What species of ant is this, and is it a queen?

What species of ant is this, and is it a queen?

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I found her underneath a big rock along with a bunch of much smaller Lasius niger workers, so I suspect it might be a queen. I know Lasius niger doesn't have soldiers, so what could it have been doing there if it wasn't their queen? Also, sorry for the bad picture quality, I couldn't find a better camera, and also don't have a proper magnifying glass.

Country: Belgium

Environment: forest

Location: underneath big rock

Behaviour: calm when walking in lighted up areas

Species it was found with: Lasius niger workers running around frantically (note: this specimen was much bigger than the workers)

This ant looks very much like a Camponotus pennsylvanicus queen, but since it was found in a Belgian forest, I could be wrong. I am almost certain it is a Camponotus species though. I hope I could have been helpful to you!

What species of ant is this, and is it a queen? - Biology

Ants are of great importance in the environment. In the Amazon forest, the estimated biomass (amount of living matter) of all ants is four times the biomass of all the vertebrate animals combined. Ants contribute immensely to population control of their prey, recycling of plant material, seed dispersal, turning of the soil, and other major ecological processes. The tremendous success of ants is attributable in part to their collective mastery of social organization, which allows flexibility in approaches to survival.

Ants are closely related to wasps, as can be seen in their similar body structures-the abdomen is joined to the thorax by a slender stalk, or pedicel. The pedicel may be enlarged into one or two knobs. The antennae are typically elbowed or jointed in the middle. Some species of ants possess a functional sting that the workers use to defend the colony or themselves. Many species secrete formic acid, a potent repellent. The jaws of worker ants are used for many tasks, including defense, nest building, and larval care. The form of the jaws is often very specific to the type of work done by the particular worker.

Social Biology
All ants are social, living together in extended families of a few individuals in primitive species to half a million or more in the army ants. Ant colonies are characterized by two classes of individuals, reproductive and nonreproductive. The queen and the male ants are reproductive. They have wings and can fly, although males die shortly after mating and queens lose their wings when they begin their own colonies. As in other hymenopterans, males arise from unfertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs develop into females, most of which are workers in many species, workers are wingless and do not reproduce. Workers gather food, care for the young, and defend the colony. Division of labor may occur among workers, based on physical and behavioral differences. This is called polymorphism. In polymorphic species, the largest workers are usually soldiers they may be equipped with oversized, muscular heads and swordlike jaws. Medium-sized workers are foragers, and the smallest workers are nurse ants that tend the young. In some species, certain workers are extremely specialized. For example, in some harvester ants, soldier ants do virtually nothing but crack open seeds for other ants to eat. Such specialized behavior is usually flexible, however any ant can perform any activity to a certain degree.

Many ants practice trophalaxis, which involves reciprocal feeding between individuals and the exchange of chemicals that trigger certain behavior. For example, larval ants secrete a substance that is highly attractive to nurse ants-this is thought to stimulate brood care and may be an important basis for colony unity. Other chemical signals, including pheromones, are very important in the sociobiology of ants.

The nests of many species of ants commonly consist of chambers and galleries excavated under stones, logs, or underground some species construct their nests in mounds of earth and vegetable matter or in decayed trees or hollow twigs or thorns. The nests of army and driver ants consist of an open mass formed by the clustered bodies of millions of workers hanging from the underside of a raised log or other surface and enclosing the queen and the brood.

A few species of ant are pirates that enslave other ants

Not far from you, ants are fighting for their freedom.

They have been victimised by "slave-maker" ants, which subjugate other ant species to do their work for them. To recruit slaves, the slave-makers deploy troops that conduct raids on surrounding colonies.

The system can be terrifyingly effective, in a sense akin to the horrific methods humans have used to keep slaves in line. The enslaved ants pay the ultimate price: they do not get to reproduce.

But the slave-makers do not get it all their own way. Some of their victims are fighting back. This battle is being fought, not just from day to day, but over evolutionary time &ndash and nobody yet knows how it will end.

After mating, a slave-maker female does what any good ant mother would do: she finds a suitable place for her precious eggs and brood.

With an army at her beck and call, the queen goes about her business

But unlike other ants, she seeks a nest already occupied by another species. During summer, this nest will be chock-full of pupae getting ready to hatch into adult ants.

The ensuing battle feels like it has been taken straight from the most intrigue-ridden parts of human mythology. The slave-maker female systematically drives out or kills all the adult ants in the nest. Then she waits for the pupae to emerge.

