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- The Camponotus 'auriventris' rabbit hole and why we should STOP it.
Camponotus auriventris - A common shiny exotic which has been popularised by the Asian antkeeping community for the past decade and has now grown into lots of people's hearts. It is getting recommended as a beginner exotic all over the internet, being a middle sized fast growing species of Camponotus from southeast Asia. While everything seems to be correct, there is one simple fact that will likely change your view about this topic: Camponotus auriventris has almost never been sold. Let me explain below. Searching this species up on the internet gives the following results: Do you see anything suspicious about these images? No..? Well the answer is more simple than one would think: none of these photos are actually showcasing Camponotus auriventris, except Antwiki and Antweb (more about these two websites later). In fact, all of the above include a number of related or similar species all belonging to the subgenus Myrmosericus. The same applies for Camponotus parius. And it is also the same subgenus as the bigger popular European Camponotus cruentatus and the less known European Camponotus micans of smaller size. To learn more about the subgenera of Camponotus, check out my other article here. Continuing our research about Camponotus "auriventris" we can find information about their body size, seemingly: While I am not going to call out shops in particular, I find this image a good example of the 'C. auriventris rabbit hole' that every person has got stuck in and only a handful of people have managed to come out more educated than when they got pulled into it. In this example, not only is the size of the fake auriventris exaggerated a little, this is far from being the actual size of Camponotus auriventris. How? For the simple fact being that Camponotus auriventris is NOT of the same subgenus as the fake auriventris. Each subgenus includes species of related morphology and of similar body size. With a quick search we can find out that Camponotus auriventris belongs to the subgenus Myrmosaulus. Carpenter ants of this subgenus are commonly called "monster-head carpenter ants". Now what does that remind you of? Ah, that's right... Camponotus singularis! Characteristic for their big body and very large head; a "monster-head", if you will. Earlier I have mentioned the Camponotus subgenera Myrmosericus and Myrmosaulus. Clicking this link will send you to an Antwiki page titled 'Camponotus species by subgenus'. Searching up Camponotus singularis we can indeed confirm that it belongs to the subgenus Myrmosaulus as such: Each described species has its own Antwiki and Antweb page where scientific information, oftenly with photos of specimens included, gets published on. These websites are strictly controlled by myrmecologists. Thus, the information on them is trusted. Some curious minds will now figure out an answer to the previous question: "But what does this have to do with the Camponotus auriventris topic?" Here it is: same subgenus! Related morphology! Similar body size! But wait a second... Camponotus singularis is much bigger than "auriventris" - I think you can now spot the fake one easily. Big thanks to @tomas_kopal_ for taking this comparison photo. I could continue this topic further in story-format but now I will simply show you the facts. The following images are of the real Camponotus auriventris photographed once in captivity and a few times in the wild nature: In a comparison side by side we can see how much Camponotus auriventris resembles Camponotus singularis. In the photo collage below there are numerous photographs taken of Camponotus auriventris in the wild. Their latin name refers to their golden colour. Auriventris means basically "covered in gold". We can also say that auriventris is basically a golden-black version of the red head singularis, being just a little bit smaller. There are a few variations as well, but the size stays the same. With this knowledge we can assemble the following comparison photo: The Camponotus sp. were sold as 'auriventris'. Oftenly when looked upon closer, using determination keys it turns out to be Camponotus parius or a similar species of also the subgenus Myrmosericus. While Camponotus auriventris, together with Camponotus singularis and numerous other similar species (e.g. Camponotus holosericeus, commonly called "Camponotus chinensis" - a fully black version of Camponotus auriventris) belongs to the subgenus Myrmosaulus. These two are completely different subgenera and have nothing in common other than both being Camponotus - It's like comparing Formica fusca to Formica rufa :P Many years ago someone either made an identification mistake, although in strange circumstances considering the large size differences and different body shape, or sold an unknown species under the wrong name on purpose just to make quick money. The latter is unfortunately more common than one would think, on the bad side of the antkeeping community.. The reason why we should stop this from happening is simply to avoid the spread of misinformation, which leads to the rabbit hole closing in more tightly on itself. People trapped in it have a difficult time reconsidering their knowledge learned over the past several years. It is bad for this beautiful species' reputation and it oftenly leads to toxic discussions. We should stop this and finally convince others about the truth. But now the mystery has finally been solved for you! ...
- 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! These two are the most popular common names for the very widespread and extremely complex genus Camponotus. Carpenter ants are generally 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 some species from the subgenus Camponotus. Other species of other subgenera are generally harmless and many are not yet well known. I would like to change that. And yes, you read it right: the subgenus Camponotus, being a subgenus of the same name within the genus itself. But what does that mean exactly? And what even is a subgenus? In this article I will cover a couple subgenera of Camponotus in simple terms. This article may serve as a guide for identification too! Chapter 1. Taxonomy Each living organism is categorised into a scheme of numerous classification terms. Ants are categorised into subfamilies, tribes, genera, subgenera sometimes, species groups, species and sometimes even subspecies. Let's take a look at an example below. Categorising Camponotus barbaricus xanthomelas, which is a subspecies of C. barbaricus native to Northern Africa, 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 1500 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) - referring to Camponotus Exclaimer: Information in this post is based on my point of view from knowledge I gained from trusted sources being Antwiki and Antweb. This article is made as a basic guide for Camponotus identification with the goal of sharing useful knowledge for the general public. Any individual has the right to disagree with some points mentioned. But I would like to keep things friendly and discuss improvements privately. Thank you for your time. Now let's start! Major worker of Camponotus vagus Camponotus (subgenus) The first subgenus of the genus Camponotus, which is also referred to as Camponotus sensu stricto, is commonly known as the "true carpenter ants". Most species of this subgenus prefer to nest in wood, therefore the common name. A couple of species in USA for example are a major pest, causing big property damage to wooden structures (see image below). Mature colonies are generally big. Most species of this subgenus are big in size and generally bulky. Majors and queens have big rounded heads. Queens, e.g. those of C. novaeboracensis in the example below, are pretty chunky and generally monogynous. Queen of Camponotus novaeboracensis Next. Nest entrance of Camponotus compressus Tanaemyrmex Commonly known as "slim carpenter ants", this subgenus may cover most species from the genus Camponotus. Species of this subgenus nest in soil, sometimes partially in wood. Mature colonies of a lot of species are known to be large in size. Species of this subgenus vary from small to big in size and are slim with long legs and antennae. Majors and queens have big traingular heads. The minors are elongated, often with a small oval or diamond shaped head. Queens, like C. consobrinus in the example below, are slighlty less bulky than those of Camponotus sensu stricto. They are generally monogynous. One of the exceptions is C. nicobarensis, which can tolerate a few queens in some localities of its distribution. Many species of Tanaemyrmex are notorious for being xerothermic (= adapted to / benefitting from heat), very colourful Queen of Camponotus consobrinus 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'). ..
- Esthetic Ants
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