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  • Invasive ant species

    Solenopsis invicta swarm Invasive species are organisms that don't naturally occur in a location and might or might not damage the local natural biome. Often these invasive species are introduced by human actions and happen to find perfect conditions (natural or due to climate changes) for developing to a point where they start to influence the environment by competing with local species, predating them, or even bringing new diseases. This of course also applies to ants. Nowadays with the global logistics network it's impossible to keep every shipment free from unwanted visitors. But the irresponsible or illegal commerce of exotic species for the hobby can also increase these problems. The biggest invasive ant species worldwide are: Anoplolepis gracilipes, Solenopsis invicta, Wasmannia auropunctata, Pheidole megacephala and Linepithema humile. All these are known invasive species in The Netherlands and the last two are even registered to have settled here, partially because these species are adapted to survive the colder weather even when nested outside. Lately though, the Tapinoma nigerrimum population is getting more and more media attention as a fast-spreading issue, especially in city environments where they can easily survive the winters (between walls and inside buildings). It's unclear how this species got here but the registered Tapinoma nigerrimum nests in The Netherlands has tripled between 2019 and 2021. Invasive ants often abuse the mutualistic interactions with local species in a way that both species can thrive and grow, but that doesn't necessarily mean a good thing. Think about crazy yellow ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes) that can take over a biome by partnering with the local aphid population, both these populations will profit from this relationship and thrive. Eventually the ants will need more protein and can quickly decimate local animal populations (invertebrates and small reptiles). The local flora will also be negatively affected by the explosive growth of the aphid population. These invasions can quickly change the environment in such a way that within a few generations the complete biome might be disrupted beyond repair. Another notorious invasive species are the red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), a South American species widespread over the world. These ants can develop massive colonies and are extremely aggressive against bigger animals, they clamp onto the victim with their jaws and can sting multiple times, injecting a painful venom which can be quite dangerous for young kids and people susceptible to allergies. Solenopsis invicta also feeds on buds from crop plants like soy and corn, making them accountable for huge losses in the agricultural sector especially in North America and Australia. Invasive species like the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) are famous for creating super colonies, due to the polygynous nature of these species, given the right conditions they will keep growing and spreading as long as there's space available. Linepithema humile is native to the south of Brazil, bordering Argentina and Paraguay and has been spread worldwide by irresponsible commerce. The largest recorded ant colony in the world is from this species, in 2002 it was registered to spread for more than 6.000 km in the Mediterranean region! This super colony was then estimated to have millions of nests and billions of workers working single minded, as one. New studies in 2009 demonstrated that this super colony surprisingly belongs to one single 'mega colony' spread over Japan, North America and Europe, all ants containing the exact same DNA traits. This makes Linepithema humile the most populous society on record, besides humans. Some native species can also be misinterpreted for invasive due to their behavior in a city environment, correct identification is therefore important before any actions are taken, in general the common signs of invasive species (in city environment) are: - year-round workers activity inside the house - unusual large presence of workers on food sources - no visible nest, workers seem to come from different places - decaying of garden plants (due to increased aphid activity) It's important that us, ant-enthusiasts, do our part by legally acquiring ants from legitimate sellers and taking full responsibility for the exotic species under our care: studying about them beforehand, using appropriate and enough anti escape methods and providing the best possible environment for them so they don't feel the need to look for better conditions. We can also help by reporting when we spot and identify any invasive species during our ant hunts. By suspicion of invasive ants' activity at home report to the local municipality and/or a plague control company. Sources: https://www.inaturalist.org/ https://www.eis-nederland.nl/ https://www.naturetoday.com/ https://www.kad.nl/ "100 of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species"

  • A Personal Guide to various Subgenera of Camponotus!

