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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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#21 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 9 2014 - 8:22 AM

dspdrew
  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 8-9-2014
 
Chromerust and I showed up in the desert Sunday 8-3-2014 just after a rain storm went through dropping a decent amount of rain. At first we noticed none of the Acromyrmex nests were open, and they were nowhere to be seen, but later that night they all started opening their nests and rebuilding their mounds. We could see plenty alates popping their heads out, so we knew they should be flying soon.
 
We woke up the next morning around 8 am, and already we could see Acromyrmex males were flying everywhere, with the occasional female in the swarm. I quickly gathered up my things and headed over to the trees where I know they all like to dig their nests. At this point there were already plenty dealates digging founding chambers, so I looked around for the ones that still seemed to be wandering around. I collected quite a few of them and put them directly into test tubes for fear of them spitting out the fungus pellets inside the containers I keep them in temporarily. They flew again the next morning and that time I noticed there was this one pile of dead bushes and debris that the males were all swarming around and the females would show up there and mate with a few of them on the ground and then fly off once finished. I can see they seem to only like digging their nests in partially shaded areas like under trees or large bushes.
 
Acromyrmex versicolor males swarming.
 

 
 
Acromyrmex versicolor alates mating.
 

 
 
Acromyrmex versicolor queen digging her founding chamber.
 

 
 
These queens chose to start digging their founding chambers right into the side of a loose dirt clod laying on the ground.
 

 
 
Later that day I noticed that plenty of them had dug their founding chambers right above the spots where my bucket traps were placed. Before leaving, we tried retrieving a couple of the traps, but I forgot to bring a metal detector so I just could not figure out exactly where they were without destroying all of the founding chambers above them. We decided to leave them and come back for them later with a metal detector; it's possible there will be even more founding chambers out there by then anyways. I ended up staying one more night, and the next morning there was another really small mating flight that took place again.
 
This is what the Ironwood trees look like that most all of the Acromyrmex in this part of the desert seem to nest under.
 
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Once I got home I checked all their tubes for their fungus pellets, but wasn't finding anything. Finally, about two days later, I found a few of them had spit out their pellets. :D
 
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The third day I checked them all with my microscope, and could only find what I knew for sure were fungus pellets in about a quarter of the tubes. I also noticed a lot of what looked like it could have once been the fungus pellet in some. Unfortunately, I could only find a few that looked like they had a tiny bit of fungus starting to grow on them, and I couldn't even find the one in the picture above anymore. Some of the queens when disturbed, would pick up the pellets and it looked like they were destroying the fungus that had started to grow on them, so it's probably best not to disturb them at all during this process. A few times I noticed the queen would put the fungus in the cotton and get it stuck in some of the strands, and then while trying to pull it loose, it looked like she was damaging it pretty bad. I have a feeling this might be what happened to a lot of the other pellets, and probably explains why I was seeing pieces of what looked to once be fungus pellets. Next year I will definitely have specially designed alternative founding setups ready for them ahead of time to avoid this problem. I'm probably going to try to quickly put something together and move the queens and their fungus into them. We'll just have to wait and see what happens from here. Also, tonight Anhzor and I are going out to retrieve the bucket traps.
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#22 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 10 2014 - 2:12 PM

dspdrew
  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 8-10-2014
 
I returned to the spot last night (with a metal detector this time) to retrieve all of my bucket traps. Having the metal detector made this a heck of a lot easier. I dug them all up and attached the bucket tops as planned. There was about one to three inches of dirt above the rims of the buckets that I just scraped off before pulling them out of the ground. This shouldn't really be a problem since anything important is likely quite a ways down, if not all the way on the bottom of the bucket. Unfortunately, it didn't look like there were much of any founding chambers directly over the buckets. There were plenty all around them, just not much--if any--right over the traps.
 
Once I finished collecting the traps, I went back to where I earlier observed some workers trailing out to a bush where they were cutting pieces of twigs off for the workers on the ground to pick up and take back to the nest. My intentions were to collect some of those twigs and some of the leaf litter around the area to supply my queens with. Well, I was away for only about an hour, and when I returned, I noticed they were finished collecting twigs from that bush, and it looked like most had gone back to the nest. I then noticed a few dead and dying ones in the trail and assumed I must have accidentally stepped on a few of them while I was walking around in the dark. As I checked some more, I then noticed dead and dying workers all up and down the entire trail the way it would look if somebody had sprayed them all with Raid. There were so many dying workers, I would say it was almost 1/3 of the amount of workers I saw walking in this trail earlier. I'm quite concerned about this, because until I know what happened, I don't know if I even want my queens to touch any of that stuff. It seems highly unlikely that there was a problem with the bush they were gathering from, but I really can't figure out what could have possibly caused that.
 
