Natural history of the Florida trap-jaw ant

Odontomachus brunneus

In my perfect world, most scientific papers would look like this new article in Insectes Sociaux by Hart & Tschinkel:

A seasonal natural history of the ant, Odontomachus brunneus

Abstract: A north Florida population of Odontomachus brunneus, a species of ponerine ants, was studied for a one-year period to determine the annual cycle of reproduction and colony growth, including the foraging biology and seasonal changes in nest architecture. The life cycle of O. brunneus is strongly seasonal. Colonies produce brood for 6 months and are broodless for 6 months. Alates are produced in mixed broods at the beginning of each season, consuming much of the colony’s energy reserves. These reserves recover slowly through foraging during the summer’s worker production, and rapidly after brood production ceases in October. The foraging population was estimated to average 77% (SD 22) of the workforce. This proportion was not related to colony size and female alates were also found to forage. Nest architecture was found to change seasonally, with winter nests being more than twice as deep as the average summer nest.

Simple, simple, simple.

The study records when a population of ants has brood, when it has reproductive alates, what the ants do in winter, and other observations over a year. It is the most basic of biological information, the sort that forms a baseline for later work. Yet this sort of research has only been performed on fewer than 5% of the world’s ant species. For most ants- indeed, for most insects- we do not enjoy even this modicum of information.

Proportion of brood & workers in colonies of O. brunneus (Fig. 1 from Hart & Tschinkel)

No one gets a job nowadays documenting the basic life history of earth’s organisms. So there is little incentive, apart from raw curiosity, for biologists to take time from their genomics, transciptomics, and all the other –omics to simply observe & measure wild populations.

More like this, please.

16 thoughts on “Natural history of the Florida trap-jaw ant”

  1. Care to join my lab? I’m hoping to churn out a few of those on some of the rest of the Florida ant fauna (that Walter hasn’t already described) in the next 25 years. The first arrival will be Pheidole morrisi sometime later this year.

    1. Out of curiosity, is Trachymyrmex septentrionalis on that list? Wouldn’t it be interesting to compare the natural history of the southern vs northern range(because they hibernate in the North)?(Or has that been done?)

      1. T. septentrionalis natural history has been explored thoroughly by Jon Seal (a student of Tschinkel’s) in north Florida. It would be interesting to so some similar work on populations elsewhere.

  2. And kudos to Johan Billen and the editors at Ins Soc for publishing it! It might not kick up the impact factor, but it will be cited for several decades!

  3. Yes, very cool! I totally agree! I’ve been in the lab all undergrad to now(working) and recently realized there is awesome stuff out there! And I don’t have to travel to fancy places! I can just go to the local park and/or my backyard!

    1. Hi my name is cherise and my little gitrl was bit by a crazy Ant and developed lyme and a life threatening blood disorder all at around the same te and I think that it mite be that Ant . Does anyone cam anyone helpe and help littleia figure this puzzle out? Please we live in ambler pa….215 283 2687……

  4. Sad, really.

    This type of science has been increasingly de-emphasized for more than 40 years now and taxonomy is following the same trajectory. Soon there will be so few experienced systematists that identification in many insect groups will be increasingly prone to error or impossible.

    That’s ok ! They can stick the whole sample into a blender and get a DNA barcode sequence for the community, and after all, that’s all that is required !! /snark off

  5. Another great post – and like others I thoroughly agree re the loss of focus on whole organism/life history work. Like Andrew above, I can find and identify species in my garden and often come across phrases like ‘life history unknown’ or ‘larva undescribed’ in the literature, even in the UK with its high density of biological records. Still, it gives me things to write about… 🙂

  6. This kind of research can make a great MS project. My studies of Nylanderia faisonensis allowed me to see many aspects of ant life I’d only read about in books. And a few things I hadn’t read! I felt like I understood ants in ways I could never have as a museum worker.

  7. I wish I had seen this back in August when you first posted.. this project was a lot of fun to work on, despite the painful stings and “bites” from their impressive mandibles.

    Thank you for the kind words on our work, I hope to see some papers like this coming from Josh’s new lab over the next few years 🙂

Leave a Reply