Hi! I really want to know if there is any chance to breed ants? Can I make the ants stronger over generations like cows, if I give them parents with good genes?
Example: Can I make Messor Barbarus queens head extra red or extra big?

Dear Johan,

This is a question that has bothered ant biologists for a long time. Unfortunately, it is actually quite difficult to breed ants. Ant males and queens will only mate after nuptial flights which occur under very specific environmental conditions that are difficult to identify and have been nearly impossible to duplicate in the lab. You can read about how to identify male and female ants in this blog post. Some attempts have been made to artificially inseminate ants but these have all had little success. Bees are relatively easy to artificially inseminate but these techniques have not carried over to ants. While it is theoretically possible to breed ants for particular traits such as color and size, the methods for doing so have not been developed.

Ben Rubin & the AntAsk Team

Need some help IDing this queen. Looks too large for the typical Texas fireant but is all red. Location is gulfcoast area. Seen black ants of similar size and wondering if maybe queens of the same type are just red. Thanks for the help on IDing. Ill try and get better pictures in if needed.

Camponotus castaneus?.jpg

Dear MP,

Thank you for including a photo. This certainly helps with the identification. We asked another ant expert, Lloyd Davis, for some help with this since he is familiar with the ants of Texas. He believes this is Camponotus castaneus. You can see a close up photo here.

The black queens of similar size you also see are likely another species of Camponotus and not a color form of this species. You can learn more about the ants of Texas here.

Happy ant finding!
Lloyd Davis (guest expert), Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

Hi there,
I live NW of Stony Plain, Alberta in the country and I have these ants living in the roots of my shrub and bush. The plants weren't thriving after 3 years of trying to establish so, I dug them up only to find ant nests! I've never seen them above ground and when digging the plants out, they didn't bite at all. Could you please tell me what kind of ants these are and how to get rid of them? (Sorry about the picture quality)

Thank you so much, in advance!
Erika

IMG_0074.jpg


Dear Erika,

Thank you for contacting AntAsk at AntBlog. We are sorry to hear that your house plants have not been doing very well. Thanks for sending in the image of the ants you found in the roots.

To help answer your question about the ants you are finding, we asked an expert on several groups of subterranean ants Dr. John LaPolla. Here is what he had to say:

"They are Lasius (probably belonging to the old genus Acanthomyops) ants. These ants are known to enter into relationships with aphids and mealybugs on the roots of plants - so that is probably what is accounting for the decline in the plants - not the ants directly, but rather their cattle if you will. They are formicines ants (all of these ants have lost their sting and replaced it with an acid-spraying nozzle), so they cannot sting, but if you smell these ants they probably smell a bit like citronelle, sometimes the common name for this group of Lasius."

Thank you for contacting AntBlog,
John LaPolla, Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team



Dear AntAsk,
I am requesting assistance in handling an untenable situation that has besieged my property over the last several years. Thirteen years ago I bought a home in a new development in the central part of Long Island, New York. The property had previously been a wooded area. Over the last several years, the ant population has steadily increased on my property, lifting whole sections of our yard and killing the grass. We have fortunately not had any problems inside the house. The only issue is the surrounding property. From late April to early August, there are several 3-5 five foot areas that are ravaged with large ant holes. The ants tend to be large, swift moving and will readily climb all over your leg if you stop in the area, leaving large parts of our back yard uninhabitable. They are active during the day and become less active in the late afternoon. They are not ant hill per se, but tend to be large inter-connected holes in the earth with seemingly hundreds of ants scurrying about. The soil is sandy and each passing year, the ants seem to have taken over more and more of the backyard, bringing up sand that now covers whatever top soil we had laid down to grow grass. I have tried the granular insect and ant killers found in stores, but this does little to stop the ants. I've tried some of the outdoor traps that are supposed to supply food that will eventually kill the queen, but the ants merely scoff at such measures. I've tried to research this on the internet, but could never really find a solution. The attached photos do not do justice to my plight. The video is a bit better. If this is not enough info, I will try to supply better photos and video if you would be willing to assist. If not, thanks for reading this far.

