Monday, October 4, 2010
This beautiful red ant is the Spiny-Waisted Ant (Aphaenogaster tennesseensis) or funnel ant as they are also sometimes called. This species is widespread throughout North America and can be found in the soil, within rotting logs or stumps, and under the bark of trees. The one pictured here was found in an old maple tree stump that is so far decayed that there is very little left of it. This colony of ants have excavated a large series of tunnels in one section of the stump. As I was removing pieces of the stump to look for beetles I disturbed these ants. One in particular caught my eye as she raced back and forth carrying a worm in her mouth. I placed her on a stick and spent the next 30 minutes trying to get her to stand still long enough for a photo. 128 pictures later, I had managed two decent shots. These ants are constant motion. What made the situation comical was the fact that she refused to drop her meal...no way, no how was she letting go of that worm. I know the little worm is a beetle larvae of some kind, but what; I have no idea. Must be tasty though.
Ants within this genus are usually medium to large in size with slender bodies, long legs and antennae. They will be dark reddish brown with heavily sculptured bodies. The Queen will look remarkably different than the workers in that she is entirely smooth, and lacks any obvious sculpture.
They will build dense tunnels in soil or rotting wood, these nest may contain numerous entrance holes all leading to tunnels that may be up to 15 inches deep. It is these tunnels that has earned ants within this genus the common name of Tunnel Ant. There are over 200 described species within this genus of ants and many of them are also temporary parasites of other ants within this genus.
A study was done in the Ozarks forests of Missouri and Arkansas on the Oak trees. Red Oak Borers are a huge pest of these trees and many trees are killed each year by their feeding habits. Oaks were being decimated in many areas. Missouri is traditionally an Oak and Hickory forested state. Almost all of our old growth forests are made up of these mighty trees. Losing them to a pest is heartbreaking indeed. During the course of this study it was discovered that these ants feed on approximately 72% of the eggs laid by the Red Oak Borer....I say "GO ANTS!!!!" Besides having a taste for oak borer eggs and beetle larvae they also will tend aphids found on the roots of plants. They've been found tending leafhoppers as well. So it seems they have a sweet tooth. The design of their tunnels also traps other arthropods, causing them to fall into the nest, becoming trapped, and being consumed by these ants.
These ants are not aggressive, but will bite if disturbed. Of all the six and eight legged creatures roaming around our farm, I can honestly say I have been bitten more by ants than any other creature. Ants are not one of my favorites as far as insects go, simply because of their often times testy temperament. It is bad enough to be bitten, but many of them go the extra mile and spray formic acid on the wound they inflict. Nice of them huh? I swell up like a water balloon and itch for days! I usually try to give ants a wide berth. With over 100 species in Missouri alone this is no easy feat.
Muilenburg, V. L., Goggin, F. L., Hebert, S. L., Jia, L. and Stephen, F. M. (2008), Ant predation on red oak borer confirmed by field observation and molecular gut-content analysis. Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 10: 205–213. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-9563.2008.00371
1. Department of Entomology, University of Arkansas, AGRI 319, Fayetteville, AR 72701, U.S.A.
*Correspondence: Vanessa L. Muilenburg. Tel: +1 330 202 3555; fax: +1 330 263 3686; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Issue published online: 10 JUL 2008
2. Article first published online: 22 APR 2008
3. Accepted 25 October 2007First published online 22 April 2008