This is a piece of the dead bush that the workers were cutting up and crawling all over before dying.
 

 
 
I got home and brought the buckets into my apartment. There were only four now, since one of them dumped over in the wind while driving. For right now, I just smoothed out the surface of the dirt as much as possible and set them on my floor. I didn't put any leaf litter or anything like that in them yet, mainly because of the strange deaths I saw back at the spot. I sprayed some water on the tops to harden it up just a tiny bit and to clean off the plastic sides. I painted a one-inch band of talcum powder around the sides about an inch up from the bottom to prevent any queens from escaping. I'll have to find some inch-deep trays to set these in to allow for hydration.
 

 
 
For now, I placed all of the workers I gathered the first time I was out there into a container with a bunch of these suspect twigs to allow them to crawl all over them for a while. If I don't see any deaths or problems, which I assume I most likely won't, I'll go ahead and give these twigs to my queens.
 

 
 
A couple hours later I found 4 of these workers dead and dying in the same way they were at the spot last night. I can't imagine what would do this other than some sort of pesticide. Who on Earth would be spraying pesticide on plants in the middle of the desert especially near Joshua Tree National Park? It's safe to say I won't be giving any of these twigs to my queens.
 
I decided to check the fungus pellets to see if there is anymore growth. It looks like only two queens have pellets with visible fungus growing on them now, and it doesn't look like they're doing very well either. :(

#23 Offline Gregory2455 - Posted August 10 2014 - 2:39 PM

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Wow, that is awful.



#24 Offline Gregory2455 - Posted August 10 2014 - 10:46 PM

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All those workers in that bin look the same size, I found 3 or 4 different sizes...



#25 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 11 2014 - 8:17 AM

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  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Yeah, when I grabbed those I grabbed the largest ones.



#26 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 11 2014 - 4:22 PM

dspdrew
  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 8-11-2014
 
There's still no sign that any queens have come out of their founding chambers to forage in any of the buckets yet.
 
The two queens with fungus growing on their pellets still have not added any substrate to them, but the fungus does look a little more healthy today. I moved both of them into foraging containers and replaced the cotton in their test tubes with a rubber stopper with a notch cut out of the side. I sterilized some dirt from out in the desert, sprinkled it about 1/4 inch deep in the bottom of the containers, and wet it all down. I then sterilized some leaf litter from the desert, crushed it up into very small pieces, added some bits of oatmeal, and sprinkled that all around in the containers also. Hopefully the queens will now forage around in there until they finally find something they like and add it to their fungus.
 


#27 Offline Gregory2455 - Posted August 12 2014 - 1:41 PM

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One of the infertile alates I brought home shed their wings... 



#28 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 12 2014 - 4:05 PM

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  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Oh did you get them from the nest you dug up? If you would have gone at night, there are hundreds of fertile ones out foraging.


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#29 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 12 2014 - 4:44 PM

dspdrew
  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 8-12-2014
 
Still no sign of any life in the buckets.
 
Later last night, a few hours after setting up the foraging containers for the queens, I noticed one of them added a tiny bit of something to her fungus, and both fungus "gardens" had more white fuzz. The moisture in the substrate was starting to dampen the leaf litter and oatmeal quite a bit, and I was getting a little worried it might grow some unwanted mold, so I took the tops off the containers. The queens did not seem to be able to climb very well on the smooth plastic, or even want to, so I left them like that for a few hours while I slept. Well, when I woke up in the morning, one of the queens was gone. :o She was probably foraging through my apartment somewhere, so I grabbed another queen and put her in there to take her place. I plugged up the tube to lock her in for a day to make sure she knows that's going to be her nest. Right away she took interest in the eggs and the fungus. Before I left for work today, I stuck a reptile heating mat inside the cabinet to warm it up a bit. I know fungus always seems to grow faster when it's warmer.
 
One thing I notice is every time I barely disturb them at all, they freak out and start picking up the fungus. I hope it's normal for them to be licking all over it too, because they seem to do this a lot. They also love to stick the fungus to the top of the test tube, or high up on the sides. It's really gooey and sticky so it has no problem staying in place.
 
When I got home from work today, I found the new queen had placed all the pieces of sand the previous queen dragged into the tube all around the rubber stopper. Her fungus seemed to have doubled in size, 'till I noticed there were actually two fungus pellets in there now. I think this queen actually waited until now to spit her pellet out... I'm not sure why though. As for the other queen, her fungus with the added substrate is growing well and much larger than it started out as.
 
Here is the larger piece of fungus with something added to it. The queen just got done licking it all down, so it doesn't have as much fresh white fuzz as it did before I disturbed her; I hope that's not a bad thing.
 


#30 Offline Gregory2455 - Posted August 12 2014 - 4:47 PM

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Oh did you get them from the nest you dug up? If you would have gone at night, there are hundreds of fertile ones out foraging.