With kindest consideration,

Perry

Dear Perry,

Thanks for the question. In general, one of the most effective and least chemically-intensive ways of killing ants is pouring a large amount of boiling water onto their nests. This is especially effective in sandy soils. You would probably have the most luck doing this around mid-morning on a sunny day, because ants will often take their brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae) close to the surface to warm up.

If this doesn't work, you can get some tips on a generalizable way to mix your own poisoned baits that these ants might be likely to enjoy here or here. If you know anyone involved in science education, designing a cafeteria experiment, as outlined in the second linked blog post, can be an excellent "learning opportunity."

As a general rule, we encourage you to enjoy watching ants, and attempt to coexist with them in your house and yard. However, using boiling water and/or borax will most likely be much less expensive and have a much smaller environmental impact than most treatments a pest control professional would be likely to try.

I hope this helps!
Best,
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Dear Ant Experts,

We encountered a harvester ant mound during a recent hike for volunteer naturalists. We were discussing why the ants cover their mounds with small stones. One article I found says that they do this so the sun will warm the nest more quickly and radiate heat for the nest during the night. Do harvester ants bring stones out of a nest early in the day, place them in the sun for warming, then bring them back in for the night as a solar heat-source?

Also, do they "plug" the nest with a stone each night?


Dear Bob,

It is a really good question of why some ant species collect and deposit small stones around their nest entrances. Scientists have been addressing these questions, but it still remains unclear. We have contacted Robert Johnson who studies harvester ants and here is what he has to say:

"A number of harvester ants collect pebbles and bring them back to the nest, meaning that they intentionally retrieve these object - they are not excavated from inside the nest. The reason for this behavior is poorly understood, but there is a paper attached that discusses these ideas and why they might do it."

Chris R. Smith and Walter Tschinkel have published some papers, in which they investigated the question you asked and here is a link to the website with links to the pdf flies. The following publications might be of particular interest:

Smith, C. R., and W. R. Tschinkel. 2007. The adaptive nature of non-food collection for the Florida harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex badius. Ecol. Entomol. 32: 105-112.

Smith, C. R., and W. R. Tschinkel. 2005. Object depots in the genus Pogonomyrmex: exploring the "who", what, when, and where. J. Insect Behav. 18: 859-879.

Smith, C. R., and W. R. Tschinkel. 2007. The adaptive nature of non-food collection for the Florida harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex badius. Ecol. Entomol. 32: 105-112.

All the best,
Robert Johnson (guest expert), Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

Dear Ant Blog,

We have an in-ground pool with a concrete deck. Over the years, cracks have appeared as expected from expansion and contraction. Unexpectedly, ants have started coming in through these cracks. At one crack, there is a swarm of little black/dark brown ants who come out, sometimes holding little white objects, and throw themselves into the water. There they form into large clumps, about the size of a Ping-Pong ball, and float around. We have also noticed larger ants that we think are guard ants. We tried to take photos, but the camera kept focusing on the bottom of the pool instead of on the ants. One theory we had was that this might be a way of starting a new colony. Just float off with some eggs and guards and start up where you land. Also, when we scooped one clump out with the skimmer, it promptly dispersed and the ants began swarming towards the hand holding it. This hasn't happened before, and we have been here for several years. Do you have any explanation?
The Lawtons

IMG_2545_small2.jpg


Dear Lawtons,

Thanks for your interesting question and observation. We have deferred to colleague that happens to have quite a lot of experience with ants in the Gainesville area and with Solenopsis invicta, the Red Imported Fire Ant (which is what you are finding in your pool). Here is what Lloyd Davis had to say:

"The ants appear to be the Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta.  This species was introduced into the Southeastern US sometime between 1930 and 1950.  It came from South America, probably near Argentina or Brazil.  In its native habitat, the area surrounding a nest may be subject to unpredictable flooding.  These ants will cling to one another when flooded out of the nest or if they are trailing and fall into water.  I can't tell you why they ended up in your pool.  It is possible they were attempting to get to some other kind of insect that had also fallen into the pool."

