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Much ado about the founding of Lasius temporary social parasites


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#1 Offline Batspiderfish - Posted July 25 2016 - 8:34 PM

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In Formicidae, temporary social parasitism describes ants that must start their colony with the aid of workers from another species of the same genus, but will eventually become independent. This is usually undertaken by a parasitic queen replacing the living or deceased queen of a host colony, taking advantage of the host's entire workforce and convincing the resident workers that the parasitic queen deserves to be the colony's only reproductive. All of the reproductive ants that happen to be in the host colony (including the mother queen) are often killed and eaten. The workers of the parasitic species gradually replace the original members of the host colony, until only the parasites remain, taking over all responsibilities for the nest.
 
Social parasites can typically be distinguished from claustral species by their broader heads (usually broader than the mesosoma) and reduced gaster. The large head is presumably to give the queen an advantage over her host species when she needs to defend herself. The gaster is likely smaller because the parasitic lifestyle does not require large stores of nutrients; when queens' gasters get smaller, the resources required to develop a queen go down and the number of virgin queens a colony can sustain goes up. 

 

There still exists some genera in taxonomy which are exclusively parasitic, but we will likely find these ants revised someday to be with their host genus, which has already occurred with Anergates and Protomognathus. The vast majority of social parasites evolved from their host.
 

Almost 1/3 of the species in the genus Lasius are socially parasitic, and they are arguably the most encountered social parasites in the Northern Hemisphere. The Lasius subgenera break up these particular parasites into four basic kinds:
 

 

Subgenus Acanthomyops

 

interjectus1-XL.jpg

Lasius interjectus, by Alex Wild

 

983367576186b3962b84dd809079dfe1cb60747d

Lasius latipes

 

Subgenus Acanthomyops:
 
North America:
Lasius claviger, Lasius latipes, Lasius murphyi, Lasius interjectus, Lasius subglaber, Lasius arizonicus, Lasius californicus, Lasius coloradensis, Lasius mexicanus, Lasius bureni, Lasius colei, Lasius creightoni, Lasius pogonogynus, Lasius occidentalis, Lasius pubescens
 
Lasius from the Acanthomyops subgenus are endemic to North America and commonly referred to as “citronella ants”. Colonies subsist almost entirely underground, on populations of root aphids. Their queens are typically large, shiny, and orange or brown, they have somewhat broad legs and antennae (Lasius caliveger and Lasius interjectus) up to very broad (Lasius latipes). Their bodies tend to have many long, standing hairs, and very little in the way short, fine hairs.
 
In captivity, the colony founding conditions and strategies for these particular Lasius are poorly understood, and it is not uncommon for young queens to die for seemingly no reason. While they are fully capable of adopting themselves to host workers, they will often not lay eggs and may have trouble engaging in trophallaxis. It's been observed that dealated queens like to band together in groups of three or more, although it is worth mentioning that captive Lasius are very rarely polygynous. It's been noticed that they survive much longer when they are fed tiny specks of sugary liquid inside the test tube.

On of the potential difficulties in raising queens from this subgenus may trace all the way back to their mother's nuptial flight. Acanthomyops frequently hybridizes, which, in Formicidae, often begets reproductively unviable queens (although the workers are quite functional, and males produced by the queen will only contain her DNA). It is believed that males breed interspecifically as a form of reproductive parasitism, greatly inhibiting the ability to create subsequent generations by affected Acanthomyops queens. Many Acanthomyops spp. are competing to infiltrate colonies of the same host species.
 

