Ever heard about an ant species and wondered about its distribution? There's an awesome new website that can put the world of ants at your finger tips:  Antmaps.org.

This fully interactive resource shows where to find some 15,000 different species and subspecies of ants. The cover map shows species richness or number of ant species found in a given region. Color coding of retrieved maps reveals whether the ants are native, introduced, or survive indoors, as well.


Say you want to find the distribution of the army ant, Eciton burchelli.

army_ants-eciton-burchelli-Alex-Wild(Public domain photograph of Eciton burchelli by Alex Wild)

With a few simple clicks and scroll down menus, you can soon see:

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 9.40.45 AM(Screen shot of antmaps.org results, used for review purposes)

 According to the map, Eciton burchelli is found in Central and South America. The green areas indicate the areas where the army ants are native.

Sometimes these types of websites are revealed too soon and are clunky to use, but that is not the case here. The map creation process seems to have all the "bugs" worked out, so to speak. Antmaps turns out to be a quick way to get an idea of where to find a particular species of ant without searching through hundreds of references by hand. The authors do concede that the database is a work in progress and ask that myrmecologists help verify the records by reporting errors.

Antmaps.org is a joint venture between the University of Hong Kong and the Okinawa Institute of Sciences and Technology, led by Dr. Benoit Guenard and Evan Economo, in collaboration with Michael Weiser, Kiko Gomez, and Nitish Narula, among others. It is part of the The Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics (GABI) project.

 Have you used Antmaps yet? What did you think of it?


How very far we have come in the last 100 years or so. If you haven't thought about that fact lately, compare Anatomy of the Honey Bee by R.E. Snodgrass (1910) (or Cornell University Press, 1985), - parts of which are available at Extension.org - with the ultra-modern Bee by Rose-Lynn Fisher, with a foreword by Verlyn Klinkenborg (2010, Princeton Architectural Press).

Featuring an outstanding series of scanning electron microscope photos, Bee is a visual treat. As you can see from Fisher's examples on her website, this is a mite's view of a honey bee where eye hairs look like forests and pollen grains resemble boulders. It is a world Snodgrass could only dream of glimpsing.

The text that accompanies the photographs is sparse, but to the point, which is direct contrast to the text-heavy Anatomy of the Honey Bee.

Anatomy of the Honey Bee, however, still remains relevant. It covers far more than just external structures, including development and internal anatomy. Carefully labelled cut-away and exploded views make identification of individual structures much easier.

In fact, these two books complement each other nicely. A serious student of honey bees will want to look at them both ways.

Bees Collecting Pollen 2004-08-14" by Jon Sullivan - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Doesn't comparing these two books make you wonder what the next 100 years will bring?

What do you think is going on here?


These are Forelius ants visiting the flower buds of a common landscape tree in the Southwest, the desert willow, Chilopsis linearis.


Desert willows are not really willows at all, but belong the plant family Bignoniaceae, making them relatives of catalpa trees.

The trees have large, tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds and bees. Some varieties have dark magenta flowers,


whereas others have delicate, light pink flowers.


Forelius are heat-loving desert ants. Many of the Forelius in this area are Forelius mcccooki (key to US species). They nest in the ground, but commonly forage on plants where they are known to gather sweet fluids from nectaries.

forelius on desert willow0001

Which leads us back to the question:  what are these Forelius workers doing on the desert willow flower buds?


Both catalpa and desert willow are known to have extrafloral nectaries on the leaves. (Rico-Gray and Oliveira in 2007 defined extrafloral nectaries as sugar-producing glands found on the leaves, stems or stipules of plants.)

extra-floral-nectaries-desert-willow_0160Here are some buds from a desert willow tree that lacked ants. See the green spots?


Do you think the light green structures (circled) are possibly what Rico-Gray and Oliveira define as circumfloral nectaries, that is nectaries around flower structures that are not attracting pollinators?


Interestingly, a number of the flower buds on the tree without ants showed damage. What do you think caused this damage?

Looking into the literature, Ness (2003) found Forelius pruinosus workers attacked Ceratomia catalpae caterpillars on catalpa trees after visiting extrafloral nectaries. Ness also showed that leaf damage increased the sugar flow of nectaries within 36 hours. This supports the classic idea that plants attract ants to help fend off herbivores.

On desert willow, however, things might be even more complicated. Carey, Visscher, and Heraty (2012) found that an Eucharitid parasitoid of ants, Orasema simulatrix, laid its eggs in the extrafloral nectaries of desert willows, where the planidia had access to big-headed ant workers feeding there. The article has some fabulous photographs of extrafloral nectaries, by the way.

So, do you think the Forelius were visiting circumfloral nectaries? Have you seen any other ants visiting similar plants?

What do you think of Rico-Gray and Oliveira's separation of exrafloral nectaries from circumfloral nectaries? Is there a clear need to make a distinction? Would circumfloral nectaries have more likelihood to contribute to successful seed production than extrafloral nectaries?


Carey B., K. Visscher, and J. Heraty. (2012) Nectary use for gaining access to an ant host by the parasitoid Orasema simulatrix (Hymenoptera, Eucharitidae). Journal of Hymenoptera Research. 27: 47-65. (Retrieved online)

Ness, J. H. (2003) Contrasting exotic Solenopsis invicta and native Forelius pruinosus ants as mutualists with Catalpa bignonioides, a native plant. Ecological Entomology. 28 (2): 247–251. (Retrieved online as .pdf)

The Ecology and Evolution of Ant-Plant Interactions (Interspecific Interactions) by Victor Rico-Gray and Paulo S. Oliveira, particularly pages 115 - 123.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (July 15, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0226713482
ISBN-13: 978-0226713489

Disclosures:   I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title or image link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.