You can read more about fire ants here, here, and here.

In addition there is a great video about this behavior of fire ants from the BBC, which can be watched here.

Thank you for contacting us,
Lloyd Davis (guest expert), Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

What species of ant is this? It's a large species of ant that ive only seen a handful of times where i live in southern california. Theres a berry from a juniper next to the ant which makes it a little easier to understand how big it is.

IMG00167-20110331-2019_medium.jpg


Dear Anthony,

Thank you for contacting AntBlog. Since you live in California, we asked Dr. Phil Ward, who is the curator for the AntWeb California Ants page to identify your ant. Here is what he had to say:


"This is an ant in the genus Camponotus, possibly Camponotus sansabeanus or C. semitestaceus (both common species in the drier parts of southern California). This individual is a dealate (or de-winged) queen. It is likely that she recently engaged in a mating flight, after which she dispersed some distance, landed on the ground, and discarded her wings. Unencumbered by wings she would now be searching for a nest site--under a stone or log, or directly in the soil--to start a new colony.

This method of independent colony foundation by a single queen is common in ants (you can read more about this here). In the case of Camponotus the queen sequesters herself in a cavity and begins to lay eggs. When these eggs hatch the queen feeds the larvae with regurgitated liquid food derived from the breakdown of her flight muscles. The larvae develop on this rather meager diet, eventually pupating and finally emerging as tiny adult workers, who open up the nest and begin to forage for food externally. Now the colony starts to acquire food resources from outside the nest cavity and it has the potential to grow rapidly. If it is successful (many incipient colonies fail) then in several years the colony will reach sufficient size to produce new sexual forms (queens and males) and the cycle continues."


You can also read several related posts here, here, and here.

Phil Ward (guest expert), Corrie Moreau, & the AntAsk Team



Dear AntAsk,

I am growing Rubiaceous ant-plants (Myrmecodias and Hydnophytums) in a greenhouse in Michigan. The ants in the 3 photos attached here have moved into some of the Myremcodia plants.

The ants are 2 mm long. The are a reddish-tan color except for a black abdomen, black eyes and black clubs on the end of the antenna.

The photos are not too good. The lines in the photos are mm lines on a ruler

Thanks for your help.

Frank

Dear Frank,

Thanks for the question! Luckily, this genus of ants, Cardiocondyla, have some very distinctive characteristics, especially when top and side views are available. The post-petiole (the second segment of the "waist" of an ant) is always much wider and at least a little shorter and more shallow than the petiole (first segment of the "waist"). This character alone is usually enough to identify them. Another feature every member of this genus that I am aware of shares is the matte texture of the head and much of the thorax (for myrmecologists using a microscope: the dorsal surface of the head, petiole, post-petiole, and often much of the dorsal and lateral alitrunk is pocked with evenly spaced, shallow fovea, yielding what appears to be a fine punctate sculpturing under low magnification). As a general rule, one should not use texture as a character to identify ant genera, but I know of no Cardiocondyla that are smooth-headed, or have groves or wavy lines like some ants (compare an average Cardiocondyla with a Tetramorium or Diacamma).

With regards to the species, one of the most common and widespread species is Cardiocondyla emeryi. This species has been reported from many latitudes on every continent and many tropical islands around the world. A very nice representation of some of these localities is given on its species page on AntWeb (linked above). Another common, widespread species is Cardiocondyla obscurior.

