Putting Ants on the Map

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?


Taking the Sting Out of Ants

A year or so ago one of our local newspaper columnists, Clay Thompson, wrote that ants don’t have stingers (“If nothing else, I know I’m not Montini and ants can bite.” Arizona Republic, Jul. 4, 2012).

That got me to thinking that why there might be so much confusion about whether ants (and other arthropods) bite, sting, both or neither. Take for example Dr. Seuss, who was so confused that he drew bees with stingers on their head.

Let’s first take a look at what a stinger is.

A stinger is a part of the body in certain arthropods that is used to deliver venom into another organism. It is found at the end of the abdomen or metasoma. The stinger may be used for subduing prey and/or for defense. This type of stinger is found in only two groups of arthropods: insects of the order Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps) and arachnids of the order Scorpiones (scorpions). In the Hymenoptera, the stinger is a modified egg-laying tube, so only the females can have one. In scorpions, both sexes have stingers.



(Photograph of Dinoponera australis by April Nobile / © AntWeb.orgCC-BY-SA-3.0)

Do ants have stingers? Part of the confusion may erupt because some kinds of ants, like the Dinoponera above, do have a stinger (seen protruding at end of metasoma), whereas other species of ants do not. Lacking a stinger does not mean that those ants are not defended. They may still bite (with their mandibles) and also may spray irritating defensive chemicals.

To make things even more confusing, some species of ants, the most infamous being the fire ants, bite and sting in a combined action. The irritated worker ant grabs the skin of the person with its mandibles, draws up a section to be targeted, and then curves its metasoma around and introduces the stinger. It is kind of an insulting double-whammy.

Here in Arizona, we have more that our share of prickly and stinging things, so I’m not sure why Clay Thompson miffed this one. Perhaps many people, including Clay, fail to find the exact method of delivery of pain of any importance and simply swat the offending insect away without identifying what happened to them. To them, bite or sting, the end results are the same.

What do you think?

See what other bloggers have to say:

Biting and Stinging:  The Ants at 6Legs2Many

Why do only some ants sting? by Alex Wild at ScienceBlogs

Alex Wild also brings up the very good question: “Why do so many tropical ants sting, while those in Boreal latitudes never do?” at Myrmecos

Edit: And yet another reference to Alex Wild, Ouch! Insect Bites and Stings Up-Close (PHOTOS) at Weather.com



Body Shop For Ants?

Have you ever been on the quest for something and discovered something else entirely?

Take my pursuit to capture a “calendar-perfect” photograph of ants visiting peony buds. People have known that ants tend extrafloral nectaries on peony buds for a long time. It is one place that you are sure to find ants sitting relatively still (for ants) out in the open. Taking some colorful photographs of ants posing on peony buds seemed much easier than trying to capture one scurrying on the ground.


As I was looking through the shots, I began to notice something else.


It was subtle at first, but it’s there if you look for it.


The one on the left will give you a big hint.


Here’s one on a peony flower.


See it now?



It seems like ants on peonies have more than their share of dents and missing body parts. If they were cars, you’d be sending them to the body shop.

I think it is conventional wisdom that foragers are the older ants in the colony and that older ants are probably more likely to be beat up a bit. It is possible, however, that tending peony buds is extra risky. What do you think?

Do you have a photograph of a “dented” ant? Leave us a link in the comments or share it on our Facebook page (No fair creating the dents yourself).

Ants Raiding Wasp Nest

Photographs from the archives.

The nest belongs to common Polistes paper wasps. Paper wasps are supposed to produce a secretion that they spread on the petiole of the nest (the thin strand that fastens the nest to the substrate) to deter ant predators.  Obviously the secretion failed this time. (The link takes you to a photograph of an intact nest).