Friday, October 20, 2017
Saturday, September 16, 2017
This week I got to try PawPaws for the first time ever and Lasius neoniger flew!
Asimina triloba is the northern most member of the custard apple family which is largely tropical. This is the only species native to the United States and one of the few host plants to the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly. The flowers are pollinated by small vinegar flies and are supposed to require a second cultivar or genetically different tree of the same species in order to produce fruit.... but this is the only tree in my yard and probably the only tree in the whole county. It would seem this cultivar is semi-self fertile. The tree is roughly 12' tall and produced 12 sizable fruits though not on every branch that flowered. Presumably had there been a genetically different tree nearby it would have made even more fruit. (It's either 'Sunflower' or 'Pennsylvania Gold')
The smell is amazing when ripe or slightly damaged. The fruits perfume the air with a fragrance that leaves one assuming some sort of Banana and Orange factory has exploded somewhere. It's very potent and alerts the homeowners, hikers, and wildlife that the fruit is ready.
The inside texture is somewhat gooey verging on vanilla pudding except for the fairly large and flat seeds with are like skipping stones or pebbles. The taste of a slightly unripe one is that of bananas with hints of cantaloupe (or musk melon as it's known in most of the world). A fully ripe one tastes more like a really sweet banana with a candy-like quality to them. It's a shame this fruit has such a short shelf life of about a day and a half because that's been the main reason it hasn't become main stream. (When they are for sale they can sometimes go for $15 a pound!)
A fairly decent anatomy pic showing off the acidopore, a slightly tuft of hairs at the tip of the gaster/abdomen. This is a key trait when identifying ants in the subfamily Formicinae and a conclusive way to tell them apart from members of Dolichoderinae.
Another good anatomy shot. Here the tiny waist segment is clearly visible separating the gaster from the mesosoma.
Brachymyrmex dipilis was also flying that day. This is one of the smallest ants in the U.S.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Finally got around to visiting Turkey Swamp Park this year and a few other locations around that county.
here. Of the four Dolichoderus species in the US this is certainly one of the most colorful. They have bright orange spots that are sometimes full stripes on the gaster which goes well with the rest of the body which ranges from red/brown to black.
Decodon verticillatus, which is an uncommon aquatic wildflower. It has a wide distribution across most of the eastern US and Canada. It was bustling with bees and several butterflies.
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Had the black light on almost every night this week and saw lots of Acorn Ant activity.
I've come to learn that identifying queens in this genus should never be done at a glance because there are some oddities I've never seen before.
Monday, June 26, 2017
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The Karner Blue Butterfly is likely endangered because not only do they require wild lupins as a host plant. They also need ants to protect them and bring them back into the nest. Once inside they turn carnivorous and begin consuming the ant's brood for food, all the while still producing sweet honeydew for the ants to feed on. This isn't that bad though as ants often consume their own eggs or feed larva to one another, and the caterpillar itself isn't much bigger than two or three adult ants.
Flowers are a good place to start because there's often ants stealing nectar from them already. Oddly enough once the ants find the caterpillar and taste the honeydew they produce, they will stop stealing nectar from the flowers and focus entirely on tending them. The caterpillars will also produce noises like a queen ant would make.
Their chrysalis's are extremely tiny and can be made on something as small as a blade of grass. Rearing them myself will help ensure I don't run them over with the mower.
Monday, June 19, 2017
This week I got to explore the ants at the Mt. Cuba Center, a former DuPont estate located in Delaware. Today it's a ~600 acre native plant preserve of which about 45 have been turned walkable gardens.
PLEASE NOTE: this is not a place you would ever bring a shovel to dig for ants. It is an actual garden, you need to stay on the paths, there's no flipping logs or rocks or ripping the bark off of trees as is typically done when looking for ants, and of course this survey was done with permission.
Samples collected are going to be shipped off to AntWeb.org, run out of the California Academy of Science, and School of Ants, a citizen science project based in Florida.
Most Common Species Found: Formica subsericea, Aphaenogaster rudis, Lasius alienus, Temnothorax curvipinosus, Solenopsis molesta, Camponotus chromaiodes, Camponotus pennsylvanicus, Camponotus americanus, Nylanderia flavipes, Tetramorium caespiteum
Unidentified species: Monomorium sp., Formica cf. pallidefulva, Nylanderia sp., Lasius cf. neoniger, (Might have collected Tapinoma sessile and a Myrmica sp. but unsure as of now.)
Ants Seen From Past Trips but not Collected: Prenolepis imparis, Dorymyrmex sp.
Observations: (1) With hundreds of colonies of Formica subsericea in their meadow one slave making species or Polyergus colony could seriously change the power dynamic of their meadow garden. The invasive Tetramorium caespitum had surprisingly uncommon.
(2) Digging into the soil and flipping logs especially in the wild woodland areas would likely yield additional species such as Lasius clavigar, Lasius interjectus, and Lasius umbratus. All three are subterranean aphid farmers that rarely come to the surface for food. Further diligence would likely produce species of Strumigenys and Proceratium as well.
(3) It's odd no Crematogaster species were found. Likewise none of the smaller Camponotus species were observed. Tapinoma sessile should have been more common too given the amount of leaf litter and dead wood used in the gardens, I'm not even certain it was collected or that I even saw it there. All three are notorious nectar thieves of flowers so it's strange to have not seen any of these.
Saturday, June 3, 2017
This week Woodland Poppies and Bloodroot went to seed. Both plants have elaiosome on their seeds which entice ants into dispersing them.
Midden piles are where ants put their garbage. Old insect carcasses, dead workers, spent cocoons, general roughage and things to be discarded all get piled up here. In deserts of the South West they're very noticeable around ant nests but here in the forests of the North Eastern United States they're often hidden under leaf litter.
Overall were it not for the ants dispersing these seeds they wouldn't have gotten very far. New plants would try to germinate just inches away from the old ones and the patch would move at a snails pace and only on the rarest of occasions would they travel up hill. Thanks to the ants carrying the seeds off, even if they're dropped or discarded shortly after, new populations of these plants can spring up to 24' away, potentially more if colonies fight over them or raid the midden piles of other colonies they often do for dead ants.
Other ants that also showed:
Prenolepis imparis - single worker that did not recruit other nest mates.
Nylanderia flavipes - even smaller than Tapinoma sessile in size. Barely able to remove elaiosome. did not disperse seeds.
Temnothorax curvispinosus - even smaller than Nylanderia flavipes. Incapable of recruiting nest mates as they don't use chemical trails.