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Archive for the ‘Ants’ Category

I study the wrong thing…

…according to Google Trends:

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Acromyrmex octospinosus

As so many of you guessed, the Getty Taxonomy Fail was not an Atta but an Acromyrmex.

JasonC- who is rapidly emerging as the Monday Night Superstar- was the first to pick it. Eight points for getting the answer right and most of the way there with a supporting explanation. Two more points to NKanakis for a more precise discussion of the difference: Atta has two pairs of spines on the promesonotum, while Acromyrmex bears three pairs.

Back when I lived in Paraguay, I learned the local Guaraní language distinguishes between the two genera. Ysaú for Atta, and Akéké for Acromyrmex. We don’t make such a distinction in English, where both lineages are called leafcutter ants.

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This just in….

Andrea Lucky and Milan Janda are seeking specimens of the following ant taxa in 95% EtOH for a study of biogeographic patterns in Melanesian/Pacific ants:

Nylanderia (Paratrechina) vaga (Forel)
Odontomachus simillimus
Smith F.
Oecophylla smaragdina
Emery
Solenopsis papuana
Emery
Tapinoma melanocephalum
(Fabricius)
Tetramorium pacificum
Mayr (Also of interest are Tetramorium insolens (F. Smith) and Tetramorium tonganum Mayr)

If you are willing to donate any of these species to this project, please contact Andrea Lucky (alucky@ncsu.edu) or Milan Janda (mjanda@oeb.harvard.edu) for details about identifications and shipping.

Thank you!

Oecophylla smaragdina

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A recent PLoS One paper by Dejean et al documents a novel predatory behavior of Azteca andreae. Rather than waste words explaining it, here’s a video:

The key innovation is that the plant is woolly.  That is, the underside of the leaves are covered in fibrous hairs not unlike the fuzzy side of Velcro®. When paired with tarsal hooks on the tips of ants’ feet, the whole assembly behaves as such, and the ants can snare heavy prey without becoming dislodged from the leaf.

By growing structures for the ants’ footholds, the plant helps the ants catch insects that might otherwise consume it. It’s an ingenious form of self-defense.


source: Dejean A, Leroy C, Corbara B, Roux O, Céréghino R, et al (2010) Arboreal Ants Use the “Velcro® Principle” to Capture Very Large Prey. PLoS ONE 5(6): e11331. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011331

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A queen in monochrome


A few days ago I posted a photo of a Prenolepis ant queen. It’s a decent photo, in focus and properly exposed. But probably not anything I’d print out and hang on the wall.

Check out the monochrome version above, though (click on it to enlarge). I don’t often put my images through such severe levels adjustments, but this one works rather well. I prefer it to the original.


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Little Fire Ants

Wasmannia auropunctata – little fire ants
Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of the world’s worst invaders, the little fire ants have spread from the new world tropics to warmer regions around the globe, becoming especially problematic on oceanic islands. The ants above, though, are from an innocuous native population in northern Argentina. They arrived at a cookie bait at the Costanera Sur reserve, barely noticeable specks of orange just over a millimeter long.

Wasmannia has a painful sting for such a small insect, and the ants do this annoying thing where they’ll wander around on your body for an hour or two before deciding to stick it to you. So there you’ll be, relaxing at the bar long after getting in from the field, and ZAM!  Right between the shoulder blades.

Photo details: Canon mp-e 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 20D
ISO 100, f13, 1/250 sec, diffused flash

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Anatomy of an Error

If you’ve been following the Taxonomy Fail and subsequent Myrmecology Win, you’ll know that the real Fail was my own. That blurry mash of legs and cuticle is indeed an ant, and I missed it.

That I failed to discern an ant in the original image doesn’t bother me. After all, the photo was the equivalent of an amber inkblot, with key bits out of focus, and the paper itself provided no support for the identification. I stand by my comments about the burden of proof lying with the authors- the paper did not adequately justify its conclusions. Partly, this is less the fault of the authors than the publishing model, where top-tier journals increasingly converge on substance-free marketing venues, the details required to properly evaluate the research relegated to online supplements or lesser journals. But that’s a topic for another day.

Fortunately for us, Vincent Perrichot, one of the study’s authors, was generous enough to share a more detailed image and fill in the missing detail. The specimen turns out to be quite a find. It’s as old as the sphecomyrmines, yet it doesn’t look like them, or like any modern ants we know. We’re in for a real treat when Vincent finishes his more thorough reconstruction of the fossil.

Rather, my more serious failing was the snarky tone I adopted in the original post.  That was inappropriate for covering a scientific paper, and I apologize for having crossed the line.

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