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Trachymyrmex of DFW Texas

trachymyrmex leaf cutter texas dallas keeping

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#1 Offline OgienChomik - Posted April 8 2018 - 2:47 PM

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Ok so I wanted to start somewhat of a journal of my past year of attempting to keep trachymyrmex (probably septentrionalis).

Last year around January or February I was introduced into ant keeping by a youtube channel called AntsCanada (probably a common story from users of my age with how big the channel is getting) and asked for an AC Starter kit to start keeping ants, March rolled around and I was very ambitious to get into keeping leaf cutter ants thinking there was only two Genus of leaf cutters, atta and acromyrmex, and found a species that looks very similar to those two Genus but weren't as big and were only one size. Through some field study I've discovered that the colonies are very active at night in the summer and on cool days during the spring to build their nests. A lot of nests have very small black ants (not the best at identifying ants but I think these ants are roughly 2cm big at most) somewhat within the mounds that these ants make, I'm not sure if they're symbiotic but I've noted everything to my memory no matter how small or irrelevant just in case that plays a role on founding and maintaining a proper colony. (amateur scientist here but I'm doing my best with what I've learned in highschool and college.)

 

I did a ton of research into the Genus and found that they are somewhat of a mixed leaf cutter ant, meaning they don't only get their nutrition from their fungus garden and will take advantage of other sources of nutrition. I was dumb founded and started experimenting and just flat out observing what the workers carry back into their nests to see what on earth do they like to eat and bring back. I first started with research and found that they liked grabbing caterpillar poop and flowers as a sort of fertilizer for their gardens, I think I experimented with cricket poop and found that they took a decent liking to it and harvested the feces readily for their gardens. When I was attempting to figure out what else these ants liked I discovered that they carried home bits of bread to their nests (my mom always puts stale bread out on the table for the birds and animals to eat). As far as I can tell bread crumbs is their absolute favorite thing to bring back to the nest, whether or not they add it to their fungus gardens I have no idea. I've also experimented with Honey and just flat out dropped flower petals to see what they did with those and they swarmed the hell out of them as I would expect them to. One last thing I remember observing this spring is that they absolutely love the fuzzy pollen producing structures that the oak trees produce during the spring (I forgot the name of this structure, I'm sorry).

 

Going through some forums and papers I've also found that these ants are not fully claustral, the queens definitely come out at night and try to find sources of nutrition for the founding process, I've also found that a lot of wanna be keepers of this colony make the mistake here when keeping this species as the queen always died in the founding stage. Through general observations I believe I've also found that these ants generally produce new colonies through budding and probably have multiple queens per colony as I've seen numerous times a queen walk out of the colony partially unprotected from the workers. I know this could mean many things but I'm assuming this species might either have multiple queens to a colony or may actually have the elates mate and then raise the queens up within the parent colony and then the queen and her respective workers move out when the time is right. But I'm just not sure on this part as I think some of the queens also go out on their own to found their own colony without the parent colony (I know some ant species do both of these things when creating a new colony much like I think the one I am currently keeping). I've seen many ways that people have attempted to keep a colony of this type with one of them being digging up a fresh colony and grabbing as many of the ants as they can, this is something I just refuse to do as it has the potential to go wrong in so many ways and I simply don't want to risk that.

So with all of that information I've gathered I decided to attempt to keep some queens and try to found my own colony of this species. When the time came and I noticed the elates swarming the nest I scrambled all over the front yard and back yard trying to find the females. I couldn't really find a single one that wasn't near a nest entrance walking around and trying to find a place to found it's colony, all I could see are hundreds of thousands of male elates flying from nest entrance to nest entrance. After hours of looking for a queen I decided to somewhat make my own home brew and grab a couple males from different colonies and a few females then mix them together. I believe I was somewhat successful as I saw the males mating with the females. Not too long after the females went down to the test tubes I prepared and started the founding process (I made a stream of the colonies and archived them to my youtube channel somewhere just so I can watch them when I'm not streaming and see if I could spot the queen coming out for food. let me know if anyone wants the link and wants to hunt down the videos for when the queen came out during those streams but don't expect much since I didn't quiet have a good set up for this in terms of lighting and quality) I noticed on multiple occasions that the queens tended to grab bits of bread crumbs the most to take back down into the test tube, whether she fed those to the garden I still don't know. I noticed growth on the garden for quiet some time on one queen but the set up I had sadly was a poor one and the cotton I had used to somewhat seal her in had slipped and in the middle of the night the only queen that I found was succesful through this whole process escaped and never came back.

