Tag Archives: Acrobat Ants

How to Build a Bunch of Different Formicaria

18 Apr

Since my “Ant Farms: How to Build Your Own Formicarium” page is one of my most visited articles, I’ve created a page to compile some different ant rearing/formicaria designs that I have seen or used.

Please check it out!

Acrobat ants in a flat plaster nest.

Acrobat ants in a flat plaster nest.

Carpenter ants checking out air holes at the top of the stacked colony.

Carpenter ants checking out air holes at the top of a colony.

Monomorium minimum ants in with a tube ant nest.

Monomorium ants with a tube nest.

Rover ants and queen with brood in plaster nest.

Rover ants and queen with brood in plaster nest.

See more at:

Ant Farms: More formicaria designs

and see also:

Ant Farms: How to Build Your Own Formicarium

Techniques

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Dancing Ant

11 Nov

All I have for you today is this dancing acrobat ant.  They’re supposed to live in trees but sometimes they come in the window and hang out on my desk.  Please enjoy.

Queen Ants – Founding a new colony

15 Apr
Camponotus foundress queen tending eggs.

A foundress carpenter ant queen (Camponotus) tends her clutch of eggs, with her dropped wings visible in the foreground.

Lots of pictures of queen ants today.  While the huge diversity of ant species have developed numerous methods for founding new colonies, a few strategies are fairly widespread in the ant world.  After a nuptial flight, in which winged sexual male and female ants mate,a future queen faces the harrowing challenge of founding a new colony.  With her ovipositor specialized for egg-laying she cannot even sting or spray venom.  She has only her jaws to defend her and she is heavy-bodied and clumsy.  Mortality is high–one reason ant colonies pump out vast flocks of winged alates.  Dropping to the ground the new queen searches diligently for a nest site, shedding or pulling off her now useless wings so that she can burrow or explore small crevices more easily.  The energy from her atrophying wing muscles will be used to help feed her and her developing brood.

A disturbed camponotus queen guards her clutch of eggs.

A foundress carpenter ant queen stands guard over her eggs after being disturbed.

Unless she manages to join an existing nest (some ant species such as fire ants will accept additional queens into established colonies) or co-founds with a small group of other queens (in which case surplus queens may later fight or be executed by workers) she will be alone until she manages to raise her clutch of eggs through the helpless larval and pupal stages and into small adult workers.  In some species queen ants take on the risky task of foraging for food, but in many species queens practice claustral founding, closing themselves away into small nest chambers until the first workers eclose, relying entirely on the resources stored in their bodies to provision them.

Queen fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) burrowed into cotton with her first brood.

A cloistered fire ant foundress (Solenopsis invicta) with her brood.

During this time, queens carefully tend their precious brood, feeding them via  salivary secretions or trophallaxis (regurgitation) and grooming them to prevent mold or fungal growth.  Fire ant queens lay trophic (feeding) eggs, which they eat and then regurgitate to the larvae.

Fire ant queen (Solenopsis invicta) tending brood.

A foundress fire ant queen in a test tube tends her first larvae and pupae.

The first workers pupate prematurely, and eclose as unusually tiny adult ants, called minims or nanites.  The pale, callow workers slowly darken and gain mobility as their exoskeletons harden.  Driven by hunger and instinct, these tiny workers open up the colony and venture carefully forth for the first foraging expeditions of the colony. (Other tactics may also come into play–fire ant minims practice brood raiding, where they steal developing larvae and pupae from nearby colonies to enlarge their own labor force.)  Later workers, tended by the minims and better provisioned with food, will develop normally into typically sized workers of the various castes.

Queen fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) with brood and minims.

A foundress fire ant queen (Solenopsis invicta) tends her brood with the help of newly eclosed minim workers.

As the worker population increases, the queen’s careful attendance of the brood slackens and her primary role in the colony becomes egg-laying and remaining alive. Rather than standing to defend her only clutch of brood queens now have a horde of daughters to defend the nest, and they retreat from any signs of danger or disturbance to the nest.

A crematogaster queen with brood pile, nurses, and newly eclosed workers.

An acrobat ant queen (Crematogaster) in formacarium with brood pile, nurses, and newly eclosed workers.

These pictures are mostly foundresses I’ve captured hunting nest sites and reared out in test tubes.  Ant colonies are fun to keep, and ridiculously easy to found (what other pet can you close away in a tube and ignore for the first month?).  For the purposes of my research I’ve mostly reared fire ant colonies, and these are the main foundresses I encounter in my area of Texas (good for my research, not so good for the ecosystems they’ve invaded).  Obviously not the ideal pet ant colony, but in a secure environment they are fun to observe and they make for sturdy, fast-growing colonies.

Acrobat ants, arboreal ninjas

27 Dec
Arboreal acrobat ants suspending their caterpillar prey in a tree.

Acrobat ants (Crematogaster) suspending their caterpillar prey in a tree.

I spotted this impressive sight early this summer.  A dozen or so acrobat ants gripped and suspended a huge caterpillar upside down from a tree branch above me, as other workers started to pick it apart.  As arboreal ants, acrobat ants have some of the most impressive gripping ability I have encountered.  I judge this by the time I have spent aspirating ants from trees for various projects for the lab–in particular the day I helped the post-doc collect several groups of 50 of these guys.  These guys can really hold on.  By the end of an hour I was light-headed from the aspiration attempts, and reduced to using the tube to try to pry the ants loose.

In fact, as Myrmecos author Alex Wild brought up a while back, a number of plants have adapted to take advantage of arboreal predators by providing wooly footholds to help them hold on.

 

 

Ant Picnic – Acrobat Ants

16 Apr
Acrobat ants feeding on katydid.

Acrobat ants (Crematogaster) feast on a katydid.

I discovered this grisly scene by following a trail of acrobat ants across the red brick courtyard of our Argentinean hotel.  Hundreds of worker ants trekked nearly 20 meters from their nest to the scene of the massacre where they joined their sisters in chewing through the katydid’s tough exoskeleton to burrow their way into the soft tissue beneath, carving up their kill to bring food back to the nest.

Acrobat ants (genus Crematogaster), are typically arboreal, or tree-nesting, ants.  Their petiole, or waist, connects to the top of their heart-shaped gaster (the third body region of ants).  This allows them to flip the gaster up over their backs, both for balance while navigating their tree habitat, and defensively like the stinger of a scorpion.  Acrobat ants wield their venom in a defensive spray rather than a stinging injection.  This is an effective weapon of chemical warfare against other arthropods and small organisms, but generally passes unnoticed by humans.  Their mandibles can still deliver a pinch, however, and they will attempt to follow a bite with a spray of formic acid into the wound.  Although I took this picture in Argentina, acrobat ants are relatively common across the United States.