If I had to pick a favorite myrmicine ant, I’d go with the heavily armored Neotropical genus Cephalotes. These arboreal ants are typically thought of as rainforest canopy dwellers, but we have a desert species here in Arizona, Cephalotes rohweri, that is the northernmost species in an otherwise tropical genus. They nest in abandoned beetle burrows in the dead wood of living Palo Verde trees.
Earlier this month, myrmecologist Scott Powell was in town to scope out a potential research project on our local populations. Scott has been studying how the nesting ecology of these ants drives the evolution of the highly-specialized soldier caste, focusing on populations in Brazil, but is looking to expand his project to include other species. By the looks of it, C. rohweri will make a fine experimental system. Scott was kind enough to let me photograph a few of the colonies he brought into the lab for some preliminary studies, and this morning I uploaded a few of them to the galleries at myrmecos.net:
Incidentally, it turns out that the best way to bait Cephalotes is to urinate on a tree. I’m not making this up. There’s something about urine that attracts the workers.