    "Carpenter ants" and "sugar ants" - everyone is familiar with these fellows! These are the two most popular common names for the very widespread and extremely complex genus Camponotus. I kind of understand the name "sugar ant" because they are known for their great appetite for sugars. However, the genus Camponotus is far too frequently generalised by the media as the annoying pest which causes damage to wooden structures. This is mostly the case for species from the subgenus Camponotus. Yes you read it right - the subgenus Camponotus, being a subgenus of the same name within the genus itself. What does that mean? And what is a subgenus? It will all make sense in this article. Ants are generally categorized into subfamilies, tribes, genera, sometimes subgenera, sometimes species groups, species and sometimes even subspecies. Categorizing Camponotus barbaricus xanthomelas, being a species native to Northern Africa, as an example will give the following: Family: Formicidae (Ants) Subfamily: Formicinae Tribe: Camponotini Genus: Camponotus Subgenus: Tanaemyrmex Species: Camponotus barbaricus Subspecies: Camponotus barbaricus xanthomelas Shortly: C. barbaricus xanthomelas "At present, more than 1000 species and nearly 500 subspecies belonging to 45 subgenera are described (Bolton, 2012) and it could well be the largest ant genus of all." (Source: Antwiki) In this post however, I will focus on several common/popular different types of subgenera of Camponotus, explaining their differences and why learning some of them might be helpful for a better understanding of each mentioned type. At the end I will recap eveything using photo layouts. Exclaimer: A lot of the information in this post comes from trusted sources such as Antwiki and Antweb and knowledge of some antkeepers. But some of this information also comes from my personal view on this topic. Some of you might not fully agree with what is said by me in this post, e.g. when examples are mentioned. Some given numbers such as worker size or colony size are averages of the different subgenera. But I would like to remind you that this post is made as a quick guide for Camponotus identification with the goal of sharing useful knowledge for the general public. Thank you for your time. Now let's start explaining the subgenera below! Major worker of Camponotus vagus Camponotus (subgenus) The first subgenus of the genus Camponotus, which is referred to as Camponotus sensu stricto, is also commonly known as the "true carpenter ants". Most species of this subgenus prefer to nest in wood and mature colonies are medium to big in size. Ants of this subgenus are generally bulky. Majors and queens have big rounded heads. Queens, like of C. novaeboracensis in the example below, are pretty chunky and generally monogynous. Queen of Camponotus novaeboracensis Worker polymorphism of Camponotus compressus Tanaemyrmex Commonly known as "slim carpenter ants", this subgenus may cover most species from the genus Camponotus. Most species of this subgenus nest in soil or partially in wood. Mature colonies are generally big in size. Ants of this subgenus are big and slim with long legs. Majors and queens have big traingle shaped heads. The minors are elongated. Queens, like C. nicobarensis in the example below, are slighlty less bulky than those of Camponotus (subgenus) and are generally monogynous. Some species and some populations of C. nicobarensis can be lightly polygynous. Many species of Tanaemyrmex are notorious for being xerothermic and highly aggressive. Queen of Camponotus consobrinus Interesting case of Tanaemyrmex Social parasites of Camponotus Despite the genus Camponotus containing approximately 1.500 species, currently Camponotus universitatis and Camponotus ruseni (Karaman, 2012) are the only known social parasites of Camponotus that have ever been discovered as of yet. C. universitatis and C. ruseni are inquilines in the nests of Camponotus aethiops. C. universitatis can also live with hosts of Camponotus pilicornis. Both species are a permanent parasite without slavery (Tinaut et al., 1992; Guillem et al., 2014). Both are rarely found. As both species are in the subgenus Tanaemyrmex, I found them interesting to include in this article Two images, above and below, show a queen and the workers of C. universitatis for reference. Both are small and dark coloured. Worker polymorphism in Camponotus cruentatus Myrmosericus Commonly known as "silky carpenter ants", this subgenus is comparable to the subgenus Tanaemyrmex. Species of Myrmosericus nest in soil. Mature colonies are big in size. Ants of this subgenus are a slightly bulkier version of Tanaemyrmex, with rounder heads. Colonies are monogynous. Some species and some populations of C. nicobarensis can be lightly polygynous. Many species of Myrmosericus are highly aggressive. Queen and major workers of C. dolendus Interesting fact: Species commonly sold as 'Camponotus auriventris' on the market are also of the subgenus Myrmosericus, similarly in appearance to C. parius. However, C. auriventris has in reality never even been sold because of how rare it is to find queens in the wild. This misinformation developed some years ago when Chinese ant-stores couldn't properly identify this species so they picked a random species name - not looking at the subgenus first - I would imagine. Moreover, this popular species is much smaller and looks very different from the true C. auriventris, which is of the subgenus Myrmosaulus. I will pick up on this topic later. Queen & worker polymorphism of Camponotus dalmaticus Myrmentoma Commonly known as the "cleft-lip carpenter ants", species of Myrmentoma make small nests in soil or wood. Mature colonies are small in size at rarely up to 1000 workers - oftenly they are made up of just a few hundred individuals. Ants of this subgenus are small, slim and polymorphism is less pronounced in comparison to the previously mentioned subgenera. Most queens are <11 mm in lenght and slim. Colonies are monogynous to lightly polygynous. Workers of Myrmentoma are not aggressive, they are opportunistic scavengers. A few species of Myrmentoma have adapted mimicry of other ant species to blend in. This allows for even more foraging opportunities on foreign territory. Mimicry of Camponotus lateralis around Crematogaster scutellaris Queen and workers of Camponotus mutilarius (common name: 'C. xiangban') Orthonotomyrmex Commonly known as "flat-back carpenter ants", this subgenus is characteristic for workers having quite flat tops of their thorax. Species within this subgenus are medium to small in size, with caste dimorphism somewhat marked. The head of majors is large, wider than long. The body is usually covered in a lot of small setae. On some species, such as on C. mutilarius in the image above, the setae are long and well pronounced. Major workers of Camponotus sericeus doing trophallaxis Queen and workers of Camponotus singularis Myrmosaulus Commonly known as "monster-head carpenter ants", this subgenus truly lives up to its name! The head of majors is large and generally with lateral margins rounded. Species of this subgenus are large to medium sized with pronounced dimorphism: a clear distinction between the minor and major caste, with no medium sized workers in between. The most popular species is C. singularis ofcourse, known for their large red heads and silver body. Another bit less known species of this subgenus is C. suffusus. All species of Myrmosaulus share a similar body shape and size, which brings us to a callback about C. auriventris. Their latin name refers to their golden coloured body. The true C. auriventris are very similar to C. singularis, so to mix them up with species similar to C. parius (Myrmosericus) should be impossible - but somehow this became possible due to spreading of false information by Chinese sellers. Everyone who sells unknown Myrmosericus species under the false name 'auriventris' should stop. And give the unknown species a new unique name. Otherwise misinformation will keep on spreading beyond the return point... Queen and workers of Camponotus auriventris Two majors fighting: Camponotus singularis VS Camponotus auriventris Queen of the similar Camponotus holosericeus (common name: 'C. chinensis'). ..

