Posts Tagged ‘Argentina’

For the record…

…when I disappeared to Argentina recently, I was with my wife.

Here she is, collecting ants in the mountains near Tafí de Valle:


photo details: Canon 17-40mm f4.0 L lens on a Canon EOS 20D
ISO 400, 1/250 sec, f11.0, with circular polarizer & gradient filter
on-camera fill flash

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Pogonomyrmex micans, Santiago del Estero, Argentina

Pogonomyrmex micans, Santiago del Estero, Argentina

Ants of the genus Pogonomyrmex (“Pogos”) are known to myrmecologists as the classic harvester ants of North American deserts.  They are conspicuous insects, the most noticeable of the desert ants, and something of a model organism for studies of ecology.  Numerous scientific papers on pogos are published each year, and one species- Pogonomyrmex californicus– is mailed to school classrooms around the country to populate those plastic ant farms.

It’s easy to forget amidst the celebrated riches of North American pogos that South America also holds a great number of species.  In fact, it is likely that the genus first arose in South America; the southern pogos display a greater variety of morphologies and inhabit a broader swath of habitats.

Yet, these austral pogos are largely ignored.  Consider the results of a quick google search:


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Hikers at Purmamarca

Hikers at Purmamarca

Bits and pieces of landscapes, northern Argentina, March 2009.


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Estoy de vuelta


Pampas grass against an Argentine sky. Córdoba.

Was Argentina fabulous?  Yes.  Am I exhausted after a sleepless overnight flight?  Also.

I’ll try to think of some things to write about the trip once I’m lucid.  In the meantime I’d like to thank guest bloggers Scott and Eli for elevating the literary standards of the myrmecos blog during my absence.

photo details: Canon 17-40x wide angle lens on a Canon EOS 20D
ISO 400, 1/400 sec, f/14, circular polarizing filter.

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Hitting the Road: Argentina

North of Cordoba

Near Cruz de Eje, Argentina

Tomorrow I leave for three ant-filled weeks in northern Argentina. Don’t despair, though, the Myrmecos Blog will not go into remission.  Scott Powell will be taking the reins for the rest of the month, and Eli Sarnat will drop in once or twice to regale us with shocking-but-true ant adventures from the South Pacific.  I’ve also pre-scheduled a few Friday Beetles and Sunday Movies.

We’ve got several goals for the expedition.  First, Jo-anne and I are trying to get a better sense of the biology of the closest relatives of the Argentine ant Linepithema humile. While the Argentine ant itself is quite well studied, the ecology and behavior of its sibling species are almost entirely unknown.  We’ll be collecting and making observations about the territoriality, genetics, and nesting biology of several related species in the northwestern mountains.  Second, Andy Suarez and I have a small project to track down the source population of the tramp species Pheidole obscurithorax, so I’m gathering additional samples for genetic comparisons between the native and introduced ranges.  Finally, we’ll be visiting an ant lab at the Ciudad Universitaria in Buenos Aires, getting some pointers from local myrmecologists on conducting field work in their country as well as helping them out with a few specimen identifications.

Time and internet access permitting, I might make a few posts from the road.  In any case, I hope you all have a great month.

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My lovely wife Jo-anne has been in South America the last couple weeks doing field research on Argentine ants while I tend the home fires here in Tucson. I hope she finds it in her to forgive me for the post I am about to write.

Earlier today I got an email explaining why I’m not getting my much-awaited phone call:

I’d call but there aren’t any phones at this locutorio and we’re on our way out to look for social spiders.”

Excuse me? Social spiders? More important than me, your needy hubby?

Ok, I grant that social spiders are pretty cool, if a bit creepy. I remember those things from when I lived in South America. They spun massive webs that spanned tree-tops, anchored to the ground with tow lines as strong as steel cables. I nearly died from shock the first time I saw them. I had accidently walked under their tree, a large Enterolobium, and looked up to find the sky speckled with thousands of grape-sized spiders, all sharing a web tens of meters across. It still gives me the willies to think about.

A few years later I had a camera handy when a Paraguayan friend and I drove past what looked like a small body caught up in Shelob’s web. We stopped.


Turned out not to be a single body, but hundreds of little hairy bodies that had fastened several branches into a little cradle. Social spiders!


From close in:


Social spiders are something of a mystery. They don’t share all the traits that have tipped the more famously social ants, bees, wasps, and termites into cooperative living. Yet it appears that nearly a dozen independent lineages of spiders have converged on a cooperative lifestyle. There must be something advantageous in it for the spiders, and that question continues to attract inquisitive scientists like Jo-anne.

Still, which do you think is better? Me? Or that twitching arachnoid mass of legs? And anyway, wouldn’t calling me be *safer* than going out looking for those things?

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