Perils of Swarming

Right on cue the Solenopsis xyloni have been swarming in Phoenix.

At eight in the morning, the new queens are climbing up grass stalks and leaves.

Any idea why the worker ants are standing on and huddled around the queens?

I’ll give you a hint.

You might be able to spot two of the reasons near the center line in this blurry photograph.

I’m afraid this is the best shot I got of the aerial assault by phorid flies.

Phorid flies of the genus Pseudacteon are known to attack fire ants. They are commonly called ant-decapitating flies for the fact that the infested ant’s head falls off during the final stages of the fly’s development. Each fly lays her eggs into the adult ants. The fly larva hatches from the egg, and feeds within the ant’s alitrunk. Once the larva is ready to pupate, the ant dies and literally loses its head. The larva pupates in the cozy head, and eventually emerges as an adult fly to attack more fire ants.

Photograph from Wikimedia

There was a small cloud of the flies attracted to the activity of the ants. These phorids seemed to particularly target the reproductives, although other phorids I have read about target workers.

To give you an idea how small and fast these flies are, check the area around the beige leaf in the lower right corner of the second part of this video.

Have you ever seen phorid flies around swarming ants? If so, what species of ants?

Blind Snakes Genus Leptotyphlops

The mystery creature didn’t stump anyone in this crowd.

It is a blind or thread snake, genus Leptotyphlops. I didn’t take many photographs, because I know blind snakes are fragile.

These snakes are sometimes called “worm snakes” as they are pink or brown, thin and look like earthworms. This one was dark enough to be mistaken for an elongate millipede. The behavior was totally inappropriate for a millipede though, so I popped it under the microscope. Yes indeed, there were tiny scales.

Members of this group are called blind snakes because they lack eyes, although they have a dark spot where the eye would be on the head.

Why did I put this cool snake up on this ant blog?

About 100 species of Leptotyphlops are found worldwide, and they pretty much all specialize in eating ants and/or termites.

Blind snakes eat ant larvae and pupae by actually slithering down into the ant nests. As you might expect, the ants will attack intruders if they are discovered. Some species of blind snakes escape detection by slithering into the nest, eating extremely rapidly (they wolf down the ant larvae and pupae by taking three or four bites a second), and then shooting back out of the nest.

Other blind snakes can defend themselves by squirting out a mixture of excrement and a clear liquid that contains a defensive substance unpleasant to ants. The snakes quickly roll and wriggle through the sticky fluid until they are covered. The ants back away from protected blind snakes, allowing the snakes to eat in peace.

Because they are so secretive, I did not ever think I would get to see one. It was an incredible opportunity to experience something I had only read about.

For more information, see ant predation by blind snakes


People usually notice antlions when they see their pits in the soil.

The cone-shaped holes are fascinating. Kids big and small like to put objects into the pit to elicit a response from the larva buried at the bottom. You have to wonder how the larvae flip the soil with such accuracy when they are buried beneath it.

You don’t see the adults as often.

The adult antlion somewhat resembles a damselfly, but they are actually more closely related to lacewings (Order Neuroptera).

These were hanging around the buildings at a highway rest stop. Presumably they had been attracted to the lights at night.

Hard to imagine this delicate beauty comes from the larva you see in this video. Note: the video contains scenes of violence to ants.

For more information, see this previous post about antlions.

Poll question:  Do you think the common name should be ant lion (2 words) or antlion?

Praying Mantids and Rover Ants

At high tide fish eat ants; at low tide ants eat fish. – Thai proverb


This year we have at least five praying mantids in our yard that I see regularly. Most are green forms. I believe they are Iris oratoria, the introduced Mediterranean mantids, but please correct me if I’m wrong. The adult has a black eye spot on its hind wing.


There is one brown form. The first time I saw it, it was on a matching brown stem. Talk about cryptic coloration.


The next day it was on a green stem. Not so cryptic any more.

Are you wondering why I’m doing a photo essay about praying mantids on an ant blog?


The hollyhock stem the brown mantid had chosen was an active rover ant (Brachymyrmex patagonicus) trail. At first I wondered if the rover ants would attack the mantid.


After all, the rover ants seemed pretty small to be worthwhile prey for a big mantis. Handling time, and all that.

pm-ant-is-a -goner-2

Think again. In the short time I was watching and taking photos, this praying mantis caught and ate four rover ants. This is the best shot I got.

So, I guess at least one predator thinks rover ants are a worthwhile meal.

Do you have rover ants in your area? Have you ever seem a predator feed on rover ants?