For ants, like many other creatures, the smells and sights they encounter just after birth are crucial: they teach the baby ants what is "home". In this case, the chemical cocktails the newborns encounter cheat them into thinking that the slave-maker female is their queen. They become attached to her.

With an army at her beck and call, the queen goes about her business. She lays her eggs, typically just one or two. The enslaved ants maintain the nest and take care of her brood.

When they hatch, the young slave-maker daughters have one task: to recruit more slaves. They start by scouting for other ants' nests nearby. Rather than attacking straight away, they head home and put together a raiding party.

This group will contain some host ants. This is the second con: the enslaved hosts head out with the slave-maker workers and bring back more slaves.

The new slaves may well belong to the same species as the host. If the host nest split up after the initial attack, the slaves may force their own relatives into slavery.

If that wasn't fiendish enough, the slave-makers also sow confusion in the nests they attack. "They use chemical warfare," says Susanne Foitzik of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany.

Like all social insects, slave-maker ants have Dufour's glands, which secrete chemicals that the ants use to communicate. "They use the Dufour's gland to manipulate host defenders into attacking each other instead of fighting against the slave-maker," says Foitzik.

At this point it may sound like slave-making is a supremely effective way to live. But there are clearly limits to its effectiveness, because slavery is rare in the ant world.

It looks like slavery evolved independently in six different lineages

Among the approximately 15,000 known ant species, slave-making has been recorded in only 50. Only two of the 21 known subfamilies in ants have slave-maker species. Five different sub-groups of slave-maker ants belong to one relatively small group, the Formicoxenini.

That said, Foitzik thinks there might be more out there. In 2014 her team described a new American slave-maker species called Temnothorax pilagens. "We found it in Michigan, Vermont and New York, even though one would think that the ant fauna of the US is well studied."

What is more clear is that slave-makers can be very common, reaching densities of one slave-maker colony for every five host colonies, says Foitzik. Workers typically conduct about six raids each summer, each time killing adults and enslaving host pupae.

Based on the ant family tree, it looks like slavery evolved independently in six different lineages. But it's not clear how.

Slavery is a form of parasitism. The slave-making species are often completely dependent on their hosts, specifically on their hosts' group behaviour.

It is also ripe for picking by slave-makers

Many slave-makers are closely related to their host species, and they share chemical signals. That suggests that the common ancestor of both host and slave-maker was a species that got split into two groups. These groups did not mate with each other, forming two different species &ndash one of which became the slave-makers.

Meanwhile, host species tend to form nests that are relatively dense and not well-defended.

For instance, Temnothorax hosts are common in temperate forests, with up to 10 nests per square metre &ndash often in fragile sites like cavities in nuts and wood, or under stones. Each colony has only a few individuals, so it can split into many smaller nests with ease &ndash but it is also ripe for picking by slave-makers.

Still, it is not easy for a female slave-maker to take over another nest.

Ants are social insects that live in large colonies. The ability to distinguish a nestmate from a foreigner is central to their very existence.

In a 2011 study, Tobias Pamminger and his colleagues at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany simulated a slave-maker raid. They kept nests of a host ant called Temnothorax longispinosus in the lab, and presented them with dead Protomognathus americanus slave-makers.

The potential hosts don't bother putting up a fight

They also became aggressive toward all ants that were not from their own nest. That may seem like an over-reaction, but any ant could be an enslaved member of the raiding slave-maker army, so it makes sense for the hosts to be hostile to all ants except those they live with.

Still, aggression may not always work, and the ants seem to know it. In areas where slave-makers are very common, Foitzik has found that the potential hosts don't bother putting up a fight. They just up and leave.

The ants are confronted with a "fight or flight" decision. When they feel aggression can overcome the slave-makers, they stick around otherwise, they evacuate. Larger host nests are more likely to choose aggression, especially against small slave-maker raids.

When all else fails, and the nest ends up enslaved, the host ants have one last trick up their sleeve: mutiny.

Foitzik and her team noticed that colonies of the slave-maker ant T. americanus had lots of slave-maker larvae in spring, but come summer only a few adults popped out. That looked suspicious.

The team brought natural nests into their lab and studied how successful the host ants were at rearing their own brood and the slave-makers' brood.

Temnothorax hosts are able to recognise and kill slave-maker pupae

The enslaved Temnothorax workers did a fantastic job rearing their own pupae. On the other hand, they waited till the slave-maker brood pupated, and then systematically killed slave-maker pupae.

In about a third of cases, they jumped on the slave-maker pupae and tore them apart. The rest of the time, they removed the slave-maker pupae from their nest chamber and placed them outside, where they wasted away.

