I have recently obtained an intriguing species of ant, of the genus Aphaenogaster. What makes these ants so interesting, is not their size, personality, popularity, aggressiveness, or observing them in a fashion show (under some very odd set of circumstances). It's the fact that these ants, unlike many others, do not have a social stomach.
Most species of ants have two stomachs, a personal stomach, and a communal stomach. This communal stomach is pretty much a handbag... in the ant world. Most ants consume liquids which are contained in this secondary stomach, they then regurgitate this liquid to other members of their colony using a process called trophallaxis; mouth to mouth feeding (i.e. to other workers, the queen(s), larvae). Aphaenogaster however, does not have a social stomach.
Some not-so-scientific minds might suggest that these ants somehow acquired some way of measuring their weight and developed a complex over it. Therefore, ditching their social stomach, in order to become slimmer. Maybe they had some sort of Ant New Years Resolution to lose weight, and over thousands of years, have stuck to it.
Or they just have evolved through natural selection to not have a social stomach...
Either way, this genus of ant, does not have a social stomach. They tend to drag their food items into there nest, instead of slurping up the yummy juices of there prey or sugar source. These ants have been noted to be capable of tool use, some species will take debris and lay them on top of liquids (i.e. honey) and take the soggy debris back to the nest, for the colony to consume; using the debris as a sort of sponge. Other times, they cover the liquid source with debris to prevent the risk of drowning. How thoughtful... maybe I could hire a team of these ants to clean my kitchen every-so-often...
I usually observe these ants in foresty areas, they tend to enjoy damp climates, so I will often find a colony of them by peeling back some rotting bark. The queen and small larvae and eggs are often under the leaf litter to protect themselves from potential rain and other weather conditions. While most of the workers and pupae live behind the bark, above. This makes these colonies very easy to capture. You can occasionally just peel back a chunk of bark, and sometimes the entire colony, including the queen, are present.
Here is a 2-minute video on my personal colony of Aphaenogaster from my Youtube Channel, Antemonium ph. They are housed in a formicarium (fancy term for an ant farm) created from firebrick.
The prey item which the larvae (i.e. those gooey things that look like maggots) are consuming, is a mealworm, which I previously fed to them. They happily dragged it into there nest and allowed the larvae to consume it. Interestingly, adult ants do not have mouthparts that allow them to consume solid food. However, the larvae, do. The workers place the hungry larvae near the mealworm and let them go all gusto on it. For some reason... thinking about these ants consuming food makes me want to eat some potato chips... I suspect what makes me think of potato chips, is how the larvae move their mouth parts on and off of the mealworm, consuming the flesh, bit by bit. Kind of like how TV loving humans stereotypically sit on the couch and enjoy a bag (or a few bags) of potato chips or other snacky food items.
They look the same to me...
I have also noticed that this species of Aphaenogaster, tend to perk themselves up when using their antenna.
They remind me of meerkats looking out for danger.
Aphaenogaster, is very unique in the world of ants. I find it amazing how they find ways around not needing a social stomach. It shows that just because an ant is an ant or a bee is called a bee, that does not mean those groups do not vary tremendously. If you were to compare a typical ant you find in your house, such as a Carpenter Ant or the Odorous House Ant, you would find they are tremendously different in size, social behaviors, and physical characteristics. All you have to do is look closer at the world around you, to notice and appreciate the abundant diversity that exists on our planet. Do you have a favorite species of ant? Do you think of ants as a pest or potential pet? Any suggestions on what to write about next? If you have any questions, general comments, or answers to this list of questions, please leave a comment.
If you want to learn more about the genus Aphaenogaster, here are a few helpful videos and articles.
Look on AntWeb to see Aphaenogaster rudis and other cool species of this genus.