 

 

Subgenus Chthonolasius

 

tumblr_ocvw5wwJxd1ve862eo1_1280.jpg

Lasius speculiventris

 

b0d26c669fb3f2a9dd7941dd3f11d3770217f3e3

Lasius subumbratus

 
Subgenus Chthonolasius:

 
North America:
Lasius umbratus, Lasius speculiventris, Lasius minutus, Lasius subumbratus, Lasius vestitus, Lasius nevadensis, Lasius atopis, Lasius humilis
 
Eurasia:
Lasius umbratus, Lasius mixtus, Lasius balcanicus, Lasius bicornis, Lasius citrinus, Lasius distinguendus, Lasius jensi, Lasius meridionalis, Lasius nitidigaster, Lasius rabaudi, Lasius sabularum, Lasius viechmeyeri
 
Chthonolasius are present in most of the Northern Hemisphere. Wild colonies largely survive off of root aphids, as with other yellow Lasius, but workers have large eyes and are not afraid to occasionally forage above ground. Their alarm pheromones do not differ much from other Lasius, so a citronella odor is generally indistinct or absent in preference of formic acid. Queens are usually smaller than typical Lasius (L. subumbratus being one notable exception) and are more dull than Acanthomyops. Their coloration is often brown to orange. Some species of this subgenus are known to build cartonous galleries, using a type of Hormiscium pithyophilum fungus to glue grains of sand together, supposedly fed on aphid excretions.
 
These ants are much more agreeable in captivity, compared to Acanthomyops in North America. Queens will very usually begin laying eggs within one month after having host workers. The length of time it takes for the first parasitic workers to eclose varies with the level of care from the host species. Niger-group Lasius are best suited this, in my experience. Colonies of Chthonolasius will thrive given the same care as their claustral cousins.
 
 

 

Subgenus Dendrolasius

 

file.php?id=8677&mode=view

Lasius fuliginosus, by Lebon Lionel

 
Subgenus Dendrolasius:
 
Eurasia:
Lasius fuliginosus, Lasius buccatus, Lasius capitatus, Lasius spathepus
 
Queens of the Eurasian Dendrolasius typically have dark, shiny bodies with lighter appendages and a distinctly convex depression at the top of the head. These ants are well known to be hyperparasites of Chthonolasius in the wild, and seem doubly enthusiastic about carton-building. Colonies largely subsist on aphid secretions, but are seemingly more arboreal than their usual host. Similar to Acanthomyops, these ants utilize a citronella odor. Colonies sometimes use the budding strategy during reproduction, a share of workers and one or more queens moving to a separate nest area. Unlike the other parasitic Lasius, workers are black.
 
Despite their hyperparasitic reputation, Dendrolasius colonies can easily be founded using other Lasius in captivity, and have foraging habits similar to Chthonolasius, although the founding process may sometimes fail unforeseeably.
 
 

 

Subgenus Austrolasius

 

casent0913597_p_1_high.jpg

Lasius carniolicus, by Will Ericson 

 
Subgenus Austrolasius:
 
Eurasia: Lasius carniolicus, Lasius reginae
 
Little is known about these root-aphid tending social parasites, except that the queens are only barely larger than her workers at less than 4mm. They often parasitize Lasius alienus in the wild. Because of her morphology, she might depend on a different founding strategy from these other, robust Lasius.
 
 

 

The Basics:

 

tumblr_oo4lwnKwVn1ve862eo2_r1_1280.jpg
Orphaned workers from our captive colonies, like these Lasius alienus, may be used as the host to begin a new colony.

 
 
One of the most important things to note about Lasius social parasites is that queens are not capable of caring for brood or opening pupae before they have host workers. They will not lay eggs without host workers. In order to start a colony, a queen will need to be introduced to workers from a foreign nest, which are from the same genus. We don't quite understand how significant the species is, although some paraites (i.e. Lasius speculiventris) seem to be particular (they have only been found in the nests of another social parasite, Lasius minutus.) Myrmecologists have only been able to truly confirm a host species when they find a nest which houses two different kinds of workers.

When taking a sample of host workers to introduce to your queen directly, always try to choose those who are living inside of the nest. The ants in charge of brood care are the youngest in the colony, and younger ants are the least aggressive. Ideally, your workers would be coming from another colony you already care for, but these younger workers can be found in the wild under judiciously flippable stones. Be conscientious about the impact you are having on any wild nest.
 
Make sure not to add any test tube substrates (i.e. coconut fiber) to the parasite/host colony setup until the queen is adopted to host workers. Otherwise, she may seal herself off from the young workers long enough for them to become aggressive.
 

