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Old 11-10-2010, 12:14 PM   #1
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Default Workers Hold Key to Power in Nature's Oldest Societies, Ant Study Shows

Workers Hold Key to Power in Nature's Oldest Societies, Ant Study Shows
ScienceDaily
Nov. 3, 2010

Workers hold key to power in nature's oldest societies, ant study shows
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A new study analysing how complex, highly-evolved societies are organised in nature has found that it is workers that play a pivotal role in creating well-ordered societies where conflict is minimised. For when it comes to determining who reproduces in ants, University of Leicester biologists have found the humble worker is queenmaker -- it is they who choose their queen...
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Old 11-10-2010, 09:25 PM   #2
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The Science Daily version of this article kind of over hypes the findings a bit. The study was about the twig ant Leptothorax acervorum, one of many species in the genus.

A single species showing both monogynous and polygynous tendencies isn't anything new. The Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invictia is notorious for doing this. The polygynous form produces thousands of inferior looking queens that are smaller than those produce in monogynous colonies. The issue is polygynous colonies have so many queens to feed that they barely fly from the nest and most just mate and wonder back inside the parent colony. This of the ant only spread because colonies will divide. The monogynous form, however, has no trouble feeding their reproductive caste and alates tend to be bigger, healthier, and have no trouble flying far from the nest to start a colony on their own.

I have actually seen a few species of ant band their colonies together over the winter, regardless of being monogynous or polygynous, but they soon divide the following year. It's as if during the colder months there's little reason to hold claim over territory or care how many queens are in the colony at one time.
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Old 11-10-2010, 09:34 PM   #3
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Ants are really so interesting! When I lived in Florida though I got bit frequently by the fire ants which cause painful pustules and swelling that lasts for ten days.
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Old 11-15-2010, 08:46 AM   #4
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The Science Daily version of this article kind of over hypes the findings a bit.

Can you comment on the old Science Daily article "Why Ants Rule the World"? I am particularly interested in the accuracy/veracity of biomass estimates.
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Old 11-15-2010, 03:42 PM   #5
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If you would like to link to it sure. I couldn't find it on my own.

It sounds like it's highlighting how 1 in 3 insects is an ant. (Or is it 1 in 3 insects encountered is an ant?) Anyhow there are math mathematical equations that estimate this sort of thing to determine how much biomass a particular group takes up.

As we go closer to the equator the average year round temperature tends to even out and fewer and fewer species need to shut down for the winter. Because of this (in my opinion anyhow) life tends to be way more diverse as it allows species to produce more generations per year. A temperate species of ant that's somewhat common is Lasius neoniger. They hold their nuptial flights in August for most of the country but in the most souther part of their range, norther Florida, it's warm enough year round that colonies there produce a second batch of alates and an additional nuptial flight occurs in December. Queens farther north typically wait until after winter before laying their first batch of eggs where as moving farther south queens that lay their first eggs sooner in the year become more common.

Something that makes the 1/3 antilogarithm (whichever it is) hard to believe is the odd fact that the southern hemisphere is more diverse than the northern hemisphere.

As you get into the tropics we find species so all those ants that documentaries like to highlight. Leaf Cutter ants, particularly Atta, which replenish nutrients into the soil. Army ants, particularly Eciton, which are predators of other ants. In Madagascar there are Driver ants, Dorylus, which are like army ants but have colonies up to twenty million produced by a single queen. In the old world tropics we find Weaver ants, Oecophylla. Sure we can see videos of the Fire Ant, Solenopsis invictia, but it is native to Brazil. The only real temperate ant we see now and then is Formica and occasionally Camponotus. Formica are strictly a temperate genus but Camponotus is actually the second largest ant genus in the world with the majority of them living in the tropics. Wood ant and Carpenter ant are the closest thing to a common name either genus gets but both are inaccurate. And these are just the ones documentaries like to highlight.

There are fungus growing ants related to Atta that cultivate slightly different fungi, one genera of which has switched over to growing yeast. This includes Trachymyrmex which can be found as far north as the NJ Pine Barrens! There are dozens of army ant genera all over the world. Including Neivamyrmex which can be found as far north as Delaware up to Illinois and across to California.

The tropics also yield more ant plant relationships. There are more plant species who produce hollow cavities for ants to nest inside. So more opportunistic nesting species occur there in greater numbers and in larger colonies. Here in the US we have Acorn Ants, Temnothorax sp, who's colonies are small enough to live in hallow cracks and nuts, usually the result to a beetle grub boring out the inside. Out west there is some type of plant that has hollow thorns for colonies of Crematogaster and Pseudomyrmex to nest inside. Both genera get far more diverse as we go into the tropics.

Azteca is another over looked genus that can be quite common in the tropics. They build large nests right on trees. Loads of other overlooked ants too.

So yah ants are very diverse... weather or not they make up 1/3rd the biomass or species, I don't know. I hope to visit some of these places and someday I can say for sure.
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Old 11-16-2010, 08:14 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by MrILoveTheAnts View Post
If you would like to link to it sure. I couldn't find it on my own.
My apologies for the oversight; see Why Ants Rule the World | LiveScience
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Old 11-16-2010, 03:09 PM   #7
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My apologies for the oversight; see Why Ants Rule the World | LiveScience
This is sort of an example of a big headline some journalist put there to get attention. I say sort of because it implies ants are running the space program or something, or in connection all plotting away. I wouldn't say "ants rule the world" but rather they have evolved to be in just about every ecosystem on earth. There are very few islands and places where ants are not found. There is an ant species for just about every occasion.

Also ants certainly come in more colors than, yellow, black and red, though they are very common.

That said the article also understates some of their achievements. There are species of ant that live in flood planes and know how to swim and actually live in soil under the water line. There are canopy species who's bodies allow them to glide back to the tree when they fall off, as opposed to hitting what could be a flooded forest floor.


It's funny the article you sent quotes Alex Wild. I have been linking to his blog and excellent photo work this whole time. He's a teacher (professor?) at the University of Illinois. I know the local news there likes to use him as a resident bug expert. He probably talked for hours on examples of ants and the journalist had to narrow it down to 3 or 4 examples.

Here is his Ant Portfolio, and he's good enough to arrange all his images by subfamily! I wish there was a plant guide counterpart out there.
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Old 11-17-2010, 10:20 AM   #8
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Thank you very much for the additional information! (As well as pointing out the title as another example of journalistic license...)
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Old 11-18-2010, 10:45 PM   #9
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Thanks for the link to Alex Wild's photographs, MrILovetheAnts. It will help me to ID my many species of ants.
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Old 11-19-2010, 01:29 AM   #10
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Thanks for the link to Alex Wild's photographs, MrILovetheAnts. It will help me to ID my many species of ants.
While he does have a lot of nice ant photos, he does not have a complete list of species in the US. www.antweb.org is a better website that does have all the species, but unfortunately lacks any live images of the ant and some taxonomic knowledge is required. Posting pictures on Bugguide.net is an okay way to get the attention of experts. I'm on there too offering my opinions.

I think I'll do a post on identifying ants some day, at least to subfamily and then genus level.
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