I do plan to find and keep more queens of this colony when they fly and I'll definitely provide more info and possibly experiments that I may try this time around (with pictures) now that I have a bit more in the way of equipment to keep ants along with the knowledge I've gained over my year of researching and experience of keeping ant colonies. One experiment that I'm somewhat reluctantly wanting to try is to keep multiple queens in the same test tube set up, I know this is frowned upon and I'll probably get some people grinding me on not doing this but if my theory is correct then this species may do better in numbers.

 

Any information that anyone else can give me that I have not covered here would be massively appreciated, I know this ant is not very well researched as opposed to atta texana or atta mexicana here in texas but I find these little girls amazing and adorable (A fan of my stream even made some fan art of a queen hugging bread because of the love of bread that I found they had). I've strangely grown fond of these girls even though I probably won't be able to properly keep a full blown colony for a while since the fungus gardens require a specific humidity and temperature to survive. But that's not gonna stop me from trying and learning more about them.

 

(side note I'm sorry if my grammar is off in any way, I'm tired from college and really wanted to get this out there and start getting feedback as soon as I can before the nuptial flight of this species and the pogonomyrmex (another species I really want to keep and will be somewhat making a journal of me keeping them.))

(another side note I'm not sure where I should've posted this since I'm wanting to expand on this as I go for round 2 this year for keeping this ant species and sharing what I've learned and experienced while attempted to keep a colony.)


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#2 Offline AntsMaryland - Posted April 8 2018 - 3:04 PM

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This species is one that i would LOVE to keep. Where do you find them? (ik you probably mentioned this in your writing). Keep us updated. Some photographs and documentation would be highly valued. Look forward to seeing what becomes of this!



#3 Offline OgienChomik - Posted April 8 2018 - 3:11 PM

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I know this Genus is actually found all over the US and are really easy to find generally you can see them under oak trees from what I've heard and in very sandy soil, I don't think I mentioned that. as for photographs I don't have many and the ones that I transfered to my PC a year ago were lost somehow when I transfered everything to my laptop. Plus my phone's camera is about the only camera I've got that can take pictures of these guys and even then they're really fuzzy and unfocused pictures. at the very least I can link some of the wiki articles I've found on this species http://www.antwiki.o...septentrionalis



#4 Offline MegaMyrmex - Posted April 8 2018 - 5:11 PM

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Nice, I myself am looking for them too! Good luck!
Spoiler

#5 Offline 123LordOfAnts123 - Posted April 8 2018 - 6:21 PM

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I’ve had good success rearing T. septentrionalis colonies in miniaturized setups similiar to those used for rearing many other fungus growers in the lab. It consists of a clear acrylic container(s) that’s serves as the fungus chamber, and a hydrostone base with a means of external hydration; often through a tube set in the hydrostone medium and up and out of the nest. A dry outworld is provided for foraging. Incipicient colonies and those with small gardens prefer to culture their fungus with some sort of foundation. A high quality long fibered sphagnum moss serves this purpose well, and is also incorporated into the garden.