Colony Founding Techniques

(For the most reliable founding technique, see the callow method at the bottom of this list)

 
 

 

Active, naturalistic introduction:

 
A sample of at least 20 host workers and (ideally) some brood are kept in one test tube setup, the parasitic queen(s) kept in another test tube setup.
 
Both tubes are placed close to each other in a foraging arena and left opened.
 
The parasitic queen(s) will eventually encounter one or more of the workers, which will likely latch onto her in an attempt to kill her. The queen will often retreat to her tube to kill and remove any workers. She will lick the worker's corpse and groom herself, presumably spreading the worker's hydrocarbons over her body.

The queen may wait for some time before seeking out the host workers again, but this second encounter is often much friendlier.
 
Pros:
Uncomplicated, least human involvement.
Ants are not subjected to abnormal environmental hazards.
Queens have space to retreat from hostile workers.
 
Cons:
Risk of injury or death to workers and/or queens.
Older workers will almost always be hostile on the first encounters with the queen(s).
 


 

Active, naturalistic introduction -- the pre-killed worker variant:

 
One worker from the host sample is crushed and placed in the sealed tube with the parasitic queen(s). If the queen expresses interest in the corpse, licks the body and grooms herself, it can be assumed that she intends to infiltrate that colony.
 
Both tubes are placed close to each other in a foraging arena and left opened.
 
Pros:
Poses less danger to the queen; colony odor can be secured and administered in a safe environment.
 
Cons:
At least one worker is always sacrificed, but this is likely a better outcome than if the queen were left to do this on her own.
 
 

 

The chilling method:

 
A sample of at least 20 host workers and (ideally) some brood are kept in one test tube setup, the parasitic queen(s) kept in another test tube setup.
 
The tube containing the host sample is placed in refrigeration, but well above freezing temperatures.
 
The tube containing the queen is adjoined to the chilled host sample, or the queen is placed inside the chilled host colony tube.
 
All of the ants remain in refrigeration until the queen and workers come together as a colony.
 
Pros:
This method has the potential to introduce a queen to a host sample without any casualties.
Aggressive workers are sedated by cold temperatures.
 
Cons:
The risks associated with refrigeration (i.e. condensation, flooding, physiological disturbance) pose a danger to ants and brood.
The queen has nowhere to escape to if the workers prove too much to handle.
 


 

The callow method:

 
A small sample of host workers and a manageable number of pupae are kept in a test tube setup in such a way that a fine paintbrush or toothpick can reach all the way to the wet cotton bung. The queen(s) are kept in another test tube setup.
 
The worker's tube is given access to a small foraging arena so they may feed themselves.
 
As pupae mature, the host workers will open up the cocoons to eclose young, callow workers.
 
After a callow ecloses, very carefully and gently coax the callow onto your paintbrush or toothpick and remove her from her sisters. If any mature workers come with her, place those back in the tube.
 
The callow worker is introduced to the social parasite queen. There is unlikely to be any hostility. Offer a tiny sugar meal.
 
After the parasitic queen has a decent number of workers, boost the her with some more of the host's brood. The original adult host workers (that you did not introduce) can be released back to their colony, and the callow workers can take over brood care.
 
Pros:
This method has the potential to introduce a queen to a host sample without any casualties.
Callow workers are not aggressive, and will imprint upon the queen.
 
Cons:
It can take some time. If the social parasite species is prone to mysterious death, this can happen while the queen is alone in her tube. Make sure she gets the opportunity to feed, but keep the tube clean.
 
 

tumblr_oo4lwnKwVn1ve862eo3_r1_1280.jpg

Lasius latipes with Lasius cf. nearcticus host workers and eggs

 
It can days, weeks, or months before your queen begins to lay her first eggs. There could be something going on behind the scenes during this time; for whatever reason, a parasitic queen with a usurped colony will not always begin laying straight away. Once she has her first egg, however, the most difficult phase of her life is basically over; it is a sign not only that she is fully accepted by her host workers but that she is adapted to captivity, in good health, and is finally ready to begin her colony. While there are still a few hurdles to overcome, you can now relax or celebrate. Since your queen already has a selection of host workers to keep her fed, she will begin to produce eggs to match the hypothetical age of the colony (a 50 host worker colony will cause her to lay eggs as if she is already about one year old, etc.) 
 
