Out with the old; In with the new! — Twig Ants

19 Nov
Twig ants (Pseudomyrmex) carrying food to the nest.

Elongate twig ants (Pseudomyrmex gracilis) carrying food to the nest.

More pictures from the Pseudomyrmex colony that nested in my window lining last spring.  The workers above posed nicely on the window glass as they all tugged on a bit of food.  Normally the workers of  Pseudomyrmex colonies tend to forage independently, relying on their speed, size, and potent sting to bring down prey and haul it back to the nest alone.  However, in this case, the haul in question apparently attracted the attention of some other workers.  People tend to think of ant colonies as perfectly synchronized machines, operating in perfect unity.  However, anyone who has actually watched a group of ants attempt to maneuver a large prey item down a small nest entrance will have noticed that it’s more like a game of tug-of-war, with hopefully most of the pieces deciding to pull in the appropriate direction.  The same sort of ‘rule-by-majority’ principle applies to any number of colony processes, such as selection of a nest site.  I have personally watched a group of acrobat ant workers purposefully hauling larvae to a new nest location, while a second group of workers diligently hauls them right back, passing each other on the way.  They’ll also drag the queen along if she doesn’t cooperate.

A twig ant worker (Pseudomyrmex) removing trash from windowsill nest.

A twig ant worker (Pseudomyrmex) removing trash from windowsill nest.

7 Responses to “Out with the old; In with the new! — Twig Ants”

  1. Dave November 20, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Sounds rather like the archaic British archetype in a muddling through way. Perhaps you need to coin a new term for a ‘superorganism’ that can’t make up its mind.

  2. Ted C. MacRae November 21, 2010 at 12:47 am #

    How about ‘superdisorganism’?

    I believe I’ve beaten these from branches in Texas on more than a few occasions. I was never actually sure if they were ants or some weird wingless wasp (well, I guess technically that’s what ants are). Either way, I assumed it’d be better not to mess with ’em.

    • 6legs2many November 21, 2010 at 1:30 am #

      I’ve been warned but never stung (same for harvester ants). My experience has been that they’re not particularly aggressive–I’ve had them walking across my hands before (or dropping out of trees onto the picnic table which is more disconcerting).

      They’re fairly common around here when you keep an eye open. I like them; they’re very charismatic little guys.

  3. James C. Trager November 24, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    Having been stung by both, I’ll take the large-sweat-bee sting of this one oner the enduring, throbbing of the harvester’s.
    In Ecuador a couple of years ago, I subjected myself to the stings of various plant mutualist Pseudomyrmex. Most were fiery but short-lived, but one didn’t hurt at all, confirmed by allowing about a dozen of them to get a good hold and inject venom – nothing, nada, zilch! Until the next day, when I woke up with itchy, watery blisters at each sting site on my inner forearm. These expanded and itched like poison ivy for the next week!

    • 6legs2many November 25, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

      I imagine that story is more entertaining to tell than it was to experience. 🙂

      People always fuss about fire ant bites, but I think the only issue there is their tendency to swarm and sting in large numbers before you realize they’re there. I’ve gotten so used to them I hardly even notice anymore and I’m a bit lazy about putting on gloves when I work with them.


  1. Bichos Argentinos #2 – Pseudomyrmex sp. « Beetles In The Bush - March 10, 2011

    […] southwest, but it wasn’t until I read a couple of recent posts about them at Myrmecos and 6legs2many that I knew specifically what they […]

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