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Ant of the Week: Pogonomyrmex californicus

Pogonomyrmex californicus is a common harvester ant in the Sonoran Desert.

Identification:

Ants of the genus Pogonomyrmex are generally easy to recognize by the presence of a psammophore, a series of long hairs resembling a beard on the underside of the head. In fact, the root of its name "pogono" means beard in Greek.

The species can be distinguished from others in the genus by the fact it lacks propodeal spines (spines on the back of the trunk). The color varies throughout the southwestern United States. BugGuide has a collection of photographs of Pogonomyrmex californicus, including some that look just like the ones shown here.

Biology:

Like other harvester ants, the diet of Pogonomyrmex californicus consists mainly of seeds from nearby plants, although they will also scavenge dead arthropods. The seeds are processed and stored within the nest.

Unlike the fire ants, which forage in groups, the Pogonomyrmex californicus workers are often seen foraging singly, gaster held straight out behind.

Pogonomyrmex californicus is found in open areas, often in association with Dorymyrmex bicolor.

At least where human activity is high, the Dorymyrmex seem to predominate. See the dead harvester next to this mound?

Pogonomyrmex californicus queens may work together to form new nests, as shown in the video. Although some seem to be "working" together more than others. 🙂

Why do you think the one queen is vibrating her gaster? Is that why the other queens take off?

Obviously there are a lot of interesting things still left to be discovered about these ants.

For more information see:

Navajo Ant Project

List of North American Pogonomyrmex at ASU

Robert A. Johnson. (2004). Colony founding by pleometrosis in the semiclaustral seed-harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Animal Behaviour. 68(5): 1189-1200.

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