One thing that can be said for temporary social parasitism is that while a queen will get a huge amount of free labor, it isn't exactly of the best quality; it's a rather tumultuous time in the colony's life. During the early stages, host workers are rather aggressive, careless, or confused when they interact with members of the parasite species (and vice versa.) Brood of one species can be eaten or neglected by the other. Workers will be bullied and occasionally killed to be fed to the larvae. These behaviors may be an immunity response of the host species to the ants who parasitize them. Once the first parasite worker successfully matures, the situation usually changes for the better.
 
Resources:
Sperm Parasitism in Ants: Selection for Interspecific Mating and Hybridization
 
Resources (Free Access):
Colony Founding of Acanthomyops murphyi, a Temporary Social Parasite of Lasius neoniger
Experiments on the Adoption of Lasius, Formica, and Polyergus Queens by Colonies of Alien Species


Edited by Batspiderfish, August 10 2017 - 4:06 AM.

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If you've enjoyed using my expertise and identifications, please do not create undue ecological risk by releasing your ants. The environment which we keep our pet insects is alien and oftentimes unsanitary, so ensure that wild populations stay safe by giving your ants the best care you can manage for the rest of their lives, as we must do with any other pet.

 

Exotic ants are for those who think that vibrant diversity is something you need to pay money to see. It is illegal to transport live ants across state lines.

 

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#2 Offline MichiganAnts - Posted November 20 2016 - 8:23 PM

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great post!


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#3 Offline Loops117 - Posted November 20 2016 - 8:34 PM

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I'm going to save this for next spring. Gonna be a great article to return to.


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#4 Offline Reacker - Posted November 20 2016 - 9:14 PM

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This is one of the best instructional ant-keeping posts that I have ever seen, excellent job!


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#5 Online T.C. - Posted November 21 2016 - 8:01 AM

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What!?!? Why didn't I know this was made, I had four lasius umbratus queens and two lasius latipes, this summer and all six died because of trying to introduce workers. This would have helped me out alot. :(  Nice job on this. :D


Edited by T.C., November 21 2016 - 8:02 AM.


#6 Online Nathant2131 - Posted January 14 2017 - 8:35 PM

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After the queen has a decent number of workers, boost the queen with some brood.

   By "The Queen" Do you mean The Social Parasite one? I'm a little confused becuase it sounds like the Social Parasite Queen layed eggs after the one callow is introduced, is that what you mean?



#7 Offline Batspiderfish - Posted January 14 2017 - 8:46 PM

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This is one of the best instructional ant-keeping posts that I have ever seen, excellent job!

 

Thank you! This is the second social parasite guide I've ever written, and I feel like I am getting a little better at it. :D

 

 

 

 

After the queen has a decent number of workers, boost the queen with some brood.

   By "The Queen" Do you mean The Social Parasite one? I'm a little confused becuase it sounds like the Social Parasite Queen layed eggs after the one callow is introduced, is that what you mean?

 

Introducing callow workers one by one to the parasitic queen is pretty tedious and stressful to the ants involved. Once enough of the callow workers have been added, the parasitic queen now has a workforce that can tend to brood, so boosting is possible and suggested in order to get her host colony up to at least 20 host workers. I will add this explanation in order to make things a little clearer. The original description was somewhat vague.


Edited by Batspiderfish, January 14 2017 - 8:55 PM.

If you've enjoyed using my expertise and identifications, please do not create undue ecological risk by releasing your ants. The environment which we keep our pet insects is alien and oftentimes unsanitary, so ensure that wild populations stay safe by giving your ants the best care you can manage for the rest of their lives, as we must do with any other pet.

 

Exotic ants are for those who think that vibrant diversity is something you need to pay money to see. It is illegal to transport live ants across state lines.

 

----

Black lives still matter.


#8 Online Nathant2131 - Posted January 14 2017 - 9:10 PM

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This is one of the best instructional ant-keeping posts that I have ever seen, excellent job!

