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I believe she is either Lasius or Formica, but I am an amateur so thanks for any help. This queen is completely black and gray, with a gaster that kind of looks like the stone Tiger Eye but gray. There is no red or brown on her. She's approximately 1.5 cm long and I found her in central Minnesota. She laid eggs overnight after being caught. I know the photo is terrible thanks to my phone but it was the best one I got of her.
What Genus Is This Ant Queen? - Biology
We are in the midst of a conceptual revolution in the biological sciences as the traditional borders between ecology, molecular, developmental, and evolutionary biology are breaking down. The general goal of research in the Abouheif lab is to integrate these fields to understand how genes and environment interact during development, and how this interaction generates novelty in complex biological systems.
This field of research is called Eco-Evo-Devo, which is short for Ecological Evolutionary Developmental Biology. It builds on the groundbreaking discovery that there is a highly conserved genetic &lsquotool kit&rsquo that controls the development of all animals. This tool kit is made up of a relatively small number of regulatory genes, such as the Hox genes (see Figure 1 below), which play a critical role in setting up segments along the anterior&ndashposterior axis of all animals during development. Hox genes are clustered together in the genome and are expressed in the same order as their physical location on the chromosome. So, for example, the Hox gene labial (red boxes in Figure 1 below) occupies the first position in the cluster and is expressed at the head end of animals, while the Hox gene abdB is located at the end of the cluster and is expressed at the very tail end of all animals (blue boxes in Figure 1 below). The conservation of physical location, expression, and function of Hox genes in all animals is one of the great discoveries of biology, and has kept me fascinated for the last 20 years
Figure 1: Image from Billie J. Swalla " Building divergent body plans with similar genetic pathways "
So if all of these animals have similar genes in their genetic toolkit, like the Hox genes, how is it that animals have evolved to be so diverse in form? How novel features have evolved in complex biological systems to make animals so diverse in form is a central question in evolutionary biology that has remained unresolved for over 100 years. Eco-Evo-Devo, with its integrative approach, holds the promise to resolving this question, and as a consequence, will have many important benefits, like understanding how complex systems at all biological scales originate and diversify or making evolutionary theory more predictive, and of course, more practical benefits, like improving animal/plant breeding, biodiversity conservation, and medicine.
We primarily focus on ant societies as a model for our Eco-Evo-Devo studies. The division of labor in ant societies, which rivals human societies in its complexity, has made ants one of the most ecologically diverse and evolutionarily successful organisms on our planet, with the
15000 species making up more than half of the global insect biomass. A key trait that has enhanced the division of labor in ants is the evolution of novel morphological castes, like the winged queen and her wingless workers (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Queen and Worker of the ant genus Lasius. Image from Alex Wild
The differences between queens and workers can be dramatic &ndash queens possess fully functional wings, are reproductively active, and can live up to 30 years, while workers are wingless, reproduce rarely, and live for just a few months. These dramatic differences between castes are called &ldquopolyphenic,&rdquo which means they develop largely as a consequence of environmentally induced differences in gene expression during queen and worker development.
A major goal in the Abouheif lab is to uncover how novel worker castes originated during three major transitions in ant evolution. These transitions mark the progressive increase in complexity of ant societies beginning with:
- The origin of eusociality (true social behavior)
- The &ldquopoint of no return&rdquo (when eusociality becomes irreversible because the reproductive capacity of workers is significantly reduced)
- The diversification of a single worker caste into a complex system of morphological and behavioral subcastes.
Figure 3: Wingless worker of the basal ant species Harpagnathos saltator. Image from Alex Wild
The first major transition during ant evolution &ndash the origin of eusociality &ndash occurred
150 million years ago and is associated with the origin of a novel wingless worker caste (see Figure 3). In contrast to the later evolved ant lineages, where the morphological differences between castes are striking, societies in the ancestral lineages are comprised of queen and worker castes that are morphologically similar and can both mate and reproduce (compare Figure 4 to Figure 1). The only major morphological difference between castes is the presence of wings on queens and their absence on workers, which is thought to be the key genetic step that prevented workers from dispersing from their colonies (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Queen (center) and worker (top) from a basal species of ants (left side) and gene network regulating wing development (right side). Image of ants from Alex Wild
We are searching search for the developmental and genetic mechanisms that may have led to the loss of wings in the worker caste.
