Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ant Chat Episode 31: Some Spring Flying Ants

This is basically a rundown of the species I've found flying here in my yard. I'm thrilled to report I've lost count as to how many ant species are found in my yard. Counting ant species is a slightly better way of measuring biodiversity in an area than say beetles, moths, and butterflies. Counting everything of course is probably best, but ant colonies are for the most part stationary, rather than just passing through.

Stenamma is the most recent genus found outside. I honestly didn't think they occurred in New Jersey, let alone my yard. Workers are really small and, I think, easy to mistake for Temnothroax as I have been apparently doing all my life. After the Stenamma queen I find what I thought was a Leptothorax species but after doing some research I find those are most common on the west coast, so that's likely a Temnothorax, or less likely, a Formicoxenus.  

Alex Wild tells me that North American species of Stenamma have a narrower section of the petiole as it comes off the mesosoma, see here. I should probably qualify this as one of those "most of the time it's true" statements. Just glancing over some of the Ant Web specimens I found a Temnothorax or two with the same trait. For the most part though, Temnothorax have don't have this smooth poll-like portion of the petiole; I'd say over all the majority have this section as an angular section. Stenamma seem to have smaller eyes which are also flatter to the head, while most Temnothorax seem to have larger eyes that dome outward somewhat. Again though there is a Stenamma or two that have very Temnothorax-like eyes. I'm not even going to throw Formicoxenus and Leptothorax into the mix but you get this idea, identifying something can be a pain in the ass.

While I have the genus down for that queen, I don't have the species. Stenamma have cryptic nests underground where I've read they are almost certainly predators of small arthropods.

Also above I found a Camponotus castaneus queen starting out. I'd already found a queen to this species behind work. Finding a new queen trying to start her colony in my yard is very rewarding. I made the decision to not catch her because the current adult colony that's out there really isn't doing so hot this year. They may be coming to the end of their colonies natural lifespan and I think it's important to allow some queens to get away. As another example there are some parts of my yard that I just don't look for ants and otherwise never disturb.