I was there at night... Just for half an hour of dark though, and then I had to leave... 



#31 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 13 2014 - 11:29 PM

dspdrew
  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 8-13-2014
 
Before I left for work today, the fungus still looked about the same as it did the night before, just a little more fuzzy. Just as I was checking out the larger fungus "garden" under my microscope, the queen started grabbing on it again like she always does, but this time I actually saw her curl her gaster under and squirt yellow secretions all over the fungus. Later in the day when I got home from work, I noticed this queen's fungus had doubled in size. The smaller one was still the same size, but a lot fuzzier and healthy looking.
 

 

 
Later at night when I checked up on them, I found a bunch of white hairy fungus had started to grow all over the leaf litter. Worried that this could cause a problem, I removed the test tubes from the foraging containers and changed out the substrate. I added all new sterilized leaf litter along with some crushed oatmeal, cereal and fish pellets.
 
While repairing the foraging containers, I noticed what looks like a possible hole formed in one of the buckets. basically some dirt looks like it has fallen down under some larger gravel, leaving a bit of a hole. I'm not sure if this was a queen trying to dig its way out, but I don't see how it could have ended up that way after I was brushing the dirt all around the day before.

#32 Offline Mathiacus - Posted August 14 2014 - 12:36 AM

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The queen that replaced the escapee seems like a cheeky girl. Can you give her pellet to another queen or is it too fragile to move?

#33 Offline Gregory2455 - Posted August 14 2014 - 1:11 AM

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That fungus is starting to get to be a nice size,

or is the fungus on the last picture being helped by multiple queens?


Edited by Gregory2455, August 14 2014 - 1:12 AM.


#34 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 14 2014 - 4:28 AM

dspdrew
  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

The queen that replaced the escapee seems like a cheeky girl. Can you give her pellet to another queen or is it too fragile to move?

Do you mean the extra pellet?

 

That fungus is starting to get to be a nice size,

or is the fungus on the last picture being helped by multiple queens?

No, just a single queen made all that so far.



#35 Offline Mathiacus - Posted August 14 2014 - 4:30 AM

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Yes. The extra pellet.

#36 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 14 2014 - 11:48 AM

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  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

I'm sure I could give it to another queen, but I think I would rather do it with a piece of the larger fungus garden.



#37 Offline Gregory2455 - Posted August 15 2014 - 10:26 AM

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For now, I placed all of the workers I gathered the first time I was out there into a container with a bunch of these suspect twigs to allow them to crawl all over them for a while. If I don't see any deaths or problems, which I assume I most likely won't, I'll go ahead and give these twigs to my queens.

A couple hours later I found 4 of these workers dead and dying in the same way they were at the spot last night. I can't imagine what would do this other than some sort of pesticide. Who on Earth would be spraying pesticide on plants in the middle of the desert especially near Joshua Tree National Park? It's safe to say I won't be giving any of these twigs to my queens.

I brought some what I think to be healthy workers home too- they do not seem to last as long as the queens in captivity.

I am pretty sure they were not sprayed like yours (I dug them out of the ground), but they only lasted one and a half week.



#38 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 15 2014 - 10:44 AM

dspdrew
  • LocationSanta Ana, CA

Yeah, all the rest of the workers I had are dead now too. Queens of all species seem to last MUCH longer than workers do.



#39 Offline dspdrew - Posted August 15 2014 - 3:43 PM

dspdrew
  • LocationSanta Ana, CA
Update 8-15-2014
 
Yesterday I found out what I thought could possibly be a queen in one of the buckets opening its nest turned out to just be a sprouting Ironwood tree unfortunately.
 
yesterday I didn't notice much difference in the size of either queen's fungus gardens. Now that all the substrate in the foraging containers is completely dry to prevent unwanted mold from growing, I was a little afraid it might not be humid enough in there, so I set a couple small containers in there with cotton soaked in water to raise the humidity a bit.
 

 
After measuring the humidity before and after adding these, I could see they raised it up about seven percent.
 
Today when I got home from work, I could see the larger fungus garden had grown a little bigger, while the small one is still nothing more than the two little fungus pellets. I'm starting to think there might be enough in the larger garden for me to take a tiny piece of it and give to another queen.
 
While looking at my other queens, checking for any late fungus growth, I saw some strange fungus growing from a little brown piece of something that I don't think is Leucoagaricus gongylophorus, but it looks similar.
 


#40 Offline Gregory2455 - Posted August 15 2014 - 4:26 PM

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I saw this with the ironwood tree leaves I brought home, as far as I have seen, it doesn't hurt the ants.

 

(Your Image)

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Also one of the workers I brought home got attacked by this as well, so it seems to be a pretty common thing.







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