The ants, for the most part, thrive in this setup. Substrates that have been accepted include oak/willow catkins (I save and freeze these fresh in the spring), herbivorous insect frass, steel milled oats, a wide array of dried vegetable matter, small flowers, and sometimes the fresh new growth of many plants. A certain proclivity is normally displayed for a particular substrate before the ants begin avoiding it in favor for another after a few weeks. Experimentation helps. Fungus swells in size to as large as a baseball during brood production in spring and summer, after which it is normally dismantled and kept in a presumably more manageable ping-pong ball size. I’ve had difficulty sustaining colonies long term; the fungus sometimes declines in health and ultimately succumbs to other pathogens after their dormant period in fall-winter. I suspect improper temperatures were to blame. One colony did make it out fine and subsequently produced alates.

In my area, nuptials begin in late May along with the arrival of seasonal thunder storms and warm temperatures, usually peaking in June and continuing until July. Flights take place in the afternoon, preferably on overcast days with little wind. Mated queens seem drawn in mass to open areas, often near the edge of a clearing where dense oak hammock gives way to sand hill or scrub, or perhaps a sandy spot in between a few widely spaced pines. The edge of a road or trail in lightly developed areas can also shelter queens. In such areas queens excavate conspicuous half-moon shaped mounds; their density can sometimes reach hundreds in a few square meters. Queens are semi-claustral, monogynous, and continue foraging and excavation for weeks after flying. This makes them fairly easy to find, but also relatively difficult to procure a fresh queen with her seed fungus still in her infrabuccal pocket. This means collecting a sample of fungus from an already established colony is often needed for starting fresh queens.

However, entire colonies are normally easy to collect in Florida’s sandy soil by digging a 3 foot wide pit a few feet away from a nest entrance and carefully scraping the soil walls away until tunnels/chambers are encountered. If started with queens, they’re occasionally loosely polygynous, but the queens hide within the fungus and observing them (and if they’re all still alive) can prove challenging.

Edited by 123LordOfAnts123, April 8 2018 - 6:27 PM.

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#6 Offline OgienChomik - Posted April 9 2018 - 2:05 PM

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Interesting, I believe hydrostone is somewhat of a plaster with lots of holes and pores throughout it to soak up water and somewhat maintain humidity right? That may be good for maintaining a colony for about a year but I feel that this kind of set up would be prone to molding and would certainly be prone to keeping bacteria in it if it isn't constantly maintained and cleaned. I think what would be better is something similar to what ants canada has in their store like this right here: http://www.antscanad...rid-nest-small/

 

You bring up something I never even thought of though and that's how big the fungus ball gets, I guess that basic test tube set up I've been wanting to do was doomed from the start... I've had an idea though that may solve both problems, both maintaining a good humidity and a good temperature. Something I've learned from ant keeping is that you need to give the ants somewhat of a gradient of both humidity and temperature so they can pick and choose where to place their brood and possibly fungus gardens. But what I was thinking is going down to my local container store and purchasing some, well, containers that I can modify and add a mesh to the bottom of along with purchasing a seperate container that will be cut and fitted to the bottom of the one with the mesh with enough room for water and some sort of cotton medium to apply humidity to the container above.

 

I've got some Birthday money saved up and I may just use it for doing this, I'll post a bit of a sketch of what I'm thinking of as soon as I can so I can receive some criticisms and thoughts on it.

 

As for the food thank you so much for giving me those suggestions on what they want, up until now I've been flying by the seat of my pants trying to figure things out, as for obtaining the fungal garden pellet that's probably best as well but I'd be worried about destroying the colony that I'd be burrowing into... I will say that I have with out a doubt seen queens in already established colonies poking out of the nest, and I'm not talking about alates, these queens don't have any wings on them. Maybe this is a different species of Trachymyrmex that is polygnous? Either way I'm ready to tackle this challenge so long as my wallet holds up!