Figure 5: Queen and workers from the ant genus Monomoium. Image from Alex Wild
The second major transition during ant evolution &ndash the point of no return &ndash is thought to indicate the point at which eusociality becomes irreversible through the evolution of worker castes that are morphologically distinct and show reduced reproductive capacity relative to the queen caste (see Figure 5). Papers from the Abouheif lab (Khila and Abouheif 2008 and 2010) suggest that we are on the verge of discovering a novel developmental mechanism underlying this reduced capacity to reproduce in workers (see Figure 6).
Figure 6: The oocyte of an ant queen showing alpha-tubulin in green, actin in red, and nuclei in blue. Image from Khila and Abouheif 2010.
Figure 7: Minor worker (smallest size), soldier (medium sized) and supersoldier (supersized) ants from the genus Pheidole. Image from Alex Wild
The third major transition in ant evolution is marked by the diversification of a single worker caste into a complex system of worker subcastes, like that found in the ant genus Pheidole (Figure 7). A recent discovery in the Abouheif lab (Rajakumar et al., 2012, Science) showed that ancestral genes, which lay dormant for millions of years, can be revived with the right environmental triggers. Three kinds of workers &ndash minor workers, soldiers and supersoldiers &ndash can be observed in the ant genus Pheidole. Though supersoldiers were lost in this genus about 35 to 65 million years ago, we showed it was possible to unlock this hidden genetic potential by applying high doses of hormone at a critical stage in the larvae&rsquos development. Wing precursors called "wing imaginal discs" as well as the gene network regulating wing development (Figures 4 & 8) are key to understanding these dormant genetic potentials in ants.
Figure 8: A wing imaginal disc of a queen showing the expression of the spalt gene (see sal in gene network regulating wing development in Figure 3 left).
These dormant potentials exist in all animals, as reflected by the sporadic appearance of ancestral traits in individuals that normally should not have them. These traits, such as bird&rsquos teeth and snake&rsquos fingers, are widespread in nature but are traditionally thought to be &ldquofreaks&rdquo that contribute little to the evolutionary process. Our discovery shows that these dormant genetic potentials, once triggered, act as raw materials for evolution changing this traditional view. Our next step is to uncover the developmental and genetic mechanisms driving the evolution of novel worker subcastes in ants.
Together, these three projects will take us a step closer to understanding the origins and diversification of a complex biological system.
The Abouheif Lab would like to graciously thank the following funding agencies for providing financial support for this research:
Extant: 44 valid species, 23 valid subspecies
Taxon Page Images:
A queen caste does not exist in Diacamma. Unique to this genus, all workers emerge from cocoons with a pair of tiny innervated thoracic appendages ("gemmae") that are homologous with wings. Mutilation leads to a permanent change in lifetime trajectory, because workers lacking gemmae never mate. This is unlike other queenless ants where workers establish a dominance hierarchy to regulate reproduction. In Diacamma only one worker retains her gemmae in each colony, she is the gamergate (mated egglaying worker), and she bites off the gemmae of newly emerged workers. Mutilation causes the degeneration of the neuronal connections between the sensory hairs on the gemma&rsquos surface and the central nervous system, and this may explain the irreversibility of modifications in individual behaviour
Bitsch, J. & C. Peeters (1991) Moignons alaires et morphologie thoracique chez l'ouvrière de la fourmi Diacamma australe (Fabricius) (Hym. Formicidae Ponerinae). Bull. Soc. entomol. France, 96: 213-221.
Peeters, C. & J. Billen (1991) A novel exocrine gland inside the thoracic appendages ("gemmae") of the queenless ant Diacamma australe. Experientia, 47: 229-231.