 

Thank you! This is the second social parasite guide I've ever written, and I feel like I am getting a little better at it. :D

 

 

 

 

After the queen has a decent number of workers, boost the queen with some brood.

   By "The Queen" Do you mean The Social Parasite one? I'm a little confused becuase it sounds like the Social Parasite Queen layed eggs after the one callow is introduced, is that what you mean?

 

Introducing callow workers one by one to the parasitic queen is pretty tedious and stressful to the ants involved. Once enough of the callow workers have been added, the parasitic queen now has a workforce that can tend to brood, so boosting is possible and suggested in order to get her host colony up to at least 20 host workers. I will add this explanation in order to make things a little clearer. The original description was somewhat vague.

 

Ok, cool! Thank you!



#9 Offline Mads - Posted January 14 2017 - 9:32 PM

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Very well written article, well done!

 

Mads



#10 Offline antgenius123 - Posted January 15 2017 - 4:01 AM

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Excellent article! I only wish I saw this a few years ago.


 
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#11 Offline Martialis - Posted January 20 2017 - 4:29 PM

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Edited by Martialis, January 20 2017 - 4:29 PM.


#12 Offline VoidElecent - Posted February 1 2017 - 4:32 PM

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This is an amazing guide. I plan to follow this closely during my attempt to start a Lasius Speculiventris colony (using the help of a Lasius Alienus Colony). I think I'll use the callow method, it seems most humane. Let me know if I have it right:

  1. Section off a couple Alienus workers in a separate test tube.
  2. Slowly introduce young workers into the test tube with my Speculiventris Queen.
  3. Feed the Parasite a little.
  4. Itroduce a second batch of Alienus workers in to Speculiventris' test tube.

I like this method because I get to keep both an Alienus and Speculiventris colony. Hopefully it works. Please let me know if I read it wrong and if I've explained it correctly. Thanks


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#13 Offline Batspiderfish - Posted February 1 2017 - 6:23 PM

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This is an amazing guide. I plan to follow this closely during my attempt to start a Lasius Speculiventris colony (using the help of a Lasius Alienus Colony). I think I'll use the callow method, it seems most humane. Let me know if I have it right:

  1. Section off a couple Alienus workers in a separate test tube.
  2. Slowly introduce young workers into the test tube with my Speculiventris Queen.
  3. Feed the Parasite a little.
  4. Itroduce a second batch of Alienus workers in to Speculiventris' test tube.

I like this method because I get to keep both an Alienus and Speculiventris colony. Hopefully it works. Please let me know if I read it wrong and if I've explained it correctly. Thanks

I responded to this in a different thread, but I will reiterate here that while using one of your own colonies for host brood and workers is ideal, the captive colony you are taking from needs to be old and large enough so that removing the brood does not cause unsustainable deterioration to the growth of the host colony. I ought to emphasize "having a colony ready" when suggesting this method. You can use wild ants, but this is obviously destructive to their nest, so extra care and responsibility ought to be taken.


If you've enjoyed using my expertise and identifications, please do not create undue ecological risk by releasing your ants. The environment which we keep our pet insects is alien and oftentimes unsanitary, so ensure that wild populations stay safe by giving your ants the best care you can manage for the rest of their lives, as we must do with any other pet.

 

Exotic ants are for those who think that vibrant diversity is something you need to pay money to see. It is illegal to transport live ants across state lines.

 

----

Black lives still matter.


#14 Offline Canadian anter - Posted February 1 2017 - 7:22 PM

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You should include natural introduction w/ queen AKA throwing the queen in there. It's not recommended but it's the only way I've done it succesfully 



#15 Offline Batspiderfish - Posted February 1 2017 - 7:41 PM

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You should include natural introduction w/ queen AKA throwing the queen in there. It's not recommended but it's the only way I've done it succesfully 

That's kind of what the first method is. Honestly, as long as the host workers are not old enough to be guards or foragers, the parasitic queens are fairly well-equipped to assimilate into groups of otherwise hostile, mature workers. However, the callow method completely skips a very hazardous period in a parasitic queen's life-cycle. Of the three fledgling parasite colonies I am keeping, two queens (one Lasius latipes and one Lasius umbratus) were introduced to fully-adult workers.


