Posts Tagged ‘myrmecology’

[a guest post by myrmecologist Andrea Lucky]

Andrea & her intrepid field team in New Guinea

It was a dark and stormy night…

…actually, it was a dark and stormy morning.  The dawn of the 7th day of ceaseless frigid rain to be precise, and I was reminiscing about the grand old days one week before when the sun emerged and for a glorious 10 minutes it was warm enough to splash some water on my arms, legs and neck and wipe away the accumulated grime that is synonymous with field work. I wondered if that lovely burst of sunshine would ever come again (no, it wouldn’t), and every time I shiveringly remembered my quick bath I cursed myself for wasting those precious moments of sun. Washing – what was I thinking? I should have been out there looking for ants!

Papua New Guinea is a tropical paradise for any biologist, but especially for an ant biologist. (more…)

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Myrmicocrypta camargoi Sosa-Calvo & Schultz 2010

The world’s ant fauna continues to yield new treasures. Myrmicocrypta camargoi, described in a new paper by Jeffrey Sosa-Calvo & Ted Schultz, is the largest species in this fungus-growing genus.

source: Sosa-Calvo, J., Schultz, T.R. 2010. Three Remarkable New Fungus-Growing Ant Species of the Genus Myrmicocrypta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), with a Reassessment of the Characters That Define the Genus and Its Position within the Attini. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 103(2):181-195.
doi: 10.1603/AN09108

artwork by Vichai Malikul

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Leptomyrmex darlingtoni, Australia

A big day for ant evolution! The Ant Tree of Life research group (AToL) has published their dolichoderine phylogeny in the journal Systematic Biology.

Dolichoderines are one of the big ant subfamilies, comprising just under ten percent of the world’s ant species. These are dominant, conspicuous ants noted for having ditched the heavy ancestral ant sting and armor in favor of speed, agility, and refined chemical weaponry. Most dolichoderines live in large colonies with extensive trail networks, and they fuel their frenetic lifestyle through copious consumption of hemipteran honeydew.

The paper is unfortunately behind a subscription barrier, but I’ve reproduced the primary finding below. (more…)

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Theodore Pergande (1840-1916)

Over 12,000 ant species have been described since the inception of modern taxonomy 252 years ago. From Formica rufa Linneaus 1758 to Paraparatrechina gnoma LaPolla & Cheng 2010, where did all those names come from?

Now it’s easier than ever to find out. The Global Ant Project is assembling a biography for each of the 917 people responsible for our current taxonomy. These are the researchers who have defined the species, assembled them into genera and subfamilies, supplied the latin names, and refined the work of their predecessors.

Efforts like these help us realize is that taxonomy is fundamentally a human endeavor. In spite of its scientific foundations the practice remains full of guesswork, mistakes, reversals and disagreements. Jean Bondoit (1882-1952) apparently carried a revolver to meetings. Eric Wasmann (1859-1931) was among the first Catholic clergymen who stood up for Darwin’s theories- outside the human lineage, at least. The Global Ant Project’s directory offers a little peek behind the curtain. Check it out.

(And that Alex Wild? What a charming fellow…)

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The online early section of Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution this week has the first comprehensive phylogeny of a rather important genus of ants: Myrmica.

Myrmica is ubiquitous in the colder climates of North America and Eurasia, with a few seemingly incongruous species inhabiting the mountains of tropical southeast Asia. The genus contains about 200 species, many that are common soil-nesting ants in lawns and gardens, and at least one damaging invasive species, M. rubra. The taxonomy ranks among the most difficult of any ant genus, as workers of different species tend to be numbingly similar to each other. And there are a lot of species.


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Let me preface this post by saying that Christian Peeters is one of my absolute favorite myrmecologists.  If lost in a remote African jungle and stalked by ravenous leopards, for example, Christian is the first ant guy I’d pick to help get me out of the predicament.

Having said that, this paper in Insectes Sociaux is so bad I nearly gouged my eyes out and ran around in little circles screaming and flailing my arms.

Nonetheless there exist extant ants with relatively simple societies, where size-polymorphic workers and large queens are absent. Recent phylogenies show that the poneroid subfamilies Amblyoponinae and Ponerinae are basal (e.g. Brady et al., 2006), i.e. closer to solitary vespoid wasps.

Ten points to the first person who can explain what’s wrong with it.

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Nylanderia guatemalensis

What are ant taxonomists buzzing about this week?*

Well. A hot new paper by John LaPolla, Seán Brady, and Steve Shattuck in Systematic Entomology has killed Paratrechina as we know it.  (more…)

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Danum Valley Field Centre, Sabah Borneo, August 16 – 26

click here for application form

COURSE OBJECTIVES. – ANT COURSE is designed for systematists, ecologists, behaviorists, conservation biologists, and other biologists whose research responsibilities require a greater understanding of ant taxonomy and field research techniques.  Emphasis is on the identification of the ant genera and species occurring in Southeast Asia.  Lectures will include background information on the ecology, life histories and evolution of ants.  Field trips are structured to teach collecting and sampling techniques, and associated lab work provides instruction on specimen preparation, sorting and labeling.  Information on equipment/supply vendors, literature, and myrmecological contacts are also presented.


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In reading various web reactions to news that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contained nearly 1 million dollars for ant research at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, it seems there’s a lot of confusion about how something like ant behavior winds up getting a stimulus check.  Here’s an explanation.


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The chaotic evolution of colony size in ants. (Tree re-analyzed from Brady et al 2006, colony data taken from Hoelldobler & Wilson 1990 and other sources)

This tree depicts how colony size evolves in ants.  The purple/blue colors represent small colonies with only a few to a few dozen ants, while the yellows and oranges represent species with enormous colonies of tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals.  What’s exciting about this rainbow-colored figure?

If you were expecting ant evolution to be an inexorable march towards larger and more complex societies, this tree should come as a surprise.  Ant colony size is all over the place.  Not only is there no general trend towards larger colonies, some lineages seem to be shrinking down from more populous ancestors.

Colony size evolution is not the subject of this post, though.  I’m going to whinge instead about how frustrating I found the process of making this figure.  (more…)

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