Taxonomic Treatment (provided by Plazi)
[[ worker ]] Der Kopf ist. oval die Mandibeln lang dreieckig, der Winkel zwischen dem Hinter und Kaurande sehr stumpf, der letztere etwa um ein Drittheil laenger als der Hinterrand, mit kleinen spitzen Zaehnen bewaffnet. Der dreieckige Clypeus ist in der Mitte dachfoermig gewoelbt, sein Vorderrand ist in der Mitte vorgezogen und bogenfoermig gekruemmt, nicht gezaehnt, hinten ist der Clypeus zwischen den Stirnleisten eingeengt und endet spitzig. Die Stirnleisten sind vorne ungleichseitig dreieckig und reichen convergirend bis zur Hoehe der Augen, der vordere aeussere Rand ist etwas convex, der innere gerade. Der Schaft der zwoelfgliedrigen Fuehler ueberragt ziemlich viel den Hinterrand des Kopfes, die Geissel ist gegen das Ende nur unbedeutend dicker, fast fadenfoermig, das erste Geisselglied ist das kuerzeste, das zweite das laengste, etwas mehr als doppelt so lang als das erste, die folgenden Glieder nehmen stetig an Laenge ab, nur das Endglied ist wieder laenger und beilaeufig so lang als das zweite Glied. Die ovalen Netzaugen sitzen in der Mitte an den Seiten des Kopfes. Die Ocellen fehlen. Der Hinterkopf ist abgerundet und schmaeler als der Kopf zwischen den Augen, nur am Hinterhauptloche ausgerandet. Der Thorax vorne etwas breiter als hinten und gerundet, ohne Dornen. Das Pronotum ist fast gleichfoermig gewoelbt und so hoch als das Metanotum. Das Mesonotum erscheint oben nur als ein querer schmaler Streifen. Das Metanotum ist laenger als der halbe Thorax, dessen Basaltheil doppelt so lang als der geneigte abschuessige Theil. Die Schuppe ist kugelig-knotenfoermig, vorne, oben und an den Seiten convex, hinten flach, so hoch als der Hinterleib und oben hinten mit zwei nach oben und etwas nach hinten gerichteten Spitzen. Der Hinterleib ist laenglich oval, besonders von den zwei ersten Segmenten, welche durch eine ziemlich tiefe Einschnuerung von einander getrennt sind, bedeckt. Die Sporne sind gefiedert,. die Krallen einfach.
What Genus Is This Ant Queen? - Biology
The ant Crematogaster ashmeadi (Emery) is commonly known as an acrobat ant. There are perhaps 10 species of Crematogaster in Florida, and Crematogaster ashmeadi is commonly found throughout the state (Deyrup, personal communication). Members of this genus are referred to as acrobat ants because of the flexible way that a worker holds its abdomen (gaster) up over the rest of its body.
Figure 1. Worker acrobat ant, Crematogaster ashmeadi Emery. Photograph by Emily V. Heffernan, University of Florida.
Distribution (Back to Top)
Acrobat ants are commonly found throughout Florida and the southeastern United States (Tschinkel 2002). They are considered native to Florida and are found in most counties (Ferster et al. 2000). They are even recorded from small, mangrove islands in the Florida Keys (Hölldobler and Wilson 1990). Acrobat ants have been recorded as pests in Collier, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Pinellas, and Polk counties (Klotz et al. 1995).
Figure 2. Florida distribution of Crematogaster ashmeadi (Emery).
Description (Back to Top)
Acrobat ants are small to medium sized ants, generally 2.6 to 3.2 mm long. They have very shiny bodies that are variable in color from light red to brown or black. An acrobat ant's most distinguishing characteristic is its heart-shaped gaster that is held up over its thorax when disturbed.
Crematogaster ashmeadi has a two-segmented petiole, with the postpetiolar attachment at the dorsal surface of the gaster. The gaster is pointed and equipped with a sting that may or may not be everted (Ferster et al. 2000). There is a pair of short spines on the propodeum, and a few hairs on the head or mesosoma. It is difficult to identify ants to species in the genus Crematogaster, but a new taxonomic key for Florida species is forthcoming (Deyrup, personal communication). Crematogaster ashmeadi may be distinguished from other species by its shiny pronotal sides and generally dark color (in live specimens).
Figure 3. Queen acrobat ant, Crematogaster ashmeadi Emery. Photograph by Emily V. Heffernan, University of Florida.
