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Old 07-26-2012, 10:44 PM   #1
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Default Exploring Ants of New Jersey

Last Sunday I hosted The First Annual New Jersey Ant Together, where a few friends and I got together at the Rancocas Nature Center to look for ants. Plant wise it's in a fairly good condition. The worst invasive I found was Japanese Stilt Grass, an annual grass that can quickly overrun the forest floor. Their forests overall are in great condition, its a good mix of Oak and Pine and other trees. Indian Pipe and Winged Sumac were the only plants really in bloom besides what they had in their garden. We didn't really explore their meadow.

The Pyramica colony we found are among the rarer ant genera. They are specialized predators of springtails.

Proceratium (first image) is another specialized predator one only finds among dead wood and leaf litter. The tip of the gaster (the abdomen) actually points forward as a standard and does not point in any other direction ever. As backward as this sounds it makes stinging pray items in tight spaces all the easier.

Stigmatomma pallipes, formerly Amblyoponera, (second image) is a specialized predator of centipedes. After taking down a pray item they haul it back to the nest for their larva to devour. In normal ant societies the larva would then regurgitate the digested food for the workers, however these ants don't do that. Their common name Dracula Ants because the workers will puncture their own larva in nonlethal ways to feed on the hemolymph (insects blood) within. A pretty cool find if I do say so myself.

Pheidole pilifera, (third image) are very tiny ants that have a major caste. Though many call these "soldier" ants it's more accurate to say their large heads just house larger muscles for crushing seeds.

Turkey Swamp Park was our second location just to make sure we saw something of interest for the day. Massive colonies of Formica exsectoides roam some of the back trails there. These ants spray formic acid! One of the rangers actually told us a story where a women's dog started digging into a mound. It started yelping horrifically as it was no doubt sprayed in the nose and eyes. The dog survive thankfully, though formic acid to the eyes can cause blindness! Not an ant you want to get near your face.

Formica exsectoides (fourth image) by far was the most impressive ant I've seen to date. Their mounds are massive, they forage a good 60 to 90 yards away, they setup sub colonies pretty much wherever there is sun, and you can hear them rustling through the leaves of the forest floor. They spray acid to fend off bear attacks on their mounds! These ants are awesome!

Solenopsis texana queen (fifth image) Thief ants are incredibly tiny so it's not surprising their queens are too. Normally Solenopsis molesta is the dominant species but we managed to find a population of S. texana which is much brighter in color.
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Exploring Ants of New Jersey-proceratium.jpg   Exploring Ants of New Jersey-ranamblyopone-1.jpg   Exploring Ants of New Jersey-ranpheidolebicarinata.jpg   Exploring Ants of New Jersey-tsformicaexsectoidesmound.jpg   Exploring Ants of New Jersey-ransolenopsismolestaqueen.jpg  

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Old 07-27-2012, 07:45 AM   #2
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Thanks very much for this posting! In spite of their ubiquity, ants (except for a few pests species) tend to be an overlooked and under appreciated component of our fauna. This is one group of insects where my taxonomic ignorance is indeed profound.
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Old 07-27-2012, 10:22 AM   #3
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Even when I was a kid I used to love watching ants. I love your videos so I'll have to come back and check out that 23 min video. Here's some photos I took last month I think... maybe the month before when I lifted up a stock tank that had been moved. I felt "guilt" when I fould their colony so I put a piece of plywood over the spot. I wonder if they stayed put or moved on.
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