For personal reasons this year I decided not to have an official "Ant Together." The short story is that my grandfather unexpectedly passed away during the peak month that we would have had one. I found myself in this odd state of mine where I just wanted to skip everything required of me and not volunteer for certain family obligations... thus it stood to reason that I shouldn't be doing other things either such as holding events.
Though the truth is as much as I like to promote the New Jersey Ant Together as a big annual thing, it's never escaped being a simple hiking trip with like minded individuals. And maybe it should stay as a simple get together in future.
Rancocas Nature Center where we held our first one.
This was not our most productive trip, mostly owing to the fact that I forgot my shovel (Doh!), but we still had fun. Our first visit there five years ago we had come across colonies of Polyergus, Stigmatomma, and Strumigenys which was pretty good for our first time! Polyergus are specialist slave making ants of the common Formica genus, that are only found in certain fields. Stigmatomma are a type of "Dracula Ant" which specializes on hunting down centipedes for food. The term Dracula Ant comes from their habit of feeding on their own larva through non-lethal cutting. Strumigenys are cryptic, often hard to find, specialist on soft bodied arthropods... basically miniature Trap-Jaw Ants. None of which we found on our trip owing to the fact that it was very late in the summer.
The genus Crematogaster is easily identified because their waste segment connects to the upper half of the gaster, where as every other ant genus in the world connects to the lower half, or to both with a wide surface area. Their gaster is also considered "heart-shaped." The reason for this upper connection to the gaster is so they can more easily flick venom onto enemies or "sting" venom in an overhead like action as a scorpion would go to sting. Their stinger is said to be soft and flexible, like a hair so really they're not so much injecting venom as painting it on.
Members of the Sanguinae
group of Formica HAVE to have host ants within the colony to do the
work for them. They are obligated slave makers. Other species of Formica
found in the Exsecta, Rufa, and Microgyna groups might use host
colonies to found new nests, but after that host species are no longer
needed. In fact the Formica exesectoides mounds we like to visit
in Turkey Swamp Park rarely use host species. They've move beyond the
need for them, allowing new queens from their own colony back into the
nest to form a massive super colony within the forest.
These do require slaves though and we chanced upon, I believe starting out on a raid.