Biology and Behavior (Back to Top)
Crematogaster ashmeadi are arboreal ants, nesting in trees and rotten wood. Acrobat ants are the most dominant arboreal ant species in north Florida coastal plain pine forests, comprising 80-90% of the ants in that forest ecosystem (Tschinkel 2002). The abundance of these ants makes them major ecological factors in these long-leaf pine forests (Tschinkel and Hess 1999). As such, they are the most important source of food for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, Picoides borealis, and therefore warrant further research (Tschinkel 2002).
A colony of acrobat ants usually exists in each tree of such coastal plain pine forests, inhabiting the excavated chambers of cossid moth larvae and bark beetles. Acrobat ants are extremely territorial and only one colony exists in each tree, although a large colony may spread to up to three pine trees if trees are in close proximity to each other. Acrobat ants do not damage trees themselves, but rather move into spaces and chambers hollowed out and abandoned by other insects (Tschinkel 2002). Founding queens of Crematogaster ashmeadi search for abandoned galleries of wood boring beetles in the dead branches of longleaf pine saplings. Queens use these galleries as founding chambers to begin new colonies, and only one queen is found per nest (Hahn and Tschinkel 1997). Queens produce minim workers that rear brood and begin foraging. The queen then lays larger monomorphic workers and eventually moves, along with brood, to ex-termite galleries at or below ground level (Tschinkel 2002). Larvae are fed only with the food regurgitations from workers (Hölldobler and Wilson 1990). Colonies contain one queen, but multiple nest sites may occur. Communication and coordination of colony tasks must be highly coordinated as the colony is spread throughout the height of the pine tree, with the queen located at the very bottom of the tree (Tschinkel 2002).
Figure 4. Workers and brood of the acrobat ant, Crematogaster ashmeadi Emery. Photograph by J.L. Castner, University of Florida.
Workers are general scavengers and predators, foraging the length of the 30 to 40 m trees for living and dead insects (Tschinkel 2002). Workers are also often observed tending sap sucking insects (Ferster et al. 2000). Crematogaster sp. ants secrete trailing pheromone from the tibia that allows them to follow trails up and down the tree trunk as connecting routes to good food sources (Hölldobler and Wilson 1990).
Acrobat ants do not nest in sound wood, but are found in damp or rotting wood (Swoboda and Miller 2003). The nesting capabilities of acrobat ants often depends on the activities of cavity-excavating insects such as caterpillars of the cossid moth, termites, and buprestid and cerambicid beetles (Tschinkel 2002).
Figure 5. Workers of the acrobat ant, Crematogaster ashmeadi Emery, tending aphids. Photograph by L.J. Buss, University of Florida.
Pest Status (Back to Top)
When compared with other pestiferous ant species, acrobat ants are usually of minimal nuisance to people. Homeowners may complain that these ants are in the yard and foraging outside the home. They may nest in trees on the homeowner's property or in decayed wood around the home in places like porches and eaves (Ferster et al. 2000). They are uncommon indoors, but may be observed foraging for sweets or protein inside. When they are found nesting in the home, they infest damp or rotting wood often around windows and drain spouts. They may also be found in damp foam board or insulation. These ants do minimal damage to wood, but their frass may be of concern to homeowners. Their presence also indicates the presence of wet and/or decaying wood (Swoboda and Miller 2003).
A 1995 survey by Klotz et al. showed that of the genus Crematogaster, only Crematogaster ashmeadi appeared as a pest ant in Florida. It was encountered nine times in the extensive survey, and six of these occurrences were indoors. Because of their limited occurrence in this survey, C. ashmeadi are referred to as occasional pest ants (Klotz et al. 1995).
Management (Back to Top)
Control of acrobat ants can usually be done by reducing access to the home or other structures (Ferster et al. 2000). Management can be accomplished by sealing exterior cracks through which workers enter. Removing branches or rotten logs and stumps will usually remove the nest site and the problem. Cutting away branches and tree material that touch the home will further limit the ant's access to the home.
Acrobat ant colonies that live in the walls may be treated by eliminating damp wood and other sources of moisture. If problems persist, insecticidal spray or dust may be injected into infested wall voids (Swoboda and Miller 2003).
