I’ve been thinking about why ant collectors fixate on particular groups. The collectors here know what I’m talking about. Given a choice, we’ll pass over Forelius in favor of Odontomachus. Brachymyrmex just doesn’t hold the allure of Leptogenys.
Particularly, we collectors like ponerines and poneromorphs. Most are tropical, rather wasp-like in appearance, and bear impressive stings. They are predatory.
Yet, poneromorphs are a minority of ant species- perhaps 20%- and they don’t have the ecological weight of the rest of the family. The don’t aerate as much soil, they don’t recycle as much biomass, they don’t engage in as many symbioses. From a strictly logical perspective, we shouldn’t find them as interesting as we do.
So why the ponerophilia?
I’m running with several ideas:
- The “Rare Is Interesting” hypothesis. We like ponerines for the same reasons we like gold and diamonds- they’re aren’t as many of them, and rarity begets value.
- The “Noble Warrior” hypothesis. Ponerines are like lions & sharks, their hunting lifestyle appealing to the predatory primate in us on some subliminal level. We like ponerines, and not formicines, for the same reason the Discovery Channel holds Shark Week but not Cow Week.
- The “Size Matters” hypothesis. Many ponerines are large, visible insects that stand out from the crowds of frenetic little brown ants.
What do you think? Is there something I’m missing?
update: And, is this just a masculine issue? Mrs. Myrmecos has a thing for Polyrhachis, which is not a poneromorph at all.