More information on Cardiocondyla and its species can be found in Seifert's very thorough revision from 2003 ( linked here). As Seifert notes, the genus has many species that cannot be easily distinguished with a microscope, and C. emeryi itself has such a wide range and is so variable that many would not be surprised if it turned out to actually be multiple species. Because there seems to be almost as much variation within some of these species as there is between them (I think no one could have done a better job with this group than Seifert, but it does make me a little bit suspicious that he had to use mathematical formulae to make sense of his morphological measurements...), the last word may not have been written about the species limits even of the most familiar members of this genus. I encourage you to read more about the fascinating behavior and reproductive strategies of these ants (an excellent overview in the introduction of the Seifert 2003 article linked above). Perhaps we'll have to do another blog post some day on the fascinating biology of Cardiocondyla!

I hope this helps!
Best,
Jesse Czekanski-Moir & the AntAsk Team

Hi there,

I'm doing a project for my comparative psychology class on ants. I'd like to see if ants are more attracted to more natural foods, such as other insects and fruits, or artificially flavored snacks, like we all have in our pantry. My instructor thought it would be a good idea to find out if ants are attracted to more natural or artificial odors. What do you think?

Whitney


Hi Whitney!

Testing the food preferences of ants sounds like a great idea! And it is definitely interesting to see whether ants prefer natural or artificially flavored foods. We have written two previous post (here and here) that might give you some ideas on how to design your experiment.

One thing you should keep in mind: When you test some natural food (e.g. a piece of banana) against some artificially flavored food (e.g. Cheetos), you will just be able to make the conclusion "Ants prefer the bananas over the Cheetos" (or vice versa), but you have no proof that it is due to the artificial flavor. It could be due to something else. You can still summarize your findings - ants might have preferred different artificial food items 10 times and the different natural food items only 2 times - and suggest that this might be due to the artificial flavor. But you would have no definite causal explanation as you don't have a real good control (this would be, for example, an artificial banana vs. a natural banana).

Basically, there are two set-ups for offering different foods to ants: binary choice experiments (where you offer 2 different food items simultaneously) or cafeteria style experiments (multiple choice experiments, where you offer several different food items simultaneously). You can either test several ants at the same time or test each ant individually. You should always test the ants' preferences at the same time (e.g. 5 min after you first offered the food) and testing at around the same time of day would be a good idea. To avoid position effects, you should alter the order of the food items offered after each round of experiments.

I hope this helps and please let us know if you have any additional questions!

Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

What is the geographic range of leaf cutter ants (Atta spp) in the United States? Are there any known colonies of these (or other) fungus growing ants north of the Gulf States (in the Eastern US)?


Dear Don,

You may be surprised to know that leaf-cutter ants can be found in the United States! Although mostly a Neotropical group, both true leaf-cutters and the other fungus-growing attine ants can be found from South American through North America. There are ~230 described species of attine (fungus-growing) ants. In fact, attine ants are the world's first farmers and have been growing their fungal food crops for around 50 million years.

Here are the geographic distributions of the two true leaf-cutter ant genera (Atta and Acromyrmex) from the Ant Genera of the World website:

Atta_distribution.jpg

Geographic distribution of the leaf-cutter ant genus Atta. Image from Ant Genera of the World (http://www.antmacroecology.org/ant_genera; Guénard, B., M.D. Weiser, and R.R. Dunn. 2010).

Acromyrmex_distribution.jpg

Geographic distribution of the leaf-cutter ant genus Acromyrmex. Image from Ant Genera of the World (http://www.antmacroecology.org/ant_genera; Guénard, B., M.D. Weiser, and R.R. Dunn. 2010).


Recent work by Ted Schultz and Sean Brady has greatly contributed to our understanding the evolutionary history and timing of fungus-growing and leaf-cutting in the Attini ants [Ted R. Schultz & Sean G. Brady (2008) "Major evolutionary transitions in ant agriculture" PNAS 105 (14): 5435-5440.] You can read a nice review of the findings of this study on Myrmecos Blog here.

If you are interested in the geographic distributions of ants, I highly recommend checking out the Ant Genera of the World website.

Best regards,
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

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