Ant Guests (Myrmecophiles)

Sometimes we get so used to seeing ants visiting extrafloral nectaries, it seems unexpected to see them visiting regular floral nectaries.

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Take this shrubby dogwood flower (probably gray dogwood, Cornus racemosa). The nectaries are the creamy yellow bands at the base of the female part of the flower (the pistil or carpel) in the center.

 

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Formica workers seemed to be visiting the plants most frequently, although other ants were in the area.

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Ants weren't the only insects attracted to the nectaries of the dogwood flowers.

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Along with the usual wasps, flies and bees, there were also more unusual true bugs and beetles.

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A number of the smaller butterflies stopped by, including hairstreaks and blues.

It turns out azure butterflies in particular are attracted to these types of dogwoods and lay their eggs on them. What happens next? Of course, the ants tend the azure caterpillars! Nature Posts blog has an incredible series of photographs and videos of ants tending azure butterfly caterpillars.

Interested in planting a garden for ants or butterflies? You might want to consider planting some of the dogwoods (Cornus sp.)

Have you ever seen azure caterpillars on dogwoods? I am definitely going to be looking from now on.

 

The second annual National Moth Week starts today, July 20, 2013 and runs through July 28, 2013.

Why moths? As the news release says, in part:

Moths are part of the Lepidoptera insect order, but don’t get the same respect or admiration that their colorful daytime cousins – butterflies – do. Yet, there are hundreds of thousands of moth species, many as beautiful as butterflies, and just as important or more to the ecosystem. Moths also can tell us a lot about our changing environment by their geographical and seasonal distribution.

National Moth Week literally shines a much-needed spotlight on moths and their ecological importance as well as their biodiversity. The event allows people of all ages to become “citizen scientists” and contribute scientific data about moths they observe in their own communities. Participating in National Moth Week can be as simple as turning on a porch light at night and watching what happens, or going outside in daylight to find caterpillars and diurnal moths, often mistaken for butterflies.

To observe National Moth Week, we just might let some Lepidoptera visit Wild About Ants.

How do ants and Lepidoptera get along? Interactions include:

1. Ants are known to be predators of caterpillars and moths.

How do ants catch something that can fly when they can't fly? The answer is shown in this video:

Also, see Ants Use Velcro to Catch Large Prey at Smithsonian Magazine.

2. Ants also tend the caterpillars of blue butterflies, protecting them. More about this later in the week.

3. Ants scavenge dead moths that end up on the ground.

4. Probably a certain number of interactions are like this one, where the participants may not even be aware of one another.

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 Sounds a bit like a lot of aspects of life, doesn't it?

Are you doing anything special for National Moth Week?

 

A few weeks ago, I flipped a rock in western New York state, and found a cluster of Crematogaster ants.

There had already been a frost, and the ants were apparently using the rock as a warm place to huddle.

At first I was admiring the ants, and the orange-brown insect didn't really register. After all, we commonly see cockroaches that look a lot like that under rocks here in Phoenix. We have Turkistan roaches everywhere.

Then it dawned on me, I was in an old-growth field, at least 1/2 mile from a house. Plus, that area of rural western New York is not known for Turkistan cockroaches.

Could it be a myrmecophile cockroach? A few species of cockroaches are known to be myrmecophiles. In fact, Hocking (1970) had found found Blattella lobiventris with Crematogaster mimosae in acacia thorns (Holldobler and Wilson's The Ants).

This little insect also looks a little bit like the Eastern ant cricket, Myrmecophilus pergandei (see BugGuide images), although it seems to lack the enlarged back legs for jumping.

What do you think?

Here's an excerpt about cockroaches in ant nests from
Cockroaches: Ecology, Behavior, and Natural History

By William J. Bell, Louis M. Roth, Christine A. Nalepa

On a hike recently we came across some butterflies puddling.

When I stopped to get a few shots...

Yes, that is my shoe.

Notice my hot pink socks?

Notice too, that he has his proboscis out. Maybe those shoes are getting a bit old.

Why butterflies on an ant blog? Blue butterflies like this one have a special relationship with ants.

Have you ever had a close encounter with a butterfly?