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Dspdrew's Acromyrmex versicolor Journal [119] (Updated 10-21-2023)

dspdrew acromyrmex versicolor journal fungus growers leaf cutters

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#1 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 7 2013 - 7:08 PM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
I found these Acromyrmex versicolor alates and dealates on September 8th 2013, near Joshua Tree National
Anhzor and I were lucky enough to walk up on the end of their nuptial flight. I was showing him the Acromyrmex nest, when next to it we noticed tons of what looked like freshly dug founding chambers.

A second later he spotted an A. versicolor queen walking by and grabbed it. At that point we then noticed TONS of them, all in the process of digging their founding chambers.

Apparently these didn't fly but a few feet from what was obviously their original nest. These queens were all digging under the same tree as that nest, and all within inches of each other. We collected about 30 each since we had no idea if they would still be carrying their fungus pellet or not. A little ways away by another nest, we found a bunch of dying males. Pretty amazing that we just happened to show up the day they flew; I never expected that to happen once I saw they didn't fly the first day after the rain. I wonder what made them wait two weeks after the rain storms started coming through the area.
Before we left there we tried digging up some fungus from one of the mature colonies just in case the queens were no longer carrying their fungus pellets, but after digging a four foot diameter hole two feet deep and not finding anything, we finally just gave up.
When I got home I put all these queens in test tubes. A few had just one queen, some had two queens, some three, and one of them had four queens. I also put a couple of them in the fridge to see if that might allow them to last longer in case they have no fungus to eat. One of the test tubes looks like it might possibly have a fungus pellet in it, but I'm not sure.
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#2 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 7 2013 - 7:18 PM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Update 9-11-2013


Most of the queens have now started laying eggs. So far eight of the queens have died too.

#3 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 8 2013 - 5:47 AM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 9-22-2013
Today I went back to the spot where we found these queens with Anhzor and Pogoqueen from the forum. I had a plan to actually dig up one of the Acromyrmex founding chambers in hopes of getting a brand new queen along with its new fungus garden. I took with me a 5-gallon bucket, some trash bags, and a shovel.
First we stopped at the spot where we originally found all the queens and I immediately started looking for the spot with the most founding chambers dug in a 5-gallon bucket space; I figured this would give me the highest chance of digging up a founding nest in its entirety. We looked around there for a while, then walked around to some of the other Ironwood trees around the area and noticed that there were tons of founding chambers under every other tree out there too. We didn't notice this the first time we were out there, so it almost looked as though more may have flown after we were there. I wasn't sure what the mortality rate would be for all these queens, so I was afraid I might possibly pick a spot with nothing but dead queens.
I continued to look around for a while and then to my surprise found a queen out foraging. I watched it for a little while until it finally went back into its nest. Since I knew for sure there was a live queen in that nest, I decided that would be the spot I would dig up. I started digging all around the nest until I had a 5-gallon bucket sized chunk of dirt left surrounding the entrance to the nest. Now I had no idea which direction that tunnel could have gone, so I just kept the hole in the very center and figured that would be my best chance. Also, if there happened to be a lot more live queens out there than I realized, it was entirely possible that I could be digging up one from a nest with an entrance outside of the space that I was focusing on--who knows. Shortly after this, we began finding queens walking around all over in the piles of dirt that I dug up, so this meant there actually were plenty of queens still alive out there. This also tells us that these queens founding chambers were definitely no more than a foot and a half deep at this point. The dirt in this spot was pretty hard and dry for the first 12 inches or so, and then below that, it was much more soft and damp.
In order to lower this giant dirt clod down into the bucket without damaging it more than I already did while trying to remove the large rocks from the side of it, I first picked it up and dropped it into a couple trash bags, then used those to lower it down into the bucket. This didn't go too well at first because it turned out to be a bit too large in diameter, and while fixing this problem, the majority of the more damp dirt fell off the bottom, leaving me with mainly just the first 12 inches of dirt. This was especially not good because in that dirt I saw two queens wandering around, and now I was quite sure I had just ruined the entire experiment I worked so hard on. It seemed to me that there would be no way any of these queens would have their fungus garden in the dry section of that dirt, but I took it home anyways in hopes that I was wrong.
Later that evening after the sun went down, we started seeing TONS of Acromyrmex queens wandering around by their nests, so we now know these founding queens obviously do their foraging at night. Since we figured these queens would probably be a lot healthier than the ones we have already had for two weeks, we decided to gather a bunch more. As far as I know, like every year, most all of these queens won't survive for very long in the wild anyways. In the end, Anhzor and I both left there with about 40 more queens.
Once I got home, I put four of the queens in a test tube, another eight or so queens in a larger test tube, and the rest all in one acrylic container. I added some of the leaf litter I collected from the spot into the acrylic container and wet it down.

