Doleromyrma, a new (for me) ant right under my nose!

While stalking ants in the southern Australian state of Victoria, I encountered one minuscule species over and over again. Another stone, another nest. It was a nearly translucent little dolichoderine:

Doleromyrma darwiniana, worker with larvae

I didn’t think much of it. The insects resembled- in appearance and odor- the ubiquitous Tapinoma that is so abundant elsewhere in the world. That I stopped to photograph it at all has more to do with, what- that I’d lined up the aesthetics of solid ant nest shots? I can’t even remember. It certainly wasn’t any realization that what I was shooting was perhaps interesting.

The land of Doleromyrma: a forest near Castlemaine, Victoria

Yet looking at the photos yesterday evening, something didn’t quite add up for a Tapinoma. The petiolar node was scalar, and there weren’t many records for Tapinoma in that region.

Consulting Steve Shattuck’s excellent Australian Ants, I checked relevant characters for Doleromyrma. Clypeal setae curved: check. Petiole with scale: check. And so it was:

Doleromyrma, although frequently encountered, has received little attention in the published literature. They occur most commonly in dry forested areas, including coastal scrub or heath, where they nest in soil, under rocks or rotten logs…

Shattuck (1999)

Doleromyrma males and gynes

A Google image search turned up a few images of preserved specimens, but not a single photograph of a living Doleromyrma. Am I really the first person to photograph this common ant in the field? Perhaps so. Or at least, I may be the first person to identify the live photos as such.

If so, it is my great pleasure to introduce the first living photograph of a Doleromyrma queen:

Long live the queen!

And, cropping in, the first living photograph of the queen’s mites:

So often it’s the little brown things, the ones I never think twice about, that end up being the interesting stories.

Note to self: stop pre-judging the insects.

17 thoughts on “Doleromyrma, a new (for me) ant right under my nose!”

      1. Unfortunately, very little is known about mites on Australian ants, many of the names are almost unpronounceable and harder to spell correctly than Doleromyrma, and the existing literature is mostly ancient and minimalist.

        Based on what is known and what I can see in the picture, the mites are probably in the Aenictequoidea and in either the Ptochacaridae or Messoracaridae. At least Messoracarus is mellifluous and no doubt the type species came from a Messor (or what would have been one in 1911). Ptochacarus is good for clearing the throat. In any case, I would love to retire and work on these mites. Looks like one of them is in a good position to steal some regurgitated food.

  1. I don’t blame you for almost skipping over them – for some reason, most Dolichoderines have what looks to me like a very generic ant form. As such, I don’t find them quite as exciting as others! And I seem to not be the only one, if the lack of scientific material on this genus is any indication.

    1. Ah, but the thing about Dolichoderines is their colonies. By saving resources from not overinvesting in cuticle, they are freed to make a great many more individuals, thus creating massive armies for world domination.

  2. Great photos, as per usual. I always feel it’s a shame these less charismatic species receive less research effort. It often seems like when people look, they find something interesting, it just remains for us all to start looking!

    PS, what sort of size are the queens and workers of this species?

  3. That’s awesome! The photo of the living queen of course, and the fact that your photography skills have so progressed that your pictures are now living… 😛

    1. There are some mites with setae modified as suckers that attach to insect cuticle (that could be what these mites are doing – resolution is too low to be sure). There are some that secrete a glue from their bums that hardens into a stalk – they look like tiny lollipops sticking out from the insect. Some stab into the cuticle and suck their blood. Then there are a number with bizarrely modified bodies that fit closely around an ant tarsal or antennal segment. But if I’m correct about what these mites are, they just hang on with there feet and probably use a chemical to make the ants oblivious to their being not an ant. Those are the kind that would be most fun to study.

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