Flying ants in summer


This 22 June 2020 video from the Natural History Museum in London, England says about itself:

What is flying ant day? | Natural History Museum

This annual swarming event usually occurs in July or August and coincides with a period of hot and humid weather. Museum scientist Suzanne Ryder explains more about this phenomenon. Get more details here.

Ants as flower pollinators


This 2018 video is about ants pollinating flowers.

From Edith Cowan University in Australia:

Bees? Please. These plants are putting ants to work

June 10, 2020

In a world first, Edith Cowan University (ECU) researchers have discovered a plant that has successfully evolved to use ants — as well as native bees — as pollinating agents by overcoming their antimicrobial defences.

ECU PhD student Nicola Delnevo discovered the trait in a group of shrubs found the Swan Coastal Plain in Western Australia.

Mr Delnevo said ant pollination of plants was incredibly rare.

“Ants secrete an antimicrobial fluid that kills pollen grain,” he said.

“So ants have traditionally been considered to be a menace — nectar thieves whose aggression keeps other potential pollinating insects at bay.

“However this group of plants in WA, commonly known as the Smokebush family (Conospermum), has evolved a way to use ants to their advantage.”

Mr Delnevo tested the effect of the antimicrobial secretion from three ant species found locally on the flowers of six WA plant species, with startling results.

“We found evidence that Conospermum plants have adapted the biochemistry of their pollen grains to cope with the antimicrobial properties of the ants.

“This is the first plant species found to have adapted traits that enables a mutually beneficial relationship with ants,” Mr Delnevo said.

“About 46 examples of ant pollination have been documented around the world, but these have been due to the ants producing less toxic secretions that allow them to pollinate.”

No help from honeybees

Mr Delnevo said the pollination by ants was particularly good news for these plants as they were unable to rely on honeybees.

“Conospermum plants have unscented tubular flowers that are too narrow for honeybees wriggle inside to pollinate,” Mr Delnevo explained.

“They rely on native insects carrying a suitable pollen load from visiting other flowers for pollination to occur.

“They have co-evolved with a native bee (Leioproctus conospermi) that has evolved as a specialist feeder of these flowers.

“This relationship is mutually beneficial, but it would be risky in an evolutionary sense for the plant to rely solely on the native bee for pollination.”

Future research will explore how common ant pollination is amongst the flora of south-western Australia and exactly how this trait of overcoming ant defences has evolved.

Turtle ant soldiers evolution, new research


This September 2019 video is called Turtle Ants, Cephalotes atratus from Ecuador.

From Rockefeller University in the USA:

Soldier ants reveal that evolution can go in reverse

March 9, 2020

Turtle ant soldiers look like real-life creatures straight out of a Japanese anime film. These tree-dwelling insects scuttle to and fro sporting shiny, adorably oversized heads, which they use to block the entrances of their nests — essentially acting as living doors.

Not all heads are shaped alike: some soldiers have ones that resemble manhole covers and perfectly seal tunnel entrances. Others have square heads, which they assemble into multi-member blockades reminiscent of a Spartan army’s overlapping shields. This variety in head shapes reveals more than just another of nature’s quirky oddities: it can also shine a light on how species evolve to fill ecological niches. And that evolution, new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows, is not always a one-way street toward increasing specialization. Occasionally, it can take a species back to a more-generalist stage.

“Usually, you would think that once a species is specialized, it’s stuck in that very narrow niche,” says Daniel Kronauer, head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Social Evolution and Behavior. “But turtle ants are an interesting case of a very dynamic evolutionary trajectory, with a lot of back and forth.”

A match made in evolution

Like many other social insects living in colonies, turtle ants specialize for different functions, often evolving exaggerated features suited to their job. For the soldiers, this process has resulted in large heads that come in a variety of shapes.

“There’s a whopping four-fold difference between the smallest and largest turtle ant soldier heads,” says Scott Powell, a biologist at George Washington University and lead author of the new study. “To help people picture this, I often say that the smallest species is able to sit comfortably on the head of the largest species.”

The shape and size of a turtle-ant soldier’s head is dictated by the type of tunnel the species in question occupies. The ants don’t dig the tunnels themselves, but move into those excavated by wood-boring beetles. And since a hand-me-down tunnel might be too big or too small, Kronauer says, the ants diversify rapidly to be able to occupy it.

The relationship between turtle-ant heads and tunnels can hence offer a uniquely clear insight into natural selection. Researchers can easily compare a trait — head circumference — with the ecological feature it’s evolved to adapt to: the nest-entrance size. As Kronauer says, “It’s a 1:1 match on the exact same scale.”

A dynamic process

To examine the evolutionary journey of various head shapes, the researchers grouped 89 species of turtle ants based on whether soldiers sported a square, dome, disc, or dish-shaped head. They also included a group of turtle-ant species that don’t have soldiers. They then examined the evolutionary relationships among these groups using the species’ genetic information, which they had previously gathered.

If evolution was a one-way path, the first turtle ants that appeared some 45 million years ago should have lacked soldiers altogether, then gradually evolved toward specialization — starting with the generalist, square-headed soldiers, all the way to those with highly-tailored dish heads.

But the new analysis suggests that this was not the case. Instead, the oldest common ancestor the researchers could trace likely had a square head. That ancestor went on to form a range of species, from ones with no soldiers at all to others with different levels of specialization. In some cases, more specialist species reversed direction over time, evolving back into more generalist head shapes.