As for the bucket, I carefully flattened the top out and added some dirt around the edges where it needed it. I then sprinkled leaf litter all around on the surface to make it just like their habitat. I poured a little bit of water all around in the bucket to wet it down some, and set it in my kitchen. I didn't have much hope for the bucket idea after dropping the moist part of the dirt off the bottom, but I was just going to wait and see; with as many founding nests as there were out there, there was still a chance I had one somewhere in there.

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#4 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 8 2013 - 5:47 AM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 9-25-2013
I got up this morning to go to work, and to my surprise I found a hole opened up and a queen foraging around in the bucket. I watched her for a while to make sure she was the one I originally was trying to dig up. Sure enough, she was the one with the nest right in the center of he bucket. She walked around for a while and eventually found a small piece of a dried leaf and took it down into her nest. I dropped a few dried flower petals in there, and she even started cutting a piece off of one, but eventually gave up. It seems that with her foraging for little bits of leaves and flower petals, she might still have her fungus down there, but it just doesn't seem likely that the fungus would be in what was such a dry section of the dirt; hopefully I'm wrong.

I haven't had hardly any other deaths among all the other queens, so that's good. The 20 something I have in the one container are now all huddled together around some little seed looking thing covered in something soft and white. I'm not sure what it is, but for some reason they all seem to love it. There are also a few eggs in there too now.



Anhzor and I are still trying everything we can to obtain some of the fungus they need, I'm not sure how long they'll be able to go without it.
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#5 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 8 2013 - 5:47 AM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 9-26-2013
Because of all the Aspergillus sp. mold that kept forming on the seeds and leaf litter in the bucket, I figured it should probably be more moist toward the bottom, and dry on top, the way it was in the wild. To achieve this, I drilled four holes along the bottom of the bucket and set it in a tray of water. I made sure to drill in far enough for the drill bit to catch a hold of the trash bag that was surrounding the dirt and rip a good portion of it out through each hole. This was a little bit dangerous, but I assumed the drill bit most likely wouldn't have been too close to anywhere the queen could have been. I cut some pieces of steel mesh and glued them over the holes to keep anything from escaping. This hopefully will make it a little easier to maintain a nice moisture gradient.


#6 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 8 2013 - 5:47 AM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Update 9-29-2013


It's been three days now and i have not seen the queen again. I even laid a tiny piece of something right on top of the small pieces of dirt covering the hole, and it has not been moved. Now I am worried that I might have killed the queen while drilling into it. I setup my webcam so I could watch it a little more closely. I also setup a small fan so that it blows right on the surface to help dry it out. I had to clean up a little more of that toxic yellow mold.


Fruit flies invaded the container with the 20 or so queens and now it's crawling with maggots (disgusting...). I moved all the queens into a new jar with a top that no flies can get into this time. It didn't take long for them to all huddle up again right over that little fuzzy white seed like thing. I still cant figure out why they like that thing so much, they almost act as if they think it's their fungus.

#7 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 8 2013 - 11:35 PM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Update 10-8-2013


By now I pretty much had decided the queen in the bucket was obviously dead, either because of what I did, or for some other reason. Yesterday I was just about to dump the bucket out, but just decided to leave it for a while longer. Well I got home from work today, and I found the queen out foraging around with her hole opened back up! I couldn't believe it. I quickly cleaned more of that yellow mold out of there, and setup some lights to help dry the surface out a little faster. I noticed she's got something white kind of smeared across the top of her head and thorax, not sure if it's mud or what. I watched her forage around a little bit until she finally found a little piece of a leaf or something that she liked and took it down into her nest. a few minutes later, she closed the hole back up with some dirt. About two hours later the video monitor caught my attention and there she was, out walking around again. She made a few laps around the bucket and went back in her nest and closed it up. It seems to me she just might have her fungus still since she's out gathering little pieces of leaves; I guess we will see.


As for all the other queens, amazingly, there have hardly been any more deaths. Also, Anhzor has finally found someone who's going to give him some fungus so it looks like all these queens may soon be getting something to eat.

#8 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 18 2013 - 12:13 AM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Not an update, but just thought I'd share this picture of one that died and ended up covered in what looks like Aspergillus sp. fungus. Pretty gross but Pogoqueen would love it. :lol: Unfortunately, I also brought this stuff home from the desert along with the Acromyrmex, and now I keep finding it growing on things. I have since bought a nice HEPA air filter and am hoping that helps take care of the problem.

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#9 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 24 2013 - 5:17 PM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Update 10-24-2013


Well it's been about two weeks since I last saw the queen in the bucket, and she left her hole opened up, so I'm pretty sure she's dead this time. I'll keep it here for another two weeks, and if I haven't seen her by then I'll be dumping it out.


As for the other queens, it's also been two weeks since this fungus was supposedly shipped out, so it looks like that may not be happening either. So far about half of the queens I have in test tubes have died now. They've gone without food for about a month and a half now, and it looks like that is about as long as they can go for. Pretty sad that all somebody had to do was ship us a little bit of fungus and we would have had tons of Acromyrmex colonies, but now they're probably just all going to die.

