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
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?

forelius-on-desert-willow-group9

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

Desrt-willow-tree-0169

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,

desert-willow-flowers-2

whereas others have delicate, light pink flowers.

Forelius

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?

Desert-willow-leaf-054

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?

desert-willow-buds

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?

buds-damaged-0167

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?

References:

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

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A very popular question this time of year is, "How do I find an ant queen?"

As with many things, finding an ant queen requires work, patience and sometimes a bit of good luck.

1. The very first step is to make sure you can identify an ant queen from a worker ant when you see one.

(Note:  the middle section in ants is not technically a thorax as it is called in other insects, but is now called a "mesosoma." Alex Wild in his article at Myrmecos calls it a thorax to avoid confusing beginners, I believe. I originally used an older term "trunk" in some of the figures.)

camponotus-pennsylvanicus-queenThis carpenter ant queen formed a small chamber under the loose bark of a log.

2. You also need to understand the colony cycle in ants.

There are many variations, but in general the colony is founded by a single queen or group of queens. The queen(s) lay eggs that hatch into larvae. Once the larvae are mature, they pupate, sometimes within cocoons (See eggs versus pupae ). The first adults to emerge will be the wingless worker ants.

ant-life-cycle

When the colony conditions are right, the queen lays some eggs that will become new queens and males. The adults will have wings. They are called "alates."

Camponotus-pennsylvanicus-3-alatesAlex Wild calls the females with wings that have not gone on their mating or nuptial flight "princesses."  They may stay in the nest for weeks until conditions are just right.

When the winged ants are flying out of the nest in order to mate and start new colonies, it can be called "swarming," the "nuptial flight" or simply "mating flight." Unfortunately swarming is also used to describe mass movements of ants, so it can be a confusing word. Generally the workers ants are rushing about in great numbers protecting the emerging males and princesses as they prepare to fly off.

Nuptial flights or swarms of ants

Once they have mated, the "princesses" generally pull off their wings and are ready to start new colonies. This is an optimal time to find new wingless queen ants.

3. Next, learn something about what kind of ants you might find in your area. 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 queens are likely to be active in your area.

How do you do find out what kinds of ants are in your area? One place to start is AntWeb, which has ants identified by region. See that tab at the top of this page that says Ant-Related Websites, Forums and Blogs? There are a number of blogs that specialize on ants in a given region. (Please let me know if you have one to add.)  You can also search the ant forums by the name of your state or country for more information. You might consider joining an ant forum or social media group to learn more about the hobby, as well.

4. In general, ants tend to swarm associated with certain environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, time of day, and precipitation. For example, in New England, you can be sure to find carpenter ant queens running on the ground the morning after the first spring thundershowers, likely in May. Here in the Southwest, harvester ants swarm after the summer rains in July called monsoons. Learn what conditions the ants you are looking for prefer and watch the weather!

Swarming in winter ants at Myrmecos

More about ant queens and new colonies

5. Finally, nothing beats getting outside and searching around (just be sure you have permission to collect where you search.) Look under stones, sticks or near where lights are left on all night. I found some queens near tennis courts, which have bright lights on at night. Others have found queens that have fallen into pools. Good luck!

You also might be interested in:

Beginners Guide to Ant Keeping

Does anyone have anything to add?