The finding nicely shows just how surprisingly flexible nature can be in fitting the shape of an organism to the context of the environment they occupy, Powell says.

“The space that evolution has to play with is actually quite a bit larger than previously thought,” Kronauer adds.

Butterflies’ relationship with ants


This 29 February 2020 video says about itself:

Why did the butterfly go to the ant’s den? The alliance of butterflies and ants

The probability of becoming a butterfly after the process of egg, larva and pupa is less than 1%. The surroundings are full of numerous enemies of butterflies. Butterflies are allied with ants, the enemies of insects, to survive.

The process of the birth of a butterfly through eggs, larvae and chrysalis is a dramatic story.

Australian ants stopping greenhouse gases?


This 2015 video is about Camponotus terebrans ants.

From the University of South Australia:

Sugar ants’ preference for urine may reduce greenhouse gas emissions

February 6, 2020

An unlikely penchant for urine is putting a common sugar ant on the map, as new research from the University of South Australia shows their taste for urine could play a role in reducing greenhouse gases.

Led by wildlife ecologist Associate Professor Topa Petit, the Kangaroo Island-based research found that sugar ants prefer urine over sugar — the food source after which they’re named — nocturnally foraging on it to extract nitrogen molecules, some of which could end up in the greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.

The Australian-first study compared the behaviours of sugar ants (Camponotus terebrans) as they were exposed to different concentrations of urine (human and kangaroo ~ 2.5 per cent urea), sugar water (20 per cent and 40 per cent), and urea in water (at 2.5 per cent; 3.5 per cent; 7 per cent and 10 per cent), finding that sugar ants were most attracted to higher concentrations of urea, mining them for long periods within a dry sand substrate.

While other ants are known to be attracted to urine, this is the first time that ants have been observed mining dry urine from sand, and for a long period of time.

Assoc Prof Petit says the curious discovery could play a role in nitrogen cycling.

“When I first noticed the ants swarming to scavenge urine, it was purely by accident. But under research conditions we found that the ants determinedly mined urea patches night after night with greater numbers of ants drawn to higher urea concentrations,” Assoc Prof Petit says.

“Camponotus terebrans are undoubtedly looking for urea in urine because, similar to certain other ant species, a bacterium in their digestive tract allows them to process urea to get nitrogen for protein.

“This remarkable ability to extract urea from dry sand not only shows how sugar ants can survive in arid conditions, but also, how they might reduce the release of ammonia from urine, which leads to the production of nitrous oxide, a highly active greenhouse gas.”

Nitrous oxide (NO2) is a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And while less abundant than carbon dioxide emissions, its presence in the atmosphere has increased substantially over the past decade, accelerated mostly by the widespread use of fertilisers.

Assoc Prof Petit says that while there is still a lot to learn about the foraging behaviours of sugar ants, the study shows a symbiotic relationship between ants and vertebrates such as kangaroos in dry environments, and evidence of the nitrogen cycle at work.

“The ability of sugar ants to thrive in dry, sandy environments and use sources of nitrogen that may not be available to other species is impressive. It may give them a competitive advantage by allowing them to feed more offspring and therefore increase their numbers,” Assoc Prof Petit says.

“Researchers working on ants as bio-indicators on grazed and ungrazed lands should take ants’ ability to process urea into account, because large amounts of urine will probably affect the assortment of ant species in the area. It would also be interesting to investigate how much ants may modify the urine ammonia volatilises from paddocks.

“This is not the last we will hear about these sugar ants — they could open up a whole new field of research.”

What is inside anthills?


This 27 December 2019 video says about itself:

When you look at a fire ant hill — or mound as it’s properly called — you’re actually seeing just the top of an enormous underground structure: the ants‘ nest. Inside, a vast network of tunnels and chambers plunge up to 2 meters into the soil. Ants ferry their young up and down these tunnels to keep them at the best temperature to grow.

New ant species discoveries in the USA


This 15 September 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Strumigenys silvestrii: A New Species In South Carolina!?

Strumigenys louisianae is the only South Carolina Strumigenys species with a snap-jaw mandible mechanism, up until now …

From the University of Utah in the USA:

Ant expert discovers newly emergent species in his backyard

Irrigation and urban forest may have drawn long-hidden species to the surface

November 13, 2019

Jack Longino is a global ant expert and has traveled the world documenting and discovering ant species. But for his latest discovery, he didn’t need to go any farther than his own backyard. In August 2018, just after dark, Longino caught a glimpse of four ants in his garden that really looked out of place. The next day he dug deeper and found more specimens. They reminded him of species he knew from the tropics or from the deciduous forests of the eastern U.S.

But the surprises didn’t stop there. Longino originally thought the ants had been introduced to the area, possibly through the commercial potting soil, and would be some known species from elsewhere. But a close look in the lab revealed that it was a distinct new species, almost certainly native to the region, with similarities to related species in Arizona. Longino surmised that the ant, which likes warm, moist habitats, has been living underground in Utah’s typically dry climate. More than 150 years of irrigation and introduced forest, however, may have given the ant courage to once again come to the surface. For that reason, he named the new ant Strumigenys ananeotes (Stroom-i-jen-knees ana-knee-oat-tees). The species name ananeotes means “newly emerged.”

New and important discoveries could be waiting close to home, Longino writes with colleague Douglas Booher in a paper published in Western North American Naturalist, reporting the discovery. “We hope”, they write, “that this discovery will encourage naturalists to don headlamps and hand lenses and head out into the backyard on warm summer nights.”