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Southern Mexico to Ecuador and west to the Santa Marta region of Colombia. Costa Rica: Pacific lowlands.
Azteca forelii favors tropical dry forest or seasonal wet forest. In Costa Rica it occurs at low density throughout the Pacific slope but is not known from the wet Atlantic slope. It needs large trees in which to nest, and thus mature forests are favored, but large trees along roadsides or pasture edges will suffice.
This species has been collected from ramifying systems of carton galleries on the surfaces of trees. Forel (1899) reported var. xysticola with carton galleries on granitic rocks or on tree trunks. The galleries were reported to be indistinguishable from those of Crematogaster stollii. He later described var. raptrix and concluded that the Azteca had actually invaded and taken over the carton galleries of a Crematogaster stollii nest (Forel 1912).
I have observed colonies of this species three times. One was in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica, in a canopy Ficus (Moraceae). Fresh carton galleries occurred on nearly every branch and multiple galleries extended down the bole. Another was at Ciudad Neily, also in Costa Rica's southern Pacific lowlands. A similar set of galleries covered the branches of a canopy Sapium (Euphorbiaceae). In this case I discovered that the carton galleries covered the entrances to numerous small cavities in the live branch tips. These cavities were filled with ant brood and coccoid Hemiptera, and occasionally there were alate queens. A third colony was near Santa Marta, Colombia, in Tayrona National Park. A system of carton galleries covered a small roadside Inga (Mimosaceae) tree. A part of the colony occupied the dead core of a live branch. In each case, a few galleries extended all the way down the trunk and into the soil at the base of the tree. No foragers were ever observed outside of the galleries unless the galleries were broken open. Although I found the occasional hemipteran under the surface galleries, I never found ant brood there. All brood and the vast majority of the hemipterans occur in plant cavities to which the galleries lead.
These ants can be difficult to locate in a tropical forest because workers are never exposed on the surface and the galleries are superficially similar to those of the ubiquitous nasutiform termites. However, on close inspection the carton is quite different from termite carton. It is a light-colored coarse thatch instead of the dark mud-like material of termite galleries. The thatch-like galleries are unique in the genus and do not resemble the more papery carton typical of other Azteca (e.g. A. aurita and A. chartifex groups) or the very friable carton of ant garden species. What is remarkable, and this was also observed by Forel, is how similar the carton material and gallery systems are to those of Crematogaster stollii. Crematogaster stollii is broadly sympatric with A. forelii, occurring in about the same densities in the same kinds of habitats. Forel thought that A. forelii might usurp C. stollii nests, and there is also the possibility that C. stollii usurps A. forelii nests, but I have seen no evidence of this. In all the colonies I have seen of both A. forelii and C. stollii, the extensive system of carton galleries was fully occupied and there were areas of fresh carton construction.
Queens were unknown prior to this study. The Ciudad Neily collection is the only one for which workers and queens were associated. A few alate queens have been collected at scattered localities, all of them from blacklights.
Workers of this infrequently collected species can be recognized by 1) densely punctate/striate mandibles which are opaque nearly to the masticatory margin, and 2) reduced pilosity on the appendages. There are five infraspecific taxa: eiseni (Mexico), championi, raptrix, xysticola (all from Santa Marta area, Colombia), and ursina (Trinidad). The differences among them are minor color differences and I see no evidence of multiple species. I synonymized them all under forelii in Longino (2007).
|Azteca||Longino, J. T., 2007, A taxonomic review of the genus Azteca (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Costa Rica and a global revision of the aurita group., Zootaxa 1491, pp. 1-63: 8-10, (download)||8-10||21311|
|Azteca foreli||Forel, A., 1899, Biologia Centrali-Americana; or, contributions to the knowledge of the fauna and flora of Mexico and Central America. Insecta. Hymenoptera. 3 (Formicidae)., London: Unknown Publisher: 111, (download)||111||8170|
|Azteca forelii||Longino, J. T., 2007, A taxonomic review of the genus Azteca (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Costa Rica and a global revision of the aurita group., Zootaxa 1491, pp. 1-63: 32-33, (download)||32-33||21311||GoogleMaps|
Found most commonly in these habitats: 4 times found in lowland rainforest, 4 times found in rainforest, 2 times found in tropical dry forest, 1 times found in lowland tropical rain forest, 1 times found in 2nd growth moist forest, 2 times found in dry forest, 2 times found in tropical rainforest, 1 times found in Secondary forest, 1 times found in 2º wet forest, 1 times found in mature dry forest, ...
Found most commonly in these microhabitats: 1 times ex live stems Sapium, 1 times recent treefall, 1 times foraging trail on branch, 2 times strays, 1 times on tree trunk, 1 times nest in live branch, 2 times beating vegetation, 2 times at bait, 1 times under carton *on treetrunk, 1 times on low vegetation, 1 times on branchfall, ...
Collected most commonly using these methods: 8 times search, 1 times hand collecting, 2 times light trap, 2 times beating, 2 times blacklight, 2 times Baiting, 1 times Malaise.
Elevations: collected from 5 - 1130 meters, 179 meters average
Type specimens: syntype of Azteca forelii: casent0905091; syntype of Azteca foreli championi: casent0909630; syntype of Azteca foreli raptrix: casent0909628; syntype of Azteca foreli ursina: casent0909632; syntype of Azteca foreli xysticola: casent0909629; syntype of Azteca forelii champion: casent0903015; syntype of Azteka eiseni: castype00610