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Throughout the mainland Neotropics, from Mexico to Argentina. Costa Rica: common throughout the lowlands, both dry and wet forest habitats.
This species is common and extremely generalized in its habitat preferences and nesting habits. Workers may be found in the canopy of primary rainforest, in tropical dry forest, in scrubby roadside vegetation, and in mangroves. It can nest in live or dead stems. The stems in which it nests are often very narrow, as small as 3mm diameter. Nests may be found in specialized ant-plants such as bull's horn Acacia (Mann 1922) and Cordia alliodora, but its use of these plants is purely facultative (Kempf 1952).
Adams (1990) found that C. maculatus had a parabiotic association with Azteca trigona in mangrove forests of Panama. The abstract states:
In mangrove forests on the Atlantic coast of Panama, the arboreal ant Zacryptocerus maculatus was positively associated with territorial ants in the genus Azteca. Systematic sampling showed that this association was not caused by shared preference for the same size or species of tree. Furthermore, Z. maculatus was not forced to live within territories of Azteca by being excluded from the territories of other abundant ants. Instead, the association appeared to be caused by direct interactions between colonies of Azteca and Z. maculatus. When in the presence of A. trigona, colonies of Z. maculatus engaged in an unusual form of social parasitism. Workers followed pheromone trails deposited by scouts of A. trigona in order to locate newly discovered food sources. In effect, Z. maculatus parasitizes the foraging efforts of A. trigona by reading information contained within its recruitment signals. Z. maculatus workers were able to gain access to these resources because of their stealthy approach and unusual body armor. Observations on related ants suggest that this parasitic habit is shared by other species of Zacryptocerus within the subgenus Harnedia.
I have the following records of nest collections:
Roadside at edge of wet forest. Workers in 3mm dia soft dead stem. In dense tangle of dead vines and branches.
A Croton tree with attached Ficus strangler was a corner fencepost surrounded by pasture and low second growth. The tree was dominated by an Azteca colony, and contained many other species of arboreal ants. The C. maculatus nest was in a dead branch.
In narrow channels running through 11mm dia dead stick.
Collecting in 4-day old treefall, these collections around a big branch of Stryphnodendron excelsum, some smaller Pentaclethra macroloba branches, and a tangled mass of Norantea sessilis. There were two Cephalotes nests in different parts of a live Norantea stem. One stem was 12mm and the other 15mm in diameter. In the field I thought they were part of one polydomous colony, because they were in such close proximity, but I later discovered that one nest was C. curvistriatus and the other was C. maculatus.
Pasture/road edge. Sample of nodes from Cordia alliodora trees. Entrance holes of C. maculatus were round, but not as perfectly circular as those of C. setulifer (an obligate inhabitant of C. alliodora). The insides of the nodes were clean, brown, with no Homoptera. Two nodes had lone dealate queens, and no brood. Two other nodes had brood and workers, and were no doubt part of larger polydomous colony.
Canopy Inga treefall. A nest was in the center of a live stem, stem dia. 14mm, at the very top of the tree. A single round hole extended perpendicularly from the surface to a central cavity, which extended in both directions. The cavity was 5.5cm long and 3mm wide. The nest contained only a major, one mature worker, one callow worker, and 7 individual brood, ranging from a very small larva to a pupa.
Roadside vegetation, in full sun; nesting in dead Cordia alliodora nodes.
Collecting from Carapa guianensis, felled day before; tree was somewhat isolated in low second growth vegetation; abundant vines in treefall, mainly Marcgraviaceae. Nest in narrow-gauge dead stem.
One-day old clearing of young second growth forest; the large area of felled small trees was dominated by Crematogaster cf. parabiotica. A Cordia alliodora tree was largely occupied by Crematogaster, but a few nodes contained Cephalotes. Some nodes were C. setulifer, but at least one node contained C. maculatus.
Adams, E. S. 1990. Interaction between the ants Zacryptocerus maculatus and Azteca trigona: interspecific parasitization of information. Biotropica 22:200-206.
Andrade, M. L. de, and C. Baroni Urbani. 1999. Diversity and adaptation in the ant genus Cephalotes, past and present (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). Stuttgarter Beitrage zur Naturkunde Serie B (Geologie und Palaontologie) 271:1-889.
Kempf, W. W. 1952. A synopsis of the pinelii-complex in the genus Paracryptocerus (Hym. Formicidae). Stud. Entomol. 1:1-30.
Mann, W. M. 1922. Ants from Honduras and Guatemala. Proc. U. S. Natl. Mus. 61:1-54.
Smith, F. 1876. Descriptions of new species of Cryptoceridae, belonging to the genera Cryptocerus, Meranoplus, and Cataulacus. Trans. Entomol. Soc. Lond. 1876:603-612.
Canindeyú, Central, Ñeembucú, Paraguarí, Pte. Hayes (ALWC, IFML, INBP, LACM). Literature records: Central, Cordillera, “Paraguay” (s. loc.) (de Andrade & Baroni-Urbani 1999, Emery 1894a, Forel 1911g).
Found most commonly in these habitats: 1 times found in scrubby dry forest, 1 times found in lowland tropical rain forest, 1 times found in river floodplain, 1 times found in moist forest, 1 times found in humid sub-tropical forest edge, 2 times found in 2nd growth veg., 3 times found in tropical dry forest, 2 times found in tropical rainforest, 1 times found in mature wet forest, 1 times found in scrub veg., pasture edge, ...
Found most commonly in these microhabitats: 1 times ex dead branch, 2 times in dead stick, 1 times ex top of dead sapling, 4 times beating vegetation, 3 times ex sifted leaf litter, 2 times collecting from Carapa guianensis, felled yesterday, along new roadcut just beyo, 1 times foragers on treefall, 1 times Pasture/road edge. Sample of nodes from Cordia alliodora trees. See field notes, 3 times on low vegetation, 1 times nest in twig, 1 times in fresh treefall, ...
Collected most commonly using these methods: 17 times search, 6 times direct collection, 6 times Fogging, 1 times hand collecting, 4 times Beating, 4 times Malaise, 2 times MiniWinkler, 0 times Arboreal pitfall, 2 times beating low vegetation, 0 times Epigaeic pitfall, 1 times Foggin, ...
Elevations: collected from 5 - 1170 meters, 308 meters average