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Mexico to Costa Rica, Colombia. Costa Rica: widespread in Atlantic lowlands, Central Valley, Cordillera de Tilaran (Pacific slope near Monteverde).
This species inhabits the canopy of wet to moist forest. I most often encounter it as workers on treetrunks, in recent treefalls, and in canopy fogging samples. The few nest collections I have seen are all from live stems. One was at La Selva Biological Station, from a patch of old secondgrowth forest that was being felled for a research project. The nest was in the live stems of a broken branch. The stems had very soft pith. I did not identify the branch, but I think it was a legume. A second nest collection was from near Rara Avis, from a Cecropia sapling internode. A third nest was from moist forest below Monteverde, in live stems of the ant-plant Triplaris melaenodendron. This tree had not only the cristatus nest, but also nests of Crematogaster, Camponotus, and Pseudomyrmex.
Given the common occurrence of workers in the crowns of many species of trees, it is clear that cristatus is not a specialist on ant-plants or any particular plant species. It is a generalist occupant of live stems, and can be found opportunistically using ant-plants.
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.
Emery, C. 1890. Studii sulle formiche della fauna neotropica. Bull. Soc. Entomol. Ital. 22:38-80.
Kempf, W. W. 1951. A taxonomic study on the ant tribe Cephalotini (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Rev. Entomol. (Rio J.) 22:1-244.
Found most commonly in these habitats: 19 times found in montane wet forest, 11 times found in tropical moist forest, 1 times found in STR 2050, 3 times found in wet broadleaf forest, 7 times found in lowland rainforest, 3 times found in CES 400, 1 times found in Tower, 6 times found in 2º wet forest, 5 times found in 2º lowland rainforest, 4 times found in mature wet forest, ...
Collected most commonly using these methods or in the following microhabitats: 16 times search, 22 times Beating, 21 times Malaise, 13 times Fogging, 5 times hand collecting, 4 times Sweeping, 4 times MiniWinkler, 3 times Foggin, 2 times Baiting, 1 times tropical deciduous, sifting litter along stream, 1 times in bromeliad, ...
Elevations: collected from 30 - 1150 meters, 311 meters average