Sep 22, a walk around the Watkins Garden revealed 2 ants we haven't seen before. Lasius claviger (the orange one below) was hiding out under a board. Prenolepis imparis was inside of flowers all over the garden.
One of the astonishing things about small insects is that each individual has all of the key elements of bigger animals like fish and mammals. Nervous, digestive, immune, circulatory, endocrine systems. An ant adds some of its own specialties, like social organization and chemical communications.
Just as astonishing, the two species here have all of the characteristics of most ants. But Solenopsis packs that into an anatomy that is absurdly tiny compared to Camponotus. Both ants are found at the Sargeant Street Garden.
I think we have:
Tetramorium Leptothorax sp.
Solenopsis molesta Monomorium sp.
C. Pennsylvanica C. nearcticus
F. incerta F. subsericea
Lasius neoniger Nylanderia parvula
T. sessile Crematogaster cerasi
Apheanogaster fulva Myrmica so.
F. neogagates F. subintegra
There are 2 ways I can photograph ants, shown in the images here. With a 5X Canon macro lens and flash, I can capture even the 2 mm specimens, perhaps in enough detail to allow someone else to ID. But depth of field is limiting, and resolution is iffy for extreme closeup (of heads for example). Advantage: fast. A second far more satisfying technique is to use a focus-stacking program for images captured through a microscope. Disadvantage: ordinary people don't have the budget for it. I am lucky to have use of this equipment from the UConn Army Ant Guest project, for which I volunteer.
We'll probably see less than 20 ant species. It should be easy to ID whatever we run across. But it isn't. So much depends on interpreting what a key tells you to look for. And then there are all of the features that are too damned small to see with a 40X microscope. E.g., if your ant is 3 mm long, and you need to decide if the mandible has one of 7 teeth offset from the others.
On the plus side (this for Lucia, who could feel overwhelmed by this effort):
We have a key specifically for the 132 ant species of our area. (Field guide to the ants of New England, Ellison et al.).
We will see the same common ants over and over, every time we sample. So we'll get a solid feel for the gestalt of these. Something that doesn't fit should jump out to us.
There are some awesome ant images in public databases, to which we can compare our samples. Here are the most useful:
We don't have to get ID's right away. We can hold the sample (Formica "red-butt") and figure out the ID later.
The 3 little gardens: Huntington Street, Sargeant Street, Broad Street.
Huntington. About 550 m2. As urban as it gets.
Sargeant St. About 650 m2. Pure urban.
Broad St. About 580 m2. Pure urban.
I'm thinking that it is more fun to know fewer sites well than to run all over the place. Say we want 3 large and diverse gardens, and 3 smaller pocket gardens. Plus a couple of random turf sites. Plus a couple of "pristine" natural areas outside of Hartford.
The 3 big ones: Watkins, Earle St, Knox Headquarters.
Watkins: about 12,000 m2. Adjacent to creek, and significant associated wild space.
Earle St: about 5,500 m2. Adjacent to lowland fallow, otherwise urban neighborhood.
If we get bored with ants, we can evaluate diversity by looking at all of the non-ants we get in pitfall traps. There are a lot of spiders in this sample from Watkins. And 3 kinds of flies, a lady beetle larva, staphylinid beetle,
Just to get in the mood, I spent some time in the heat and rain chasing ants.
Visual scan at Watkins and Headquarters, 60 min each, 5 and 4 species.
Baits ... 2 species at Watkins, 1 at Evergreen (but 4/5 of traps lost).
Pitfalls ... Watkins traps got 5 or 6 species. Photos below: 2 formicinae, 3 (?) myrmicinae, 1 dolichoderinae. The total species list is perhaps 7 or 8 including other sites.