All the better to see you with…

Harpegnathos venator

A perk of being at a major university is photographic access to the wild and wonderful diversity of insect research subjects studied by various biologists in the department. This week Andy Suarez returned from Ant Course/Borneo bearing live ant colonies. They were exported under research permits for studies of genome size and for the biomechanics of ant mandibles.

But the ants were also available for a leisurely photo shoot before being shipped down the science pipeline, so I spent Tuesday afternoon with my camera gear up in the lab pretending like I was exploring the jungles of southeast Asia. I even stole tropical leaves from the plant biology greenhouse to serve as rainforest backdrops. It was a reasonable facsimile, except for the air conditioning, internet access, and coffee shop up the road, of course. Sometimes I prefer my jungles to be civilized.

Anyway. The next few days I’ll be posting shots from the session. Borneo has some freaky amazing ants. Like this big-eyed hunting ant Harpegnathos venator.

Harpegnathos venator

Some day I’ll get to Borneo myself. My interest is certainly piqued now.

-more Harpegnathos photos here

*updateok, maybe not venator. Anybody need a taxonomic research project?

9 thoughts on “All the better to see you with…”

  1. Dear Alex,

    Marvellous photographs of a truly spectacular ant, but one thing is troubling me. Are we sure that the species really is H. venator?
    At present the species-rank taxonomy of Harpegnathos is chaotic. There are 11 nominal taxa in the genus, of which 7 are called species and 4 are called subspecies. Of the nominal species-rank taxa, 1 is named only for a queen and two are entirely male-based. Distributions of the various taxa are all over the place and do not make much sense. For instance, the type-locality of H. venator is India, with named subspecies in Philippines and Hong Kong. The identity of Borneo material as H. venator seems pure supposition at present. If the Borneo material is going to form the basis for advanced work on the biomechanics of ant mandibles, it may be a good idea to sort out the basic taxonomy first.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Barry.

      I had wondered about that. Harpegnathos is not a genus I know well, and the little perusing I did of the literature this week showed the taxonomic chaos you mentioned. In the end I saw that antweb had identified a very similar looking ant from the same location as H. venator, so I went with that. I didn’t realize that the venator type was Indian- that throws a monkey wrench into things.

      The Borneo specimens have larger eyes and a color pattern different than that of specimens from elsewhere. And it doesn’t seem to match the original description of H. hobbyi, the only species described from Borneo. Hmmm….

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