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#7 Offline OgienChomik - Posted April 10 2018 - 1:23 PM

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Literally a screen cap of a picture here because I'm too lazy to make a new account on an image hosting website

https://gyazo.com/aa...69bc73ffea4e2f5

https://gyazo.com/b1...8421e2637321a4b

The idea is to replicate somewhat what ants canada has done with their set ups. I've been wondering if that kind of set up would even work given the information that the fungus ball grows to be roughly baseball size. Either way I've been trying to figure out what to use as the mesh, I was thinking of using something called tulle which is essentially what's used to make stockings. My only issue is that it's fabric and would eventually tear to certain microbes and maybe even the fungus so that may be out of the question. I'll be making a run to Home depot tomorrow and will be keeping my eye out for a super fine metal mesh that I may be able to use instead.

As for heating the formicarium and humidifying it I'm hoping to create a partial gradient so the queen can place the fungus ball wherever she thinks is best, I feel I should possibly make the formicarium only 3 inches tall and allow her and her workers to transfer and upgrade as time goes on. I just feel 10x10x6 is way too big of a space for the founding process, maybe even smalled than 3 inches and just go with 1 and let the fungus ball expand in all directions.

On a side note I've tossed a bunch of oak catkins into a gallon sized freezer bag to store in the freezer until I hopefully can get a colony going. The plan is to hopefully make a few of these set ups for the queens so I can at least have one hit on raising a colony. If I get multiple successes then I'll gladly sell a colony to anyone in the area, but that's for another thread.


Edited by OgienChomik, April 10 2018 - 1:26 PM.

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#8 Offline sericultivist - Posted April 23 2018 - 6:49 PM

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I'm looking to keep Cyphomyrmex when they start flying here, they are basically the same as Trachymyrmex except they only like frass, they rarely touch plant matter. From what I've seen about keeping Trachymyrmex, the fungus will grow to fit whatever shape it's in. If you end up making a formicarium design that works let me know! I'll do the same for you. 

 

You're lucky to have oak catkins there, when mine were blooming here I was actually in DFW Texas watching all the adorable Trachymyrmex colonies running around gathering pollen. I'm going back again soon hopefully, I could sit around and watch the Trachymyrmex all day. They aren't shy like the Cyphomyrmex here are.



#9 Offline OgienChomik - Posted April 29 2018 - 1:41 PM

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well thanks to an experiment that a few class mates in my biology class ran, they had some really awesome little containers left over and just gave them to me, not to mention all of the meal worms that they had left over from their experiment. So now I have a second colony of feeder insects to give to my other black ant colony that I'm keeping.

 

That aside I'm thinking about cutting one of these containers mostly in half to fill the bottom with wet cotton balls and a good amount of water. Then the top container's bottom will be cut out and replaced with possibly a weed guard from home depot, I don't think these little guys really cut through these things so they should suffice as a way to let the moisture through into the container but I could be wrong. I may try and find a sifter and use that but I'm worried they'd be able to go through the holes of the sifter mesh. Still need to do some research on that little bit.

 

Other than that it should be fairly easy to cut some small holes through the sides to allow for the ants to go into an out world of some kind so they can forage. I'll be completely sealing the lid onto the container along with the little vent at the top so they can't escape. the holes leading to an out world should suffice for ventilation and if not then I'll simply add some kind of air pump to circulate the air in the outworld and all of that.

 

Still need to find some container to act as an outworld for them but that'll come with time for sure, I know it's not going to be the most extravagant set up but it'll allow me to see inside, I've got a nice dark box for these clear containers to sit in so I can lift up a towel to peak in when I wanna see them working.

 

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#10 Offline OgienChomik - Posted June 9 2018 - 4:26 PM

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Update on my colony, looks like they flew today and I found one wondering around with her wings still attached so I can only assume that she has been mated and hopefully still has her fungal pellet with her. one picture is a close up of her and the other is the set up that I'll be using for the start. I've yet to work on the final set up for her but I've got some time since it's best to wait until she has a couple workers before transferring her over.

20vZsCw.jpg

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Edited by OgienChomik, June 9 2018 - 4:28 PM.

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#11 Offline Studio - Posted June 11 2018 - 1:40 PM

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What!? They flew yesterday! Darn I missed them!







Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: trachymyrmex, leaf cutter, texas, dallas, keeping

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