#10 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 28 2013 - 7:09 AM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Update 10-28-2013


So the person who was supposed to send the fungus was lying and never sent anything, so the queens are all going to die now. The queen in the bucket I'm quite sure is dead by now, so I dropped one of the still-living queens into the bucket to take over on her fungus, if it's still alive, or if it was ever there to begin with. If the original queen does still happen to be alive, then I'm sure they will both eventually get along anyways. After wandering around a bit, the new queen finally found the hole and crawled down into it. I checked this morning, and it looks like it's now partially blocked off with the new queen inside.

#11 Offline AntCzar - Posted October 30 2013 - 7:04 PM



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That sucks. I'll hold out hope! Some way some how some where, the fungus will come! :D

#12 Offline dspdrew - Posted October 31 2013 - 8:12 PM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Update 10-31-2013


The queen in the bucket was out working on the nest yesterday. She was doing a little digging, as I saw her carrying bits of dirt out and dumping it outside the hole. I also noticed she pulled the original queen's dead corpse out and dumped it too. It was pretty dried up, so she obviously died a while back like I suspected. This went on for most of the day, and then she went back in and closed the nest off again.

#13 Offline dspdrew - Posted November 3 2013 - 2:40 PM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 11-3-2013
The queen's been out working on her new nest a lot in the last few days. Yesterday I got worried though, because I noticed her nest was open, but I was not seeing her anywhere. I noticed there was a flower bud and some other debris scattered around the entrance, when normally the entrance is very clean while she has the nest open. Today though, I saw her, and she was actually cutting off pieces of that flower bud and taking them down into the nest; I'm hoping this means she still has some fungus in there.
Here's a picture of the bucket setup right now.

#14 Offline dspdrew - Posted November 7 2013 - 3:16 PM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Update 11-7-2013


Two more of the test tube queens have died, and the queen living in the bucket nest died. I took two more queens from another test tube and let them move into the nest in the bucket now. They quickly went down into the nest and sealed it off.

#15 Offline dspdrew - Posted November 26 2013 - 9:16 PM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Update 11-26-2013


The two queens in the bucket haven't been seen ever since they went down into the nest and sealed it off. It's safe to say by now there couldn't possibly be any live fungus down in that nest anymore. I had two more queens in the test tubes die, leaving me with five total left. This person who was supposed to send fungus to Anhzor finally sent it a month and a half late, but it of course got stuck at some USPS facility where the work pace is similar to that of a snail. Due to their highly productive and efficient service, the package arrived a week and a half late, and of course, all the fungus was dead. All the remaining queens will just slowly die off now, until there's nothing left. Hopefully next year I'll manage to start this whole thing over, but with queens that already have fungus with them, so I don't have to rely on anybody else to make this happen.

#16 Offline dspdrew - Posted December 10 2013 - 7:37 AM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Update 12-10-2013


Amazingly with no fungus to eat, two of my queens are actually still alive.

#17 Offline dspdrew - Posted January 3 2014 - 10:06 PM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Update 1-3-2014


Today the last of the Acromyrmex queens died. I can't believe how long the last one survived with no food. Hopefully next season we'll be a little more successful with these.

#18 Offline Gregory2455 - Posted July 12 2014 - 7:52 PM


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"I haven't had hardly any other deaths among all the other queens, so that's good. The 20 something I have in the one container are now all huddled together around some little seed looking thing covered in something soft and white. I'm not sure what it is, but for some reason they all seem to love it. There are also a few eggs in there too now."

Aren't you sure THAT is the fungus? That's the thing with fungus farmers, you gotta get them IMMEDIATELY after they fly. Once they start digging their founding chambers, they drop the fungus pellet they took from the parent colony.

Edited by dspdrew, June 19 2020 - 11:52 PM.

#19 Offline dspdrew - Posted July 12 2014 - 8:11 PM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Yeah, that thing was not fungus, or at least not the fungus they need and grow. All of these queens dropped their fungus pellets before we collected them. This year we have a plan to make sure we get at least a few with fungus for sure.

#20 Offline dspdrew - Posted July 17 2014 - 7:05 AM

  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 7-17-2014
I have built the bucket traps I plan to use to capture some of the queens this year along with their founding chambers. These are basically made the same way I made the jars for three of my Pogonomyrmex californicus colonies. The big holes and Hydrostone in the bottom are going to be used for hydrating. The smaller holes in the sides with the steel mesh are to allow the water to drain when it rains. The three holes grouped together on each side of the top will be used for handles when it comes time to pull them out of the ground. These bottoms will slide into the tops that were cut off of them, and will then be duct taped. Since the tops and bottoms are the same diameter at the cut line, the bottom stops about a little over an inch before falling all the way through. This allows the top to hold the bottom in fairly well. The reason for putting the tops back on is because the surface of the dirt is going to be all the way up to the brim of the bottoms, so the ants will need to be contained.

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