  • Feeding your ants protein.

    Protein is one of the three vital parts of an ant colony's diet. Without it, the brood wouldn't develop and the queen wouldn't lay eggs. There are lots of sources of protein out there, so this guide is here to help you! Feeder Insects: Feeder insects are one of the best, if not the best, source of protein for ants. In the wild, ants eat insects so it seems obvious to mimic this when keeping them. There are lots of types of feeder insects, so here's a quick overview. Fruit Flies: Fruit flies are a great feeder insect for small colonies and semi claustral queens. They are small, packed full of protein and are easy to consume. The ants can feed the whole fruit fly to the brood unlike mealworms, which have a hard exoskeleton which is too hard to consume. If I could, I would only feed fruit flies, however they aren't viable for large colonies. Buffalo Worms: These are like mealworms, just smaller. They are a hit with small colonies. Buffalo worms are ideal to feed when your colony is in the stage where fruit flies don't really suffice, but crickets and mealworms are too much. They have a good amount of protein in them but like mealworms, suffer from a hard exoskeleton. Mealworms: Mealworms are a good source of protein for ants as the colony grows. Due to their exoskeleton being hard, it is worth cutting up the mealworm into chunks. This means the ants can access the protein inside easier. As the protein mealworms have contains more fat than other feeder insects, it is worth alternating this feeder, or not making it the colony's only protein source. If you coupled mealworms with the occasional fly or moth you found around your house (make sure to boil them), it would be better for the ants. Crickets: Crickets are an amazing feeder for more established colonies. You can buy micro crickets, which are also very good for small colonies. However, the bigger crickets are much better for larger colonies. Depending on the species of ant, you can either feed them with just the head taken off, or cut up. An example of this, for example is with Pheidole species, who have majors. The presence of these majors means that they can cut up and access the cricket themselves. For other species though, you may be better feeding them cut up. Cockroaches: Cockroaches are a great source of protein for large colonies. You can get different size cockroaches, from the massive Madagascarn cockroaches, to the tiny dubia nymphs, which means that you can find a cockroach type to suit your colony. The most commonly sold types are Dubia and Redrunners. Both are good for large colonies and have plenty of protein in them. I only recommend getting these if you have a big colony that can eat cockroaches, or lots will go to waste.

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