"It is [a] perfect example of a co-evolutionary arms race, with hosts developing defences and slave-makers finding new intriguing ways to exploit their hosts", says Foitzik.

It's a race that, in one way at least, the slaves appear to be winning.

Ants secrete special chemicals onto their outer cuticle. These chemicals act as identity badges and are also a way to communicate. As a result, Temnothorax hosts are able to recognise and kill slave-maker pupae.

It may be that the slave-makers will evolve into something more benign

In the chemical conversations between slave-makers and their hosts, the slave-makers often lie: they have evolved to give off the same chemical signature as their hosts. In this way they can trick the host workers into accepting the slave-maker pupae.

But they haven't got it perfectly right yet. In 2010, Foitzik's team showed that the chemical profiles of slave-maker and host pupae do not quite match. It seems that "the social parasite is running behind its hosts at least on the chemical side of this co-evolutionary arms race," they wrote. Even in nests that have never encountered slave-makers, the workers can pick out and kill the slave-maker pupae.

The worker ants that kill the slave-makers only get an indirect benefit. As workers, they will not be able to reproduce themselves, but Foitzik says they "will be helping their sisters residing in host colonies nearby, as these will be less often attacked."

This battle of disguise and recognition is a snapshot of evolution in action. Nobody knows how it will play out in the long run. It may be that the slave-makers will evolve into something more benign &ndash or maybe the hosts will find a way to fight them off completely.

Michael Stipe Helps Name Ant Species After Andy Warhol Superstar

A German entomologist and a research associate at Yale University, with some help from R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, have named a new ant species Strumigenys ayersthey, after Charles “Jeremy” Ayers, the artist and political activist who was part of Andy Warhol’s legion of “Superstars” as the gender-bending Silva Thin.

The story was reported this week in the scientific research publication EurekAlert!

After entomologist Phillip Hoenle discovered the ant in a rainforest in Ecuador, he sent a specimen to Douglas B. Booher, a research associate in the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change and the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, to confirm if it was really a new species. After making the confirmation, Booher reached out to Stipe, a close friend of the late Ayers, to receive his blessing for the new name.

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The son of a civil rights advocate and a religion professor at the University of Georgia, Ayers became a part of Warhol’s New York City crew in the early Seventies, performing in drag as Thin with exaggerated feminine features, a silk shirt and tie, and a trademark cigarette. Ayers was also a prominent songwriter, and by the late Seventies, he had returned to Athens, Georgia, where he helped foster a vibrant music and arts scene and co-wrote songs for R.E.M., the B-52’s, and more.

Later in life, Ayers performed in “Jeremy’s Dance,” a video art piece by Stipe. The installation was shown at Moogfest 2016, shortly after Ayers suddenly died from a seizure at the age of 68.

“His curiosity for every single person he ever met was the foundation of a fascinating and cross-cultural network of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, often with Jeremy at the very center of several overlapping colonies,” Stipe told EurekAlert!. “He created the salon, laid the trails he was the connector, the queen ant if you will, the bringer-togetherer.”

Booher himself had been a part of the Athens scene in the early Nineties, after earning his bachelor’s degree in ecology at the University of Georgia. Rather than pursue a Ph.D., he instead became a local building contractor, and for the next 12 years ran his own flooring company in Athens while moonlighting as a DJ and club dancer on the weekends. He even participated in a dance video filmed in Ayers’ backyard, and in turn, the former Superstar helped foster Booher’s fascination with entomology.

“He knew I loved insects and he had recently bought a book on the Chinese culture of keeping crickets for their sounds,” Booher said, describing how Ayers showed him and Stipe the book one evening. “He was also endlessly fascinated with nature. He knew it would bring me joy. … He gave people the freedom to be who they wanted to be.”

Booher eventually completed his Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology in the early 2010s and found work at the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change as a postdoctoral associate. When deciding on the name for the new ant species, he and Hoenle considered the name Strumigenys ayers, but decided to choose a Latin name that would honor people across the gender spectrum, adopting the new suffix -they.

“Naming species in honor of people is a centuries-old tradition among taxonomists,” Hoenle said. “To honor someone means to respect their self-identity, and gender is part of that.”

Booher added: “I knew Jeremy, and knew of no other human that better represented the pan and inclusive world of humans. He was also a lover of biodiversity, so it just seemed to fit.”

Desert Fire Ants

These shiny ants, either black or red, are common in yards and pack a nasty sting. Most are only about one-eighth of an inch long.

