For several days I had noticed ants racing along the bricks at the base of one of my garage doors. I finally took a closer look to see what could be keeping them so busy for so long. They were streaming between a hole in my house and somewhere out in the front yard. I tried following, but these ants are tiny, only a few millimeters long. I quickly lost them in some pine straw.
Turns out they were moving out of my house. The ones heading toward the yard were carrying eggs, larvae, and pupae. As I watched them though, I noticed something else leaving with them that didn’t look quite right.
When I first saw one of the critters above, I knew it wasn’t an ant. My initial thought was it must have been a tiny roach. That first one was gone before I could react, but I headed inside to grab some containers in hopes of seeing more. Over the course of an hour and a half, I spotted three more and managed to grab a couple of them.
Watching one, it seemed unsure of its course. At times it would bump against some incoming ants and dart away. It would always rejoin the column, but sometimes moving in the wrong direction.
Eventually it would right itself, almost always after encountering an ant carrying a larva or pupa. I’d guess it can’t follow whatever chemical signals the ants are tracking and instead relies on following the cargo.
It got me wondering how the ants know which direction to go in. I know they follow a chemical trail, but what tells them which direction they should go? Actually, lots of questions came to mind as I watched them. How do they know it’s time to move? How do they decide on a new nest location?
Later, I gave the freeloaders the white paper treatment.
I began to wonder if these weren’t crickets. I grabbed Arnett’s American Insects and started skimming the cricket families listed there. When I came to Myrmecophilidae (Ant-loving crickets), I figured that must be it. I briefly thought I might even be able to contribute something to BugGuide, but it turns out there were plenty of photos there already, confirming the identification.
Both the specimens I captured have ovipositors and so must be female.
I found some good info on these in my Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States. These crickets only live in ants nests. They apparently feed on oily secretions from the ants bodies, causing no ill effects. Only one species occurs in my area, the Eastern Ant Cricket, Myrmecophilus pergandei. This particular cricket species has been found living with eleven different species of ants.
Speaking of ant species, I decided to try and identify the host ants. Using the key in Ants of North America: A Guide to the Genera, I arrived at Tapinoma. Based on the remarks there, I believe these ants must be Tapinoma sessile. I sacrificed one to see how well the common name of Odorous House Ant applies. It was indeed odorous, and as I mentioned, they were leaving my house.
As I watched the ant column, one other thing caught my attention. Fairly often, I’d notice a much larger ant passing by, about twice as big as the others. I snatched one of those as well.
Remembering some of Alex Wild’s comments from his blog entry on how to identify queen ants, I recognized this as a queen. That only confused me though, since I had seen perhaps half of dozen of these in the brief time I observed the column. I naively thought that ant nests generally had a single queen. The wikipedia entry for this species says that its nests can actually have hundreds of queens!
I wasn’t familiar with either of these interesting insects when I started watching them. Had I encountered them a week later though, I’d probably have recognized them from a recent post from Alex Wild. He scooped me, but I couldn’t let the opportunity to blog about them pass.
What happened to the ants you might be wondering? Well, they can’t seem to make up their mind. As I write this there is still a column going strong, weeks later. They were steadily moving out for almost a week, but then at some point I noticed they had reversed course and were moving back in. I don’t want to imagine just how many thousands of ants there are somewhere in the walls of my home.
Were you able to find the critter in the photo above? It’s in the lower right corner. Some of you may recognize this as another stick grasshopper in the family Proscopiidae, previously featured in Crypsis Challenge #3. They are so cryptic that I couldn’t resist doing another challenge with this one. Here’s an outline of the grasshopper if you’re still not seeing it.
Check out how closely the color and texture of the insect matches that of the surrounding vegetation.
Here’s another image where it’s blending in fairly well.
And here, I intentionally placed it on a nearby rock so its features would stand out.
They have such interesting faces that I couldn’t resist a profile shot. It actually looks a bit sinister here.
Most of those that commented found the critter. A few even guessed the identity correctly, but even the incorrect guesses were plausible. Good job, everyone.
If not for the long antennae, this large katydid could easily be mistaken for a grasshopper.
This large katydid was trying to remain inconspicuous on the side a tree. With a body three inches long and antennae over twice that, it was difficult to miss. I considered making this a crypsis challenge, but it seemed too easy.
In the second photo, it’s in the lower right corner.
I didn’t intend to leave this challenge open for quite so long. Unfortunately, other things in my life sometimes have to take precedence over this blog, even if I’d rather it be the other way around.
Looks like the challenge was more difficult than I expected. Commenters who suggested a katydid were on the right track, but this looks like a cricket to me. Here’s the original photo and another version where I’ve crudely outlined the cricket.
I provided the outline to show the position and to show just how long the antennae are. Here’s a closer photo, sans antennae.
The hind tarsi here are hidden below the tips of those surprisingly long cerci. The visible ovipositor makes this a female and apparently a wingless one.
I’m going to suggest this might be a species in the family Mogoplistidae, the scaly crickets. The presence of lepidoteran like scales is diagnostic. Up close this one does appear to have a sheen to it. That family also has wingless females. I’m prepared to be corrected on this suggestion though.
As usual, Ted C. MacRae was right on all counts for this challenge:
I thought perhaps the swept-back antenna across the bottom third of the photo might throw people off. Not so.
Here’s a better shot of the katydid which was cooperative enough to allow some good closeups. This should put all the body parts shown above in context.
My sister guessed a dragonfly via a Facebook comment. I can see the resemblance so not a bad guess.
We don’t have that many species of walkingsticks here in the Southeastern US. None of the ones I’ve encountered have wings. So this one looks odd to me.
Remember the jumping sticks? Here’s one more photo of one of those so you can see how easy it is to distinguish the two based on their antennae.
Hopefully it didn’t take more than a few seconds to spot the katydid in this image.
Did you find the critter hidden in this image?
Ted C. MacRae did and correctly identified it as a stick grasshopper in the family Proscopiidae. As a reward, my next post will be a tiger beetle.
If you still need help finding it, here’s an outline and a cropped version.
Hopefully this one was bit more challenging. I didn’t spot the critter in this setting. It was originally higher up in some foliage and only jumped to the ground in a failed effort to escape my photographic pursuit.
Note the short antenna which makes it easy to distinguish these from walkingsticks.
Castner mentions that these insects are occasionally called “Nixon grasshoppers” because their face resembles a caricature of the former president with exaggerated jowls. What do you think?
Here’s one with a missing foreleg I encountered a few days earlier. With an extended forehead, it might be a different species.