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People who go to u-pick vegetable farms usually come home with lettuce or corn or tomatoes. When I went to a u-pick vegetable farm near Phoenix, Arizona, I came home with photographs of ants, instead.

It wasn't surprising to see numerous circular mounds with a single entrance hole in the center.

The nests are made by a common ant in the low desert, Dorymyrmex bicolor. As I've written previously, D. bicolor seems to prefer to nest along dirt paths or roads. The garden had plenty of those.

Here's another nest, again with an entrance hole in the center, and covered with active ants.

The workers here were pulling out clumps of what looked like dirt. Can you see the single petiole that is characteristic of the species?

After seeing about three dozen or so circular nests like those above, I found this one.

Same rough shape, but notice anything different?

Where are all the ants?

From another view, the entrance hole is actually blocked with dirt.

Finally, I can see some ants, but those aren't Dorymyrmex bicolor workers.

The workers exiting from this nest are uniform in color. They have a petiole and a postpetiole.  Notice anything else about them?

The Dorymyrmex worker ants from the same perspective have large eyes. See any noticeable eyes from this view?

Having no noticeable eyes is a characteristic of Neivamyrmex army ants (Note:  They do have a single eye facet, but it isn't obvious.)

The exact species is much more difficult to figure out.

Wayne P. Armstrong found some similar Neivamyrmex near the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, which are close to the farm where I found these ants. Gordon Snelling identified Armstrong's ants as Neivamyrmex leonardi. The ones I found could be N. leonardi or one of several similar species.

In any case, Neivamyrmex army ants resemble their larger namesakes because they are always on the move. They don't make permanent or long term nests like the Dorymyrmex, but instead raid nests of other ants stealing the brood for food. Seems like in this case a Dorymyrmex bicolor colony was a target of their raid. Armstrong reports Neivamyrmex workers raid Pheidole nests, as well.

So, I didn't bring home lettuce, but maybe something even better from the u-pick farm.

Have you ever seen Neivamyrmex army ants?

Let's take a look at a few more images my husband brought back from Malaysia.

In this video he found an ant running on his hand. Because he was struggling to focus, he passed the ant to a colleague (I edited out the shots of his feet).

If you got seasick viewing that, here's a screenshot:

When I saw his video I squirmed a bit. If an ant is as thin and wasp-like as this one is, I'm pretty sure it can sting.

Is it a Tetraponera? Am I right that they were being a bit foolhardy to handle it?

These would have been less of a problem:

The running insects in the video are processional termites. You can see some of the workers carrying what are probably clumps of lichen in their mandibles. Cool insects.

He definitely doesn't get to go without me next time.

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My husband is in Malaysia right now. Does he send photos of beaches? No.

He sends

photographs he knows will really make me jealous, like

 

photographs of weaver ants, Oecophylla smaragdina.

 

I'm not sure of this black one. Ectomomyrmex perhaps?

He says he's taken some videos, too. Can't wait to see what else he finds.

Update:  My husband reports that the weaver ants were visiting lights at night, catching other insects drawn to them. I've seen spiders. praying mantids, etc. doing this, but not ants.

Have you ever seen ants visiting lights at night?

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On a recent trip to western New York State, we made a cool discovery.

Driving along a quiet country road, we came upon some huge ant mounds.

It's hard to tell how big they were until someone plays spokesmodel.

We found not just one mound, not just two mounds,

but more than twenty of them.

In the photo the size is a bit deceptive because the mounds were up on a bank along the road. However, they were still relatively massive. Most of them were at least two feet tall.

These impressive structures were the nests of the Allegheny mound ant, Formica exsectoides.

Each of the mounds was covered with many active ants. According to the literature, the colonies have multiple queens and split up via fission to form clumps of interconnected mounds.

The mounds are thought to help the ants regulate the temperature inside the nest, which in turn optimizes the development of the young.

Doing some comparisons, it looked like the top of each mound was clear of vegetation and the upper surface was relatively uniform.

This photograph shows a closer view of some ants working on top of the mound.

Lower down, the mound was covered with sparse vegetation and riddled with holes like a sponge. It would be fascinating to know whether these were for drainage, air circulation, or what.

Checking out the lower holes, we found they did serve as entrances and exits. One contained a myrmecophile, although it moved away so fast I couldn't tell if it was a beetle or roach nymph.

The ants were very active. It didn't take long to find a nearby foraging trail.


(This was filmed using a small endoscope attached to laptop, which required two people to run. I need to figure out a way to mount it on some sort of mobile tripod. Any suggestions?)

Compared to a similar-sized foraging trail of our Arizona Pogonomyrmex harvester ants, it was noticeable that these ants weren't carrying anything. Because they are known to feed on insects, as well as gather honeydew, they must process their food in the field. Anyone know more about their foraging behavior?

Even to people who aren't interested in ants, these mounds were such a presence that they inspired awe and curiosity. It would be great to get a chance to study them longer.

Have you ever encountered Allegheny mount ant nests?