Selected References (Back to Top)
- Deyrup M. (2003). An updated list of Florida ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Florida Entomologist 86: 43-48. (no longer available online)
- Ferster B, Deyrup M, Scheffrahn RH, Cabrera BJ. (2000). The pest ants of Florida. (29 July 2014)
- Hölldobler B, Wilson EO. (1990). The Ants. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA. 732 pp.
- Hahn DA, Tschinkel WR. (1997). Settlement and distribution of colony-founding queens of the arboreal ant, Crematogaster ashmeadi, in a long-leaf pine forest. Insectes Sociaux 44: 323-336.
- Klotz JH, Mangold JR, Vail KM, Davis, Jr. LR, and Patterson RS. (1995). A survey of the urban pest ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of Peninsular Florida. Florida Entomologist 78: 109-118.
- Swoboda L, Miller DN. (2003). Acrobat ant. Virginia Cooperative Extension Knowledge for the Commonwealth. (no longer available online)
- Tschinkel WR. (2002). The natural history of the arboreal ant, Crematogaster ashmeadi. Journal of Insect Science 2:1-15. (29 July 2014).
- Tschinkel WR, Hess CA. (1999). Arboreal ant community of a pine forest in northern Florida. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 92: 63-76.
Author : Emily V. Saarinen, University of Florida
Photographs: Emily V. Saarinen and Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida
Web Design: Don Wasik, Jane Medley
Publication Number: EENY-333
Publication Date: August 2004. Latest revision: July 2014. Reviewed: December 2017.
An Equal Opportunity Institution
Featured Creatures Editor and Coordinator: Dr. Elena Rhodes, University of Florida
368 Northwest Building
Cambridge MA 02138
A colony of ants is a superorganism: each individual depends on and contributes to the function of the group. An ant colony is therefore analogous to a unitary organism, like a plant or animal, whose cells cooperate to form a larger whole.
Like cells, group behavior in ants is orchestrated by continuous communication between individuals. In ants, this is achieved via a wide range of pheromones. Also similar to cells, the ants in a colony typically differentiate into a germ line (the reproductive queen caste) and a soma (the non-reproductive worker caste(s)) via phenotypic plasticity.
In our lab we attempt to understand sophisticated features of ant biology from the perspective of molecular genetics and evolutionary developmental biology. We accomplish this by adopting new model organisms that are ideally suited for mechanistic laboratory research. These include the clonal raider ant, Ooceraea biroi, and ants of the genus Leptothorax, both of which possess evolutionarily relevant genetic variation that can be studied in a laboratory context.
What Genus Is This Ant Queen? - Biology
The Formicidae are arguably the most successful members of the class Insecta, dominating most other organisms by sheer number. As members of the order Hymenoptera, ants are closely related to the bees and wasps, though while these insects are only sometimes social, all known ants are fully adapted to a colonial lifestyle.
We all know the basic set up of an ant colony, but the divergent behaviors and adaptations exhibited by different species could potentially fill greater volumes of scientific literature than the rest of Insecta combined, their complex lives yielding a steady stream of new discoveries to all who care to scrutinize them. The following are only a few of the most unusual forms taken by these subterranean hordes.
Unable to reproduce on their own, most of the ants in a colony have little purpose but to protect their mother queens and younger siblings, an ends to which they regularly sacrifice themselves in droves - and if you're going to die fighting, why go peacefully and leave a useless corpse lying around? Members of Camponotus saundersi colonies have a special set of over-sized jaw muscles that run nearly their entire body length, connecting with glands packed full of poison. When faced with no other alternative, the ants violently flex these muscles, rupturing themselves to splash toxic chemicals in the face of their enemy.
Members of the genus Cephalotes are often called "turtle" ants after the broad, flattened head shields of the soldier caste. The sole purpose of this strange adaptation is more or less that of a living cork, perfectly sealing off the entrance to the colony. Rather than constructing one of their own, these ants typically colonize the abandoned tunnels of wood-boring beetles, their plug-faces adapted to just the right size for just the right beetle burrows.
In addition to their highly specialized headgear, some Cephalotes are also adapted for gliding, their aerodynamic bodies allowing them to swoop back to their home tree should they fall from its higher branches.