The southern fire ant is known for its painful sting. Click for more detail.

The Arizona Department of Agriculture has so far been successful at keeping Arizona free of the local fire ants' South American cousins, red imported fire ants, which have infested states from Florida to Texas.

As with all things, the timing varies based on species and environment. However, ant eggs typically hatch within one to two weeks of being laid.

The next stage of the ant life cycle is ant larvae. These are a transparent white and don't have legs. Larvae grow quickly and molt several times throughout this stage.

Once the larvae are large enough, they metamorphosize into pupae. Larvae transition into pupae in about 6 to 12 days. But again, this timeline hinges on species and environmental factors. Ant pupae more closely resemble their adult counterparts, though they start out a pale whitish color that darkens over time.

In some species, pupae spin cocoons around themselves for protection, while in others, the pupae remain uncovered throughout this stage of the life cycle. The ants remain in pupae stage for about 9 to 30 days, during which time they metamorphosize into adults.

When the adult ants emerge, they are full grown. Because they have a hard exoskeleton, they won't be able to grow any larger. Adult ants may, however, start out lighter in color, but in time, they will darken to be nearly identical to one another.

Each adult ant belongs to one of three castes: queens, female workers or males. In most species, a colony has only one ant queen, so these new queens will mate and create a new colony. At this point, the life cycle begins again. (And, actually, it never stops, because some portion of the ant life cycle is taking place at any given time.)

From ant eggs to adulthood, this full life cycle takes anywhere from several weeks to months (always being mindful of the fact that this can vary based on species and environmental conditions).

Royal rivalry

Often a queen will have overt competition as well. Sometimes, for example, her own daughters will lay eggs of their own. In the wood ant Formica truncorum, for example, workers generate as much as a quarter of all eggs. In other species, queens must compete with other queens in the same colony. This competition can start very early. Healthy honeybee hives typically have just a single reigning queen. To help ensure this, a newly emerged queen will sting her sister queens to death as they clamber out of their brood cells, nipping in the bud any chance they will grow up and challenge her.

In honeybees, this queen-queen killing is kept to a minimum, because queens themselves are kept to a minimum. Larvae are reared in open cells, with queen larva cells distinctly larger than worker cells, so workers know, and can strictly control, which larvae will dine on royal jelly and develop as queens. As a result, only about 0.01 percent of honeybees become queens.

Stingless bees of the genus Mellipona have a different arrangement, and it can make life brutally short for many more would-be queens. Their larvae, both workers and queens, are reared in closed cells, with all the nutrients they need for development, and all cells are the same size. Workers can't tell which larvae are baby queens and which baby workers, with the result that—in the Mexican stingless bee, Melipona beecheii, for example—up to 20 percent hatch as queens. Because these surplus queens serve no useful purpose in the colony—they're not needed for reproduction and they can't work—they are decapitated or ripped apart soon after they emerge from their brood cells.

New ant species evolved within the nest of its relatives

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We tend to think of parasites as creatures that attach themselves to their hosts or worm their way inside, consuming the hosts' resources directly from their bodies. But there are other parasites that steal from their hosts simply by freeloading off them. The classic example is the cuckoo, which lays eggs in the nests of other birds, who then happily feed the cuckoo's offspring as if they were their own.

A successful strategy like that is hard for evolution to pass up. So it really wasn't a surprise to find out that there are also parasitic species of ants, ones that breed within the nests of other ants and raise their offspring using the resources provided by the hosts. Now, researchers have developed evidence that at least one of those species evolved within the nests that they now occupy.

The parasitic ant in question has the evocative name Mycocepurus castrator. It lives off the hard work of a related leaf-cutter ant named Mycocepurus goeldii. Although the host species is distributed widely within South America, M. castrator has a much narrower range—a single stand of eucalyptus trees conveniently located on the campus of Sao Paulo State University in Brazil.

The close relationship between the freeloader and its host is typical of the parasitic ants and may be necessary for the colony to not recognize them as foreign and expel them. But in the case of M. castrator, the relationship is probably a result of how the species originated: researchers have used DNA similarities to show that it probably evolved from the species it now parasitizes.

They also supply a plausible means for this to happen. Most of the descriptions of ant and bee colonies suggest that they have a single queen that is the only individual to lay eggs. As with most things in biology, however, it's rarely quite so well defined. For the host in this example (M. goeldii), having a single active queen is optional. In some colonies that have been studied, there is more than one active queen.

