The great antnapping: From shore to summit - Interlude

After a few days of sun, sand and water, it was time to head to our next destination, the highest resort in Romania, and the oldest ski resort - Păltiniș, at a staggering 1440 m altitude. The evening before departure we spent some time reorganizing our ants so that they were in the most secure and comfortable housings possible, seeing as we had another week before we could get them home. We also borrowed a folding shovel and a large screwdriver from my brother, as we were planning on digging up some mountain ants. After ~650 km by boat, car and bus, we reached our hotel, a quaint construction tucked among a pine forest.

Glimpse of the area from the bus. That's not our hotel.

The views from the road were stunning.

First thing we did after leaving our backpacks in the room was to investigate a couple of flat rocks in front of the hotel, which looked like they might house ants underneath. And indeed! first one we flipped had a Myrmica colony underneath, reddish ants that went into a frenzy of activity, hiding away their brood from our intrusion. We decided to leave them be for now and dig them up later, opting for a late afternoon walk around the area instead.

The climate here was dramatically different than the one we had just left behind - day temperatures did not go above 11-12 degrees Celsius, and drizzling rain was a common occurrence. But the air was crispy and fresh, smelling of resin and woodsmoke. As we were there between the summer high season and the winter ski season, there weren't a lot of people around. The road had its fair share of cows and shaggy dogs however.

Bork bork bork at first, but afterwards friendly.

There were lots of colourful shrooms all over.

I had studied the map of the area beforehand, and had big plans of day-long hikes in the mountains. Stroomschok had dreams of meadow ants and carpenter ants. In the end, we compromised by hiking into a valley that was more than 300 meters lower in altitude than the resort, hoping to find some colonies that hadn't gone into hibernation yet. My cousin and her husband came along, with Stroomschok doing his best to pass along the anting bug to them. We poked at a few rotten logs, flipped a few rocks, but the ants remained elusive. We did spot several lone Camponotus workers crossing the logging road, but we weren't able to track their nest.

Dark pine forests on all sides.

As we descended lower into the valley, I was starting to lose hope of finding any ant nests this late in the season. We were starting to get tired as well, so we decided to turn back. Stopping for lunch on the foundations of a ruined house, we spotted a couple of suspicious flat rocks. Flipped one of them, and boom! Ants. We quickly dug under the rock and sifted through the dirt in the now-established method of locating the queen - or a queen. That accomplished, we scooped up as many workers and brood as we could for our new Myrmica colony.

 Excited, we headed back the way we came, determined to find a Camponotus colony. We got lucky again, as a rotten log on the side of the road housed such a colony. Not only that, but it was also home to some Myrmicas, which was a big problem for our carpenter ants! I will tell you another time of the epic war and the timely rescue we enacted.

Some nice play of light in the trees on our way back.

Our mega-hike done, in the following days we took shorter walks around the area, always on the lookout for ants. We found two more colonies (not counting the one in front of the hotel), and antnapped them as well. By this time our ant collection was growing quite sizeable, and we thought what reaction the housekeeper would have if they'd come to clean our room and see the tubes and bottles and boxes full of bugs. Fortunately, it was off-season as I mentioned - so no housekeeping.

Stroomschok looking for ants.
Lone oak tree.

 Stroomschok has some very detailed accounts of all our antnappings in the mountains, so I will let him tell those stories. And after that you get to find out if we managed to bring all our ants home after all this effort!