If you've enjoyed using my expertise and identifications, please do not create undue ecological risk by releasing your ants. The environment which we keep our pet insects is alien and oftentimes unsanitary, so ensure that wild populations stay safe by giving your ants the best care you can manage for the rest of their lives, as we must do with any other pet.

 

Exotic ants are for those who think that vibrant diversity is something you need to pay money to see. It is illegal to transport live ants across state lines.

 

----

Black lives still matter.


#16 Offline VoidElecent - Posted February 2 2017 - 10:11 AM

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You should include natural introduction w/ queen AKA throwing the queen in there. It's not recommended but it's the only way I've done it succesfully 

That's kind of what the first method is. Honestly, as long as the host workers are not old enough to be guards or foragers, the parasitic queens are fairly well-equipped to assimilate into groups of otherwise hostile, mature workers. However, the callow method completely skips a very hazardous period in a parasitic queen's life-cycle. Of the three fledgling parasite colonies I am keeping, two queens (one Lasius latipes and one Lasius umbratus) were introduced to fully-adult workers.

 

I saw your post on my thread from earlier. Thanks for the feedback. The problem is, I don't want to hurt my Alienus Queen. Frankly, I'd rather have a thriving Alienus colony and a dead Speculiventris than two dead queens. Assuming I should still use the callow method, how would you recommend I find a thriving colony and locate workers young enough for it to work? I think I should just wait until my Alienus has maybe 10-12 workers and a sizable brood, then I can transfer some young workers into the parasite's nest. Do you think ti will affect the Alienus colony, even though the worked would be too young to significantly contribute in the first place?


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#17 Offline Ant Broski - Posted April 1 2017 - 1:33 PM

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I finally got what I was looking for. Thanks for the post!

#18 Offline Batspiderfish - Posted April 8 2017 - 9:23 PM

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Lasius latipes has been out of hibernation for a couple weeks, and we've got a nice little pile of eggs and larvae started. The queen has quite a few mites on her, but I am happy so long as she is laying.

 

CanadianAnter has a journal for a Lasius claviger colony which has made it to the worker stage (a first for Acanthomyops) although they're still waiting for a stable population.


Edited by Batspiderfish, April 11 2017 - 2:30 PM.

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If you've enjoyed using my expertise and identifications, please do not create undue ecological risk by releasing your ants. The environment which we keep our pet insects is alien and oftentimes unsanitary, so ensure that wild populations stay safe by giving your ants the best care you can manage for the rest of their lives, as we must do with any other pet.

 

Exotic ants are for those who think that vibrant diversity is something you need to pay money to see. It is illegal to transport live ants across state lines.

 

----

Black lives still matter.


#19 Online Nathant2131 - Posted April 9 2017 - 3:21 AM

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Wow, beautiful queen! Never knew that sp. got that dark.

#20 Offline Batspiderfish - Posted April 9 2017 - 5:42 AM

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  • LocationMaine

Wow, beautiful queen! Never knew that sp. got that dark.

 

Right, I have seen forms much brighter than that, with thicker appendages (as photographed above). The old explanation is that there are alpha and beta-morph queens, but i suspect that as with so many other species which exhibit "queen polymorphism", different queens represent completely separate genetic lineages. Since it is reported that species from Acanthomyops frequently hybridize, that may be another explanation. I look forward to having a dead specimen (preferably a worker) to examine more closely. Lasius latipes is the only species from this group I have found so far in Maine.


Edited by Batspiderfish, April 9 2017 - 5:44 AM.

  • Nathant2131 likes this

If you've enjoyed using my expertise and identifications, please do not create undue ecological risk by releasing your ants. The environment which we keep our pet insects is alien and oftentimes unsanitary, so ensure that wild populations stay safe by giving your ants the best care you can manage for the rest of their lives, as we must do with any other pet.

 

Exotic ants are for those who think that vibrant diversity is something you need to pay money to see. It is illegal to transport live ants across state lines.

 

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Black lives still matter.





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