Ant identification: May 2010 Archives

Dear Ant Experts,

My name is Roger, and I am 5 and a half years old. We have an ant farm, and we have ants (not fire ants, harvester ants), and we would like to know how to mark them so we know what their names are and what they're doing every day.

I like science and experiments and inventing. I would like your help because I really want to remember my ants and remember their names and know what they're doing every day. I thought maybe we should paint them, but I thought that might cover the holes on their body. What kind of paint do we need to use?

Thank you,
Roger (With some transcription help from his mother, Andrea)

Dear Roger (and Andrea),

How great that you are already so excited about biology! Keeping an ant colony is always great fun and we understand that you want to know your ants by names.

Marking ants can be difficult. The paint you can use is non-toxic acrylic paint. You can paint very small dots with a very fine wire (for small ants) or a very fine brush (for large ants). You don't need to worry about harming the ants, researchers paint them for some experiments and the ants do well after they have been painted. It is only very difficult because the ants don't like to be painted. To slow them down, you can put the ants in the fridge. This only slows them down for a very short time. But you can also put the ants in the freezer. That slows them down for a longer time, but be careful not to leave them in the freezer too long. Try 2-3 minutes first and see how long they need to recover. If they recover very fast, you can leave them in the freezer a bit longer, maybe 5 minutes. You can also work with them on a cooler pack that is refrigerator temperature (freezer temperatures might harm the ants if you take too long while you're painting them), this will help keep them cool for longer. Some scientists use a special refrigerated table for keeping organisms at a certain temperature while they are working with them. Be careful when you handle them! Feather-weigth forceps (e.g. found here) are best for holding the ants and picking them up. This type of forceps is very soft and does not harm the ants.

We also have to warn you not to get stung by the ants. If you really have harvester ants, they have a very painful sting. This sting can have severe effects on you for several hours.

Here you can find some great pictures by Alex Wild of ants that have been marked by researchers.


This picture taken by Alex Wild shows some Temnothorax rugatulus ant that have been individually marked by researchers.

Enjoy your ant colony!
Steffi Kautz, Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


I'm Lucas and I am 8 years old. I am identifying ants. I have one with 2 petioles, a step depression on the thorax, and a medium-sized spine. It's about 4 or 5mm and a bit hairy. It has short antennae and it's orange-ish brown. In my identification key, it asks if the spine is long or short. If it's long, I think it's an acrobat ant. If it's short, I think it's a seed disperser ant. But the spine on this ant isn't big or small, it's medium, so I don't know what it is.

Do you know?

I found it in Cupertino, and it was dead and being carried in the mouth of a bicolored wood ant when I found it.

Could you please help me on this?

Thank you.

Hello Lucas,

Wow! We're very impressed that you're so interested in ants, and you've done such a great job identifying this one so far!

One of the ways I can always recognize an acrobat ant right away is how the second petiole (post-petiole) attaches to the gaster, which is the back part of the ant. Does it attach on the top, like in this picture, or just on the front, like it does on most ants, including seed-dispersers. Also, the petiole (1st petiole) on acrobat ants is flat on the top, whereas the petiole of seed-disperser ants, (and many other ants with a petiole and a post-petiole) has a distinct bump on the top, as show in this great picture by Eli Sarnat.

Also, when they're alive, acrobat ants tend to hold their gasters vertically, as shown in this picture by Alex Wild. This is an alarm posture, but, chances are, if a big scary human like you is near by, they will be alarmed! This distinctive posture is also why they are called "acrobat ants:" sometimes they hold their gasters so high, it seems like they are doing a hand-stand!

You should check out some pictures of Crematogaster (acrobat ants) and Aphaenogaster (seed-disperser ants) on the Ants of California Antweb page, too. It always helps me to see pictures of the different species in a genus I'm trying to identify, so I have an idea of how much variation there is.

Good luck, and keep up the great work!
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


I live in Cairns, North Queensland, Australia. I have just found an ant that continually cast off from its location using a strand of web, much like a spider. My partner and I were unable to find any information on such an ant on the web, so were wondering if you could point us in the right direction? Any guidance you could give us would be much appreciated.

Kindest regards,

Dear Sebastian,

Thanks so much for your question!  It is possible that what appears to the unaided eye to be an ant is actually a spider!  Many groups of spiders (and several different types of insects as well) have evolved the appearance of ants, either to fool ants into letting them close enough to eat them, or capitalize on ants' cooperative reputation to intimidate potential predators.  

The behavior you described sounds like a spider in the 'jumping spider' family, the Salticidae.  They will often jump, and leave a 'dragline' of silk as a way of ensuring they have a place to retreat to if they end up jumping too far, or over a cliff that was higher than they thought.  I have found that these mimics often switch between moving in a very convincingly ant-like fashion, and reverting back to their jumping spider style of movement.  

The largest and most diverse group of ant mimics is the jumping spider genus Myrmarachne, with more than 200 species. The center of diversity for this group seems to be in Southeast Asia, although several species also occur in Australia. Several other genera of spiders also mimic ants, though, both jumping spiders and otherwise.

Here is an excellent link with many pictures and natural history information on jumping spiders in Australia:

Here are some pictures of one of the most common genera of ant-mimicing Salticids in Southeast Asia and Northern Australia (pictures taken in Malaysia).

A google image search also lead me to this amazing picture, posted on Flickr

Spiders aren't the only ones to have evolved ant-like appearances. Several groups of insects, including beetles, flies, and praying mantids, have independently evolved ant-like shapes and colorations. Some insects with larger adult phases only resemble ants when they are very young, and some jumping spiders actually seem to resemble different ants at different ages. Ant-mimicry, or "myrmecomorphy" was extensively reviewed by McIver and Stonedahl in this 1993 paper here, and the wikipedia article on ant mimicry has some more interesting information

Hope this helps!  
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team.  

Enhanced by Zemanta