Friday, November 15, 2013

Smaller Yellow Ant

The Smaller Yellow Ant (Lasius claviger) is one of the many ants in the genus Lasius which are the citronella ants. They get their name from the lemon-like odor they emit when disturbed. They are a pale yellow-orange color which may vary in intensity ant-by-ant. In October these ants depart over-crowded conditions in existing colonies on what is known as maiden flights. Males and females both will develop wings and leave the home colony to mate and begin new colonies. The winged individuals are referred to as Alates, which is derived from the latin word ala which means "wing." Females will mate with several males to insure genetic variation in her offspring. After mating, the males will die and females will locate an existing Lasuis colony. She will invade this nest and begin laying her own eggs. Once her offspring has matured it is reported that they will locate the existing queen of the original colony and kill her. At this point the new queen controls the colony and in time her offspring will dominate the colony. 

The ants pictured here were photographed in my backyard, on the ground near my clothes line. I was outside looking for bugs on an unseasonably warm day in October. As temperatures reached 65 degrees and the sun warmed the ground these ants were swarming all over the place,climbing on the clothesline poles, the plants nearby and all over the ground itself. They crawled all over each other and often used their antennae to smell each other. I spent a considerable amount of time watching them and taking pictures. I finally walked away from them and continued my search around the yard for other insects or possibly a hardy snake out basking. 20 minutes later I returned to the area where the ants were and discovered they had departed. Where once there were literally hundreds of winged ants there were now less than a dozen still hanging around. I was shocked at how quickly they left and where did they all go?

These ants send up vast amounts of alates into the environment and it can be assumed this is because of the large amount of ants that will fall prey to hungry birds and other critters that enjoy eating ants. If you saturate the ecosystem with an over abundance of mature individuals you virtually guarantee the success of the species. 

These ants favor woodlands as their habitat. They are often found under logs, rocks or other natural debris. They tunnel underground among plant roots. Often the roots of the plants or trees have exposed areas that allow for aphids to feed on the sap. It is common for the aphids to share the ant colony where the ants "milk" the aphids for the sweet honeydew they produce. As aphids eat they turn the sap and other plant liquids into a tasty waste product called honeydew that ants savor. They will herd and protect aphids which in turn allow the ants to lap up the honeydew from their anus. 

This particular species is the most commonly found citronella ant in the Eastern United States. Look for winged swarms sometime in October on warm days following a cold snap. For some reason the cooler temperatures followed by a warm day triggers something in the ants to swarm.

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