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Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

If I were to mention an ant-fungus mutualism- that is, an ecological partnership between an ant and a fungus that benefits both- most biologically literate people might think of the famed leafcutter ants and the edible mycelia they cultivate.  But that is just one example.

Several other fungi have entered into productive relationships with ants, assisting especially in ant architecture.  Consider:

Lasius umbratus walking in the galleries of an underground carton nest (Illinois)

A larger view of the same nest. The intricate galleries are made from fungal mycelia growing through a matrix of ant-chewed wood pulp.

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Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus
Goldenrod Soldier Beetles
Illinois, USA

Here at Myrmecos Blog we aim for a family-friendly atmosphere.  Except for beetle sex.  Sometimes we just can’t resist.

(There’s also plant sex going on here too, if you’re into that sort of thing…)

Photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec, diffused twin flash

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Pyramica clypeata

clypeata1

Pyramica clypeata
Urbana, Illinois

photo details: Canon mp-e 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec, flash diffused through tracing paper

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asf

Pogonomyrmex maricopa (at left) tussles with an Aphaenogaster albisetosa at the Aphaenogaster nest entrance.

While in Arizona, I chanced upon a set of ant fights that I’d observed several times previously.  Single workers of the maricopa harvester ant Pogonomyrmex maricopa would approach a nest of their competitor, Aphaenogaster long-legged ants, and spend a few minutes drawing heat from the guards before wandering off.

ag

Same thing, but different individuals (note differences in limb wounds from the previous photo)

The interaction is common enough that it really couldn’t be just a chance encounter.  Are the Pogos doing this for a reason?  Are they distracting the Aphaenogaster from foraging?  And, are there any myrmecology students in Arizona who need a little research project? It’d be great to figure out the purpose of the fights.

ag

Three on one. Do the Pogos subject themselves to this treatment as a decoy, to draw Aphaenogaster away from shared foraging territory?

photo details (all photos): Canon mp-e 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec, twin flash diffused through tracing paper

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phantasma1

Paratrechina Nylanderia phantasma
Archbold Biological Station, Florida

Here’s an ant I almost didn’t notice.  Paratrechina Nylanderia phantasma is one of the least known insects in North America, active at night and restricted to a particular type of sandy soil in Florida.  Workers are only a couple millimeters long and the color of sand.  In the field they appear as ghostly little shapes skirting across the ground, scarcely visible even to those looking for them.

Incidentally, N. phantasma was named and described by James Trager, a frequent commentator here at Myrmecos Blog. Perhaps, if we’re really nice to him, James will tell us something more about this little ant.

[update 1/12/10, taxonomic change to Nylanderia]

photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f13, flash diffused through tracing paper

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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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dawn in the scrub

dawn in the scrub

I spent last week in central Florida at the Archbold Biological Station.

Archbold preserves 5,000 hectares of Florida sand scrub, some of the last remaining patches of an ecosystem now largely lost to agriculture and strip malls.  The sand scrub is an odd place, a fossil beach from when sea levels were high enough to restrict peninsular Florida to a narrow sandbar.  Water runs right through the coarse sand, leaving the scrub looking much like a desert in spite of regular afternoon rains.  Cacti thrive.  It is a paradoxical place.

The scrub is also remarkable for receiving more lightning strikes than anywhere else on the continent: about 50 strikes per square mile per year.  So the scrub burns all the time, and has come to depend on frequent fire to maintain the structure of the forest.  This unique system has birthed dozens of sand- and fire-adapted plant and animal species that are found nowhere else.

The trip was a spur of the moment decision for me.  Budding myrmecologist Fred Larabee, a student here at the University of Illinois studying the evolutionary ecology of Odontomachus trap-jaw ants, was driving down to collect Archbold’s three resident species.  I hitched a ride.

Below are a few photos from the week.

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