This, the authors note, is a recipe for "cheating" in social insects, where some individuals start reproducing to pass their genes on at the expense of the queen's. They suggest this is how the parasitic species, M. castrator, got its start—simply as a group of cheaters within the main colony. If the cheating behavior was inherited, then it could be passed on stably within the colony. But that wouldn't create any reproductive barriers the cheaters could still breed with any of the colony's ants.

What the researchers found, however, is that reproductive barriers seem to have formed. In the host species, new queens typically leave the nest by flying, and they mate during that flight. By contrast, the parasite species mates within a nest, and new queens leave simply by walking. In addition, there have been anatomical changes to the species' genitalia that make mating much more difficult between the two. These differences are part of a larger set of anatomical differences that now separate the two species, which includes a significant reduction in size among the parasites.

While it's not clear how these anatomical and behavioral differences developed within the cheating population, the authors make a strong case that genetic differences started piling up while the two species were not only still capable of interbreeding but located in close physical proximity. This would make it an example of what's called "sympatric speciation." (Allopatric speciation occurs when there's some barrier between mating that allows two species to go their separate ways in reproductive isolation.)

The existence of sympatric speciation has been somewhat controversial within the evolutionary biology community. And the existing paper doesn't make an airtight case it's possible that the two species separated before one of them adopted the freeloading lifestyle, then moved back in to the nests of its relatives. What may shed light on the situation is a bit of genome sequencing, which will provide a clearer picture of the genetic changes that separate the two species.

Related: Epic photos of animals in conflict

Common sense would tell us that mimicking the scent profile of its prey gives the headhunter ants some advantage over them in battle. But Smith hasn’t seen any evidence of this.

But he does have another hypothesis, one that involves yet another ant species known to kidnap and brainwash entire colonies of F. archboldi.

It’s difficult to overstate how important chemical cues are to ants. While the animals have eyes, they rely on scents to allow them to follow their nestmates to rich food supplies, identify friend from foe, and even to avoid being mistaken as trash and ejected from the colony.

How blood-red ants became slave snatchers

Every summer, blood-red ants of the species Formica sanguinea go on a mission to capture slaves. They infiltrate the nest of another ant species, like the peaceful F. fusca, assassinate the queen, and kidnap the pupae to raise as the next generation of slaves. Once the slaves hatch in their new nest, they appear none the wiser to their abduction, dutifully gathering food and defending the colony as if it were their own.

Scientists have long wondered how such slavemaking behavior evolved. Now, new evidence suggests that today’s slave snatchers started out as temporary parasites—ants that laid their eggs in the nests of other species and then used those workers as part-time caregivers for their own offspring.

The evolution of enslavement in Formica ants has long eluded scientists, largely because they didn’t know how species in the genus were related. So Jonathan Romiguier, a molecular biologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and colleagues sequenced and meticulously mapped the genetic relationships of 15 Formica species to create the most robust family tree to date. The tree includes major branches for slavemakers, species without slaves, and parasitic species that exploit foreign workers on a temporary basis.

The order of those branches tells the story of how enslavement evolved. By tracing their way down to the base of the tree, the researchers gleaned that the ancestors of all Formica ants formed colonies without recruiting slaves. Parasitic ant species soon arose, in which queens laid their eggs in neighboring nests and enlisted the resident workers to care for their broods. Then another branch diverged, and it was there that the full-blown master-slave relationship was born, the researchers reported late last month in BMC Evolutionary Biology . Because the slavemakers are lumped together with the parasites in their own distinct section of the Formica family tree, Romiguier says he suspects temporary parasitism was a “preadaption” to slavemaking behavior.

Not everyone is convinced. Christian Rabeling, an evolutionary biologist at Arizona State University in Tempe, says that although the study furthers our understanding the evolutionary history of the Formica genus, the family tree included less than 10% of the 175 known species, a major limitation. “The picture is just more complex than they outline in the paper,” he says.

To address that issue, the team redid their analyses with a bigger data set—one that included more species, but lower-quality genetic data. Romiguier says their results still held, but further research is needed to be certain.

Another outstanding question is more basic: How could the ants’ genes have enabled slavery to evolve? Susanne Foitzik, an evolutionary biologist at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany who was not involved in the new research, has discovered a few candidate genes in another slavemaking group of ants—the Myrmicinae subfamily. The genes that she has found are involved in creating a chemical disguise that tricks neighboring ants into welcoming slavemakers into their nests. Romiguier is also on the hunt for similar genetic adaptations that have helped some ants foray into the ruthless world of slavemaking.


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