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Maybe Miss Spider's eating habits aren't so out of line after all. In the children's books, Miss Spider eats only flowers, which in the past seemed unlikely because spiders were all thought to be carnivores. Now scientists have found a vegetarian spider. This spider is sneaky, however, because it eats food provided by plants that was intended for ants.

Acacia trees from Central and South America have a special relationship with acacia ants. Simplistically, the plant provides food and a place to live in the swollen thorns, and in return the acacia ants ward off animals that might eat the plant. The ants also remove competing vines.

beltian-bodies-bullhorn-acacia

Do you see the yellow structures on the tips of the leaves of this bullthorn acacia? Those are called Beltian bodies and they are loaded with protein. Normally ants take the Beltian bodies to feed to their larvae.

Recently researchers have found a jumping spider that takes advantage of the relationship and steals the Beltian bodies to eat for itself. Tricky spider!

References:
Herbivory in a spider through exploitation of an ant–plant mutualism
Christopher J. Meehan, Eric J. Olson, Matthew W. Reudink, T. Kurt Kyser, Robert L. Curry
13 October 2009 Current Biology
19(19) pp. R892 - R893

Veggie spider shuns meat diet at the BBC

Nice picture of spider at NPR

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Not everyone gets to see the workers of this golden-colored ant, Camponotus festinatus.

camponotus-festinatus1

The workers forage at night, often as single individuals.

camponotus-festinatus2

This is a desert species, found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The workers feed on honeydew or eat other insects, as with many ants in the genus Camponotus.

Scientists have found quite a bit of color and morphological variation between Camponotus festinatus workers from different areas, and suggest it might be a complex of species or subspecies.

These photos were taken in the low desert, where the workers tend to be lighter in color.

I'd love to learn more about them. Have you ever seen one?

1

How well do you know ants? Answer the following questions by selecting true or false. Better yet, stump your family and friends by giving them the quiz. When you are done, you can find the answers below the photograph.

1. Some ants can explode when threatened by enemies, true or false?

2. Peony plants require ants for their buds to open into flowers, true or false?

3. All species of ants can sting, true or false?

4. Soldier ants are all males, true or false?

5. Ants can be used as stitches to close wounds, true or false?

6. Ants are silent, true or false?

7. Ants plow more soil than earthworms, true or false?

8. Scientists who study ants are called antomologists, true or false?

9. Certain types of caterpillars eat ants, true or false?

10. Ants plant the seeds of many wildflowers, including violets, true or false?

11. Ants pollinate many types of flowers, true or false?

12. Ant larvae can make silk, true or false?

yellow-ant

Ant Quiz Answers

1. Some ants can explode when threatened by enemies, true or false?

True: The soldier ants of the carpenter ant Camponotus saundersi swell up and explode all over their enemies.

Reference: Exploding Ants by Joanne Settel

(Affiliate Link to Amazon)

2. Peony plants require ants for their buds to open into flowers, true or false?

False: Although this is a common myth, the truth is that if you keep ants off the peonies by spreading sticky substances on the stems, the peonies will still open. The actual relationship is that the peony buds supply nectar to the ants and in return the ants keep off pests like caterpillars.

3. All species of ants can sting, true or false?

False: Many species of ants lack stingers. They may spray formic acid or bite (or explode) to defend themselves, rather than actually sting.

See the bite or sting post for more information.

4. Soldier ants are all males, true or false?

False: All worker ants are technically females and because soldiers are specialized workers, they are females. The only males are wasp-like forms that have wings and do now work inside the nest.

5. Ants can be used as stitches to close wounds, true or false?

True: Certain species of army ants with large jaws have been used as stitches or sutures to close wounds. The soldier ant is enticed to bite across the wound and it clamps down, closing its jaws.

6. Ants are silent, true or false?

False: As scientists develop more and more sensitive equipment to record sounds, we are finding that many types of ants actually make a lot of noise. For example, R. Hickling has some recordings of fire ants squeaking (stridulating). Even more interesting, certain caterpillars make sounds to attract and communicate with ants.

7. Ants plow more soil than earthworms, true or false?

True! Surprised? Ants nest in the ground and improve the soil by tunneling and adding nutrients. Earthworms were introduced to eastern North America by the early European colonists. They did not exist here before that.

8. Scientists who study ants are called antomologists, true or false?

False. Scientists who study insects are called entomologists. Specialists who study ants are called myrmecologists, coming from the Greek word for ant. The Latin word for ant is Formica.

9. Certain types of caterpillars eat ants, true or false?

True! Caterpillars of some butterflies, particularly blues, have complex relationships with ants and spend time in the ant nests feeding on ant larvae.

10. Ants plant the seeds of many wildflowers, including violets, true or false?

True. Ants carry seeds around and drop them in their waste piles, which is an ideal place for seeds to grow. In fact scientists have shown there are far fewer wildflowers where ants are absent.

11. Ants pollinate many types of flowers, true or false?

False: Ants are not very good pollinators, although there are a few very specialized flowers that rely on ant pollinators.

12. Ant larvae can make silk, true or false?

True: Ant larvae produce silk with glands in their mouths. Many species spin silk bags around themselves, called cocoons, when they are ready to pupate and change into adult ants.

Hope you had fun!

(Note: As I mentioned previously, I have been the “Consult-Ant” on the Leaping from the Box website. I answer questions about ants and ant farms. Karen has been graciously putting the answers on her website for some time, but now I felt it was time to relieve that burden from her. From now on I will post the answers here, and when she has time she will also post the answers on her site.

Question:

I hope you take questions from those who are not students, such as myself. (Although I think I am a "student" even though I'm 56 and not officially enrolled at a place of learning.)

I also hope that getting help from you is a free service...I believe it is. If not, please disregard this e-mail. Thanks.

One of my grandsons and I would like to have an ant farm. He's had one prevoiusly, and I had one when I was a kid. They are quite interesting! I want to get a queen ant, so that there will be more longevity to our ant farm.

We may even try to have the ants be able to go outside as well through tubing or whatever...but I'm not sure if we'll do that or not. The idea seems interesting to me. (I appreciate what I read from your writings about adopting the beekeepers method of having the exit too small for the queen to fit through.)

Do you know where we might purchase one in Oregon? It's my understanding that we can't purchase one out of state. I suppose we could go up in the woods and look in and or under fallen, rotting trees or whatever...but I don't know if it's legal to take ants from the forest or not.

Answer:
First of all, I apologize for the lateness of my response.

As for your question about queen harvesting, I do not know your local Oregon regulations, but in most areas it is okay to collect insects on your own property. It is not okay, however, on many state and federal lands where wildlife is protected. If you are going to be on public lands, I would carefully check their regulations.

Often the best time to look for queens is when they are swarming. If you have one or two species in mind (I would recommend larger-sized ants that don't sting for a first ant farm), then you can look up when they are likely to swarm in your area.

Please let me know if you have any further questions, and I'll promise to answer more promptly.

-The Consult-Ant