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Posts Tagged ‘formicidae’

Who's that odd ant out?

While in sunny Florida last summer (ah, sunshine! I vaguely remember what that looks like), I spent an hour peering into a nest of little Dorymyrmex elegans. These slender, graceful ants are among Florida’s more charming insects.

Every few minutes, though, the flow of elegant orange insects out of the nest was interrupted by a darker, more robust ant: Dorymyrmex reginicula. Who was this interloper?

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Ants of Archbold

Pogonomyrmex badius

Pogonomyrmex badius

The Archbold Biological Station hosts 100+ species of ants.  Here are a few of them.

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From the recent documentary Ants: Nature’s Secret Power, a glimpse of how researchers study ant behavior in the lab:

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maricopa9

A query from the inbox:

Hi, my question is regarding the gender of the worker ants (and the ant queen). As we all know; they are female, however was this discovered many centuries ago or is this a recent discovery?

I plead ignorance.  I know apiculturists had figured out the sex of worker bees in by the late 1700s, and that by the 1800s it was widely accepted that ant workers were also female. But that’s the extent of my knowledge.

So I’m punting to my diligent readers.  Do any of you know who first observed that ant workers are female?

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As if butterflies weren’t flamboyant enough already, it seems that some of them actively impersonate queens.

Queen ants, that is.  A report by Francesca Barbero et al in today’s issue of Science documents a clever strategy employed by a European butterfly, the Mountain Alcon Blue  Maculinea rebeli, to infiltrate nests of Myrmica schencki.  The immature stages of the butterfly are parasites of ant colonies, and it seems the secret to their success is acoustic mimicry.  The larvae and pupae squeak like queens, eliciting preferential treatment from the workers. Here’s the abstract:

Ants dominate terrestrial ecosystems through living in complex societies whose organization is maintained via sophisticated communication systems. The role of acoustics in information exchange may be underestimated. We show that Myrmica schencki queens generate distinctive sounds that elicit increased benevolent responses from workers, reinforcing their supreme social status. Although fiercely defended by workers, ant societies are infiltrated by specialist insects that exploit their resources. Sounds produced by pupae and larvae of the parasitic butterfly Maculinea rebeli mimic those of queen ants more closely than those of workers, enabling them to achieve high status within ant societies. We conclude that acoustical mimicry provides another route for infiltration for ~10,000 species of social parasites that cheat ant societies.

Sounds of the ants and the butterfly are posted at Science News.   See also commetary by Discover and Not Exactly Rocket Science.

source:  Barbero, F. and J.A. Thomas, S. Bonelli, E. Balletto, K. Schönrogge. 2009. Queen ants make distinctive sounds that are mimicked by a butterfly social parasite. Science 323(Feburary 6): 782-785.

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cs

The blue-green iridescence on these Iridomyrmex purpureus workers shines from microscopic sculpturing on the ants' cuticle.

I’ve never taken to the Australian vernacular for one of their most conspicuous insects.  The latin Iridomyrmex purpureus translates as “purple rainbow ant”, referring both to the base color of the body and to the attractive metallic refractions on the cuticle.  But Aussies instead call this colorful species the “meat ant.” Crass by comparison.

On the other hand, it’d probably not do my reputation of masculine bravado much good were I to stroll into a dusty pub in the outback and announce my affection for “purple rainbow ants.”  Crikey! Meat ants it is, then.

A few more pics: (more…)

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trail1c

My earlier list of the most-studied ant species contained a few omissions.  Here is a more inclusive list:

Ant species sorted by number of BIOSIS-listed publications, 1984-2008

The Top 10 Species Publications
Solenopsis invicta 984
Linepithema humile 343
Lasius niger 250
Formica rufa 167
Atta sexdens 163
Formica polyctena 160
Solenopsis geminata 151
Myrmica rubra 142
Monomorium pharaonis 121
Atta cephalotes 112

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