Much like our own infants, your typical ant larvae are little more than helpless freeloaders, nurtured and protected by their elder sisters until they're mature enough to start pushing dirt around. Some species, however, begin their contribution to the colony as soon as they hatch. "Weaver" or "tailor" ants like Oecophylla smaragdina are so named for their treetop nests of tightly bound leaves, stitched together entirely with the same silk larvae use for pupation. Groups of adults link together with their jaws and feet to pull leaves and twigs together, while others quickly bind them with the larvae carried gently in their mandibles.
The carnivorous Odontomachus are known as the "trap jaw" ants for their highly unusual "spring loaded" mandibles like a mousetrap, the jaws can be locked open at high tension, snapping shut when their sensitive trigger hairs are even lightly brushed. No known predator demonstrates a faster bite, the force of which can exceed 300 times the ant's entire body weight. So powerful are these snapping jaws that the ants have been observed pressing their jaws to the ground to launch themselves backwards in one of the animal kingdom's weirdest emergency escape tactics. The jaws may even be used to catapult intruders or small, unwanted objects from a colony entrance.
In some ants of the Myrmecocystus genus, a certain portion of the workers become what are known as "honey pot" ants, or more technically, "repletes." Sugars, fats and other liquid food are fed to them by other workers until their abdomens swell sometimes to the size of grapes, which their nestmates feed from in times of emergency. Too bloated the leave the colony on their own, the repletes are kept deep beneath the ground and heavily guarded, as many other creatures - including local humans - prize them as prey, and other ants may even attempt to steal them for their own use.
Most insects entering the pitchers of carnivorous Nepenthes plants are doomed to drown in a watery pit where they are soon broken down by the plant's digestive enzymes. The carpenter ant Camponotus schmitzi, however, forms a deep symbiosis with Nepenthes bicalcarata, the "fanged" pitcher plant. Nesting within the thick, hollow stem of the sinister-looking trap, the ants freely come and go from its deadly pool, climbing deep down into the liquid to tear apart trapped insects. Found living absolutely nowhere else, these ants depend entirely upon their living home to capture prey, and the pitcher itself actually depends upon the work of the ants to extract enough nutrients to sustain each trap, a mutual dependency only recently deduced. The insects are literally a part of the plant's digestive process, like the gut bacteria of animals.
Living exclusively in the upper branches of the tree Hirtella physophora, tiny Allomerus decemarticulatus arms its territory with an ingenious and grisly trapping mechanism. Fusing together hairs from their tree with their own saliva and a living symbiotic fungus, workers build hollow structures riddled with tiny holes, lurking just inside with their minute jaws agape. Even relatively elephantine insects seal their doom with a single misstep on this living minefield every foot and feeler to contact an ant is immediately pulled inside, pinning and stretching the victim as other workers swarm over its helpless body, sting it to death and begin cutting it apart.
A normal ant colony consists primarily of sterile, female workers and soldiershatched from the eggs of a single queen, periodically producing winged, reproductive males and females to leave the nest and start colonies of their own. Some species,however, do away with this whole complicated business and let someone else do allthe labor. Solenopsis daguerrei is just one such species, consisting entirely of queens and males with no worker or soldier caste. After mating, the female locates the colony of another ant species, sniffs out their queen and hooks itself onto her body, using pheremones to completely mask its presence while it snatches food right from the host's mouth. The colony cannot differentiate the invader's eggs from their own, and will carefully protect and raise a new generation of parasites while their own queen slowly starves to death.
The Cannibal Vampires
Truly living up to their common name, the "dracula ants" of the genus Adetomyrma mature members of the colony are armed with wicked jaws and paralyzing stingers, but the arthropods they hunt and kill - most commonly venomous centipedes many times their size - are not for their own consumption their diet consists exclusively of haemolymph (insect "blood") from their younger, larval siblings. Kept alive and healthy on a diet of paralyzed prey, the blind and limbless grubs are cut open by the adult's sharp mandibles and drained of blood in periodic, non-lethal amounts. Though the behavior is routine for these species, the larvae become visibly unsettled when a hungry worker enters their chamber, and even make futile attempts to flee. It should come as no surprise that a species so brutal is considered biologically closer to wasps than almost any other ant genera.
