Formicidae

A(i)nt and gast(e)ropost

While at the Los Tuxtlas field station I had the opportunity to be attacked by numerous arthropods, including trombiculid mites (chiggers), numerous species of ants, and an urticating caterpillar. Don’t laugh about the caterpillar!  They can kill you. But the one that got me only left a caterpillar-shaped welt on my shoulder. I’ll describe two ant attacks of note. One involved an invasion of sleeping quarters by male and female ants after a hot day and heavy rainstorm induced a flight of reproductives. The bedroom walls and ceiling were covered in winged ants, which proceeded to fall down on the bed at night. One added both injury and insult by biting my bottom.

winged ant queen like the one that bit me in bed Los Tuxtlas 18 July 2014 sml

One of many reproductive female ants that swarmed the bedroom in Los Tuxtlas. Unfortunately, I don’t know the genus.

The next morning I took some photos of the remaining reproductives, which revealed that the males have grotesquely enlarged and protuberant ocelli.  A cursory Googling revealed that ocelli tend to be larger in reproductives of night-flying ant species, but I couldn’t find a good explanation for the sexual difference. This paper suggests that males of Myrmecia (a genus different from the that of the ants that fell on me) may have to engage in more intense visual tracking to find the females for mating.

ocelli of female vs male reproductive ants Los Tuxtlas 18 July 2014 sml

Heads of female (left) and male (right) reproductive ants showing the difference between the sexes in relative size and sphericality of the three ocelli.

The second ant attack occurred when I was peaceably watching a lecture on salticid taxonomy in the lab. Suddenly I felt a burning pain on my throat. Remnants of the crushed body of the perpetrator revealed that it was a Pseudomyrmex, probably P. salvini.  This ant was many times larger than the other species of Pseudomyrmex that had attacked my hand near Chamela, and it produced a goiter-like swelling commensurate with its size. I don’t know what induced it to stab me in the neck – sheer viciousness, perhaps. But on the bright side, the nasty nature of the Pseudomyrmex is probably why a particularly striking species of jumping spider mimics it. The a(i)nt pictured below with its model is a species of Synemosyna. They were common on the station walls and foliage.

Pseudomyrmex most likely salvini and Synemosyna mimic Los Tuxtlas 14 July 2014

Pseudomyrmex ant on left and a mimicking Synemosyna salticid on the right.

 So there is the gasteropost – on to the gastropost.  In Morelia we had much enjoyable food and drink, including a surprisingly good Mexican IPA, but there was also some awful stuff. One meal resulted in a three day trial of having my Edmontonian gut flora violently replaced with a Morelian community. After that had settled down, I decided I was digestively robust enough to sample a mysterious drink called a ‘Michelada’, which was advertised everywhere, but I had no idea what it might be. When the beverage arrived, this is what it turned out to be:

Michelada trimmed

Creating the Michelada – beer plus Clamato juice. Urgh. (photo by Wayne Maddison)

I managed to drink about a fifth of the concoction before the guts said ‘no’! Tastebuds concurred. But as odd as this beer+Clamato sounds, there is an equivalent in Alberta: the Red Eye. Why someone decided to replace the vodka in a Caesar with beer is unclear to me.

A more pleasant food experience took place in Mexico City after I had given my talk at UNAM. My host, Dr. Tila Pérez, took me and some other arachnologists to a traditional restaurant for lunch. There in addition to delicious moles (poblano, negro, verde and rojo), we sampled some unusual appetizers. My favourite was escamoles – fried ant juveniles (maybe a mixture of larvae and pupae) served with guacamole and eaten with tortillas. They tasted like buttery fried things, and I enjoyed them maliciously.

escamoles - fried ant pupae raised on agave roots Mexico City 28 July 2014

Fried baby ants – delicious revenge! (photo by Grislda Montiel)

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A(i)nts

Worker ants are nasty creatures that are always beating up on other animals, possibly because of sexual frustration, or maybe they feel oppressed by their queens and take out their anger on non-socialists. Whatever the reason, their short tempers and vicious weaponry mean that ants are given a wide berth by most smart organisms.  This is probably why so many non-formicid arthropods try to look like ants. Here are two that we’ve collected as by-catch at Chamela.

(1) Pincher wasp (Dryinidae).  At first I thought “scary ant about to sting!”.  Then I thought “mantis pretending to be ant!”. Then “mantispid!”. Then “what the heck is it?”. Googling eventually brought me to the right family on BugGuide. Dryinids are both predators and parasitoids, which is quite unusual, and use their raptorial legs to grab hosts while ovipositing. Biology of this group is discussed here and here.

ant-mimicking dryinid wasp on leaf Calandria Trail Chamela Stn 19 Feb 2014

Dryinid at a distance.

ant-mimicking dryinid wasp Calandria Trail Chamela Stn 19 Feb 2014 A

Dryinid close up. Note cool raptorial forelegs.

(2) Lacebug (Tingidae). At first I thought “Ant carrying a dead ant”. But it was behaving in a non-antly fashion so I took it back to the Chamela collections room and looked at it under a dissecting scope it was clearly a true bug. The fenestrations suggest that it is a lacebug. If it is indeed a tingid, then as far as I can tell this is a sufficiently rare phenomenon as to be unGoogleable. Has anyone else observed lacebugs that look like ants? UPDATE: I sent some of these to Laura Miller (West Virginia Department of Agriculture), a tingid expert, and they are indeed lacebugs. What’s more, they represent a new species of Aepycysta. Thanks, Laura!

tiny ant-like lacebug Tingidae on leaf Calandria Trail Chamela Stn 19 Feb 2014

Tingid at a distance, looking like two ants (at least, that’s what it looks like to me).

tiny ant-like lacebug Tingidae Calandria Trail Chamela Stn 19 Feb 2014 A

Tingid close up. Note laciness.

In addition to these formiciform insects, we have seen a lot of neat salticids that do an excellent job of pretending to be ants.

Gasteroposting

lunch aka comida at Chamela field station on 16 Feb 2014

Lunch (= comida) at Chamela field station on 16 Feb 2014


Posting photographs of one’s food on the web (‘gastroposting’) has gone from bizarre, to hip, to mainstream enough for the Edmonton Journal.  Soon it will be deemed dull. Time for a new, edgy form of photographic expression – I suggest gasteroposting. A gasteropost includes a photograph of an ant and of the wound it created on the photographer.  During my 11 days at Chamela I have had sufficient encounters for two gasteroposts.



(1) Eciton sp. (army ants!)  Context: wearing open-toed sandals when walking on dry tropical rainforest litter at night. Review: intensely exciting at first sting, long-lasting throbbing, finishes with a dry brown necrotic patch.

army ant Eciton bivouac forming outside kitchen door Chamela field station 11 Feb 2014

A bivouac of Eciton outside the kitchen door at Chamela station.

army ant Eciton sting on toe Chamela field station 11 Feb 2014 sml

Three stings on the toe.

(2) Pseudomyrmex ferruginea. Context: looking for Bagheera kiplingi on bullhorn acacia. Review: spicy and enthusiastic stinger, deceptively calm post-sting hiatus, impressive puffiness of stung appendage subsequent day.

bullshorn acacia and Pseudomyrmex on rd from San Mateo beach 15 Feb 2014 A

Bullhorn acacia domatia and Pseudomyrmex

Pseudomyrmex stinging HPs knuckle from bullshorn acacia on rd from San Mateo beach 15 Feb 2014

The sting itself!

result of Pseudomyrmex sting 16 Feb 2014 A

Puffy knuckles.