Answer to the Monday Night Mystery

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As MrILoveTheAnts quickly guessed, yesterday’s mystery globules were a fungus garden of agricultural Cyphomyrmex ants.  So, 10 points to our winner.

The yeast garden of Cyphomyrmex ants grows on a substrate of caterpillar frass (Ecuador).

Most fungus-farming ants tend gardens of filamentous hyphae, but some species of the Cyphomyrmex rimosus group eat their fungus as a yeast. These yeasts form the bite-sized pellets visible in the photographs.

A worker ant in the yeast garden.

Unlike its leaf-cutting cousins, Cyphomyrmex has received little scientific attention. Thus, the implications of yeast farming over hyphal farming remain unknown. Another topic for future research!

3 thoughts on “Answer to the Monday Night Mystery”

  1. Do the ants eat the yeasts directly, or do they eat some secretion of the yeasts just like how other leaf-cutters only eat the swollen hyphae endings of their fungus?

    Also interesting that the hairs on Cyphomyrmex and other small attines sort of resemble the short thick hairs on the tiny dacetines. Is there a reason behind this?

    1. Good question re: eating the yeasts- I’ll have to look that up as I don’t offhand know the answer.

      Small, broad appressed hairs seem to be a feature of many cryptobiotic ants. They may aid in the retention of surface hydrocarbons (=odors). This, too, is an underexplored frontier of myrmecology.

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