Insect Architects: Mining iNaturalist for Information

You’ve probably all discovered the iNaturalist app years ago, but I just started playing around with some of its capabilities.

For example, I’m interested in ant nests. The shape of the nest can sometimes help with identification. It is also fascinating to see what insects are capable of building.

Check out this cecropia ant nest, Genus Azteca.

© Nelson Wisnik, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)

It does lead to questions, such as where are the ants  and what is the nest made of?

Here’s a similar public domain image from Wikimedia by Alex Wild. It is from from a guayaba tree in Archidona, Ecuador.

These nests are made of carton, which may be  either wood particles, soil, and/or trichomes mixed with fungal mycelium.  So cool!

Mayer, V. E., & Voglmayr, H. (2009). Mycelial carton galleries of Azteca brevis (Formicidae) as a multi-species network. Proceedings. Biological Sciences, 276(1671), 3265–3273. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2009.0768

AntWiki is a great place to start if you want to learn more about Azteca.

The next nest doesn’t look like an ant nest at all. It looks like a piece of pottery.

© Chief RedEarth at iNaturalist
Cc by nc nd small some rights reserved

It seems impossible that ants made this structure, but you can see ants in the photograph. They are tiny specks in the center opening. The ants have been identified as Pheidole sykesii or the Indian harvester ant.

This video shows how small the ants are relative to the structure.

 

Alex Wild at Myrmecos has a post about it, too (see the comments).

What do you think of iNaturalist? Do you use it regularly?

Below is a collection of amazing insect nests.

Virtual Presentation About Ants for the General Public

If you are new to ants, you might enjoy this delightful presentation by ant enthusiast Merav sponsored by the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority.

She discusses a bit of ant biology, with an emphasis on ant nests. I particularly enjoyed some of the questions from the “audience.”

I’m supposed to give a presentation about insects (with some ants, of course) in January. I’m hoping it will be in person by then.  If not, this might be a fun alternative.

Have you seen any virtual presentations about ants recently? Are they available for public viewing?

Ants Collecting Feathers: More of the Story Revealed

Back in 2015, we asked why ants collect feathers. We suggested food, moisture, or that feathers are left behind by anting birds.

Photograph by (Bob) Ricardo Solar at Flickr, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Now a recent article in Scientific American has another answer. Brazilian scientist Inácio Gomes, of the Federal University of Viçosa,  suggests Pheidole oxyops surround their nests with feathers to lure other insects to the area, where they fall in. Thus, the decorated ant nests serve as pitfall traps.

Gomes discounted the moisture idea by adding wet cotton balls. The added source of water apparently did not change the ants’ behavior.

This is cool, but since ants also drag the feathers into  the nest, it is likely there is still more to learn.

The original study was published in Ecological Entomology in Feb. 2019.