night herons, brown pelicans, willets, migrant shorebirds, white ibis and the usual mix of gulls and terns; this morning, there were also a half dozen frigatebirds and a small flock of mottled ducks, salt water cousins of the mallard.
But what drew my attention today were ant caravans, snaking across the beach from the vegetation zone to the seaweed flotsam. These small, reddish insects formed winding highways every ten yards or so down the beach; at an abrupt escarpment, formed by a recent storm, they moved along its base until they found a break in this sheer cliff of sand, switch-backing upward (or downward) like a pack mule train. Once on the lower level of the beach, these foragers were at the mercy of incoming waves and clearly must sense when a low tide offers protection, timing their journeys accordingly.
We often underestimate the complexity of insect life and fail to appreciate the cooperative behavior that insures their survival as individuals and, more importantly, as species. While all animals, including humans, rely on the benefits of a social structure, some are more capable of social harmony; in this respect, we have much to learn from the ants.