The Story Of The Owl And The Ant

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I’m back from a brief stay at University Medical Center here in Tucson and I want to give a shout out to the nurses and staff on the morning and afternoon shift at that facility.  You guys are the best!

Now, for today’s blog.  A few days ago I was driving through southern Arizona’s agricultural flatlands when I saw a Burrowing Owl standing near the side of the road.  I’ve photographed this species many times and I wasn’t particularly enthused about simply adding more images to my collection.  However, the owl was so close that I thought it might be worthwhile to stop and observe it for a minute or two.  I stopped my car and trained my lens on the owl through the open driver’s side window.

The owl stood in profile, not doing much of anything at first.  Suddenly, it picked up its foot and began shaking it violently.  Now, that was something different and interesting, and I began photographing the scene.   The owl brought its foot up to its mouth after a few seconds of shaking it, and bit at it for a few seconds, as if something had irritated it.  Then, it turned its head in my direction and stared at me balefully with an expression of what appeared to be utter disgust on its face.  I captured the sequence and drove home, wondering what was going on.

It wasn’t until I examined my images closely on my computer that I figured out what had happened.  Look at this first image, of the owl shaking its foot.

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See the ant suspended in mid-air?  The owl had shaken the ant from its foot and in a moment of pure luck I managed to capture the ant as it was falling.

Now, the second image, showing the owl biting its foot, makes complete sense.

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In southern Arizona there are several species of large ants that pack potent stings.  One type of ant, actually consisting of more than one species, but known locally as the “Harvester Ant,” can deliver an especially nasty sting.   Take it from me, I’ve experienced a Harvester Ant’s sting on a couple of occasions, and it feels like being jabbed by a hot wire.  It’s at least as painful as a bee sting and perhaps more painful.  The ant had almost certainly stung the owl on its foot and the owl was reacting to the pain caused by the sting by putting its foot to its mouth and wincing in pain.

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The annoyed or rueful expression on the owl’s face in the final photograph also makes sense.  Who wouldn’t look that way after being stung by a Harvester Ant?

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO+1.4X Telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 800, f6.3 @ 1/1600.

3 responses to “The Story Of The Owl And The Ant”

  1. Sue says :


  2. Linda says :

    Just amazing steve

  3. tkiiatmindspringcom says :

    These are fabulous photos, Steve.

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