New ant species named in recognition of gender diversity
A newly discovered miniature trap jaw ant from the evergreen tropical forests of Ecuador bears the curious Latin name Strumigenys ayersthey, among hundreds, which are also named in honour of people, but end with -ae (after females) and -i (after males). This makes the newly described ant perhaps the only species in the world to have a scientific name with the suffix -they, thus celebrating gender diversity.
The insect was first found by Philipp Hoenle of the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, during a cooperative investigation of the Reserva Río Canandé in 2018. The reserve belongs to the NGO Jocotoco, and preserves a small part of the highly threatened biodiversity hotspots called the Chocó.
Hoenle reached out to taxonomic expert Douglas Booher of Yale University. Soon, Booher responded with excitement that this species was unlike any other of the 850+ species belonging to its genus. As a result, the team described the previously unknown to science species and its remarkable trap-jaw morphology in a research paper, published in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal ZooKeys.
Curiously, it was no other but lead singer and lyricist of the American alternative rock band R.E.M. Michael Stipe that joined Booher in the writing of the etymology section for the research article. This is the part in the publication, where they honor their mutual friend, activist and artist Jeremy Ayers and explain the origin of the species name.
"In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinized portmanteau honoring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments -- Strumigenys ayersthey." "The 'they' recognizes non-binary gender identifiers in order to reflect recent evolution in English pronoun use -- 'they, them, their' and address a more inclusive and expansive understanding of gender identification."
Current nomenclature practice on how to name animal species after people only differentiates between male and female personal names, offering respectively the ending -ae for a woman or -i for a man.
The research team additionally propose that the -they suffix can be used for singular honorific names of non-binary identifiers.
When asked about the choice of a name for the ant, Booher said: "Such a beautiful and rare animal was just the species to celebrate both biological and human diversity. Small changes in language have had a large impact on culture. Language is dynamic and so should be the change in naming species -- a basic language of science."
With their choice, the team invites the scientific community to keep pace with the likes of Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary and HSBC Bank, who have also adapted their own institutional practices, language usage and recognition to represent gender diversity.
"The discovery of such an unusual rare ant highlights the importance of scientific exploration and conservation of the Chocó region in Ecuador, which is at the same time one of the most biodiverse and threatened areas on our planet," the researchers add in conclusion.
Strumigenys ayersthey can be distinguished by its predominantly smooth and shining cuticle surface and long trap-jaw mandibles, which make it unique among nearly a thousand species of its genus. The researchers haven't been able to obtain more specimens of the species, which suggests that it's rare.
Carpenter ants undergo complete metamorphosis, in four stages from egg to adult. Winged males and females emerge from the nest to mate beginning in the spring. These reproductives, or swarmers, do not return to the nest after mating. Males die, and females establish a new colony.
The mated female lays her fertilized eggs in a small wood cavity or in another protected location. Each female lays about 20 eggs, which take 3 to 4 weeks to hatch. The first larval brood is fed by the queen. She secretes fluid from her mouth to nourish her young. Carpenter ant larvae look like white grubs and lack legs.
In three weeks, the larvae pupate. It takes an additional three weeks for the adults to emerge from their silken cocoons. This first generation of workers forages for food, excavates and enlarges the nest, and tends to the young. The new colony will not produce swarmers for several years.
Strict monandry in the ponerine army ant genus Simopelta suggests that colony size and complexity drive mating system evolution in social insects
Altruism in social insects has evolved between closely related full-siblings. It is therefore of considerable interest why some groups have secondarily evolved low within-colony relatedness, which in turn affects the relatedness incentives of within-colony cooperation and conflict. The highest queen mating frequencies, and therefore among the lowest degrees of colony relatedness, occur in Apis honeybees and army ants of the subfamilies Aenictinae, Ecitoninae, and Dorylinae, suggesting that common life history features such as reproduction by colony fission and male biased numerical sex-ratios have convergently shaped these mating systems. Here we show that ponerine army ants of the genus Simopelta, which are distantly related but similar in general biology to other army ants, have strictly monandrous queens. Preliminary data suggest that workers reproduce in queenright colonies, which is in sharp contrast to other army ants. We hypothesize that differences in mature colony size and social complexity may explain these striking discrepancies.