The first live photographs of Probolomyrmex (update: no, the second live photographs)

Continuing our series of “the first photographs of X”, below are what I suspect to be the first living photographs taken of the rare subterranean ant Probolomyrmex:

Ant Course in Uganda was phenomonal. There’s nothing like having 40 keen sets of eyeballs out searching for ants in an understudied tropical forest for 10 days. Under such intense effort, all sorts of rare material turns up, including species that are almost never seen alive, much less photographed.

This particular oddity I can actually claim to have found on my own, a tiny ant less than 3 millimeters long running around under a rotting log. I brought her back to the lab to photograph so I wouldn’t lose the specimen.

That's me in the makeshift lab studio at Ant Course 2012. You can see the secret to the white backdrop. (photo by Brian Fisher)

So little is known about this ant that no one even knows what it eats. Bob Taylor (1965) kept a colony once but the ants refused everything he tried to feed them. Yet, Probolomyrmex is widespread in the tropics and occurs in the undercollected deep soil habitat, so it may be one of those animals that ends up being more common once myrmecologists figure out how to look for it.

*update (9/27): Wait! Stop the Presses! Roberto Keller points us to this photograph from Donat Agosti’s 1995 revision of the South American species:

More resources:

10 thoughts on “The first live photographs of Probolomyrmex (update: no, the second live photographs)”

  1. Forget the secret to the white background. Now we know the secret to your awesome photography (besides the type of camera you use that takes really good pictures) . . . It’s that beer in the background!

  2. Quick general question for you about local ants: The goldenrod plants in my prairie garden are populated with some ~large wingless brown ants. They are just resting on the foliage (5-10 scattered on each stalk), exhibiting little activity and they are pretty much everywhere on goldenrod, but on nothing else. I look at this garden every evening and closely inspect the plants–I have never seen these ants? I have some pics but my EOS utility has decided to act up when I try to download. Any ideas on what might be active at this time on goldenrod?

    1. Sounds like Camponotus castaneus, eh, Alex?
      Or less likely, because less frequently seen C. americanus.
      Either way, they’re not there for the goldenrod, but for aphids or other sap-feeding, honeydew-producing insects on the plant.

      1. Update — (Still no relation to Probolomyrmex) — A correction to the earlier guess:
        Saw a picture of Joe’s ant on goldenrod – Lasius claviger dealate female. Sometimes, for whatever reason, female ants shed their wings before leaving the nest. Of course they can’t then fly off to mate, and remain behind on tall objects from which their sisters have flown. I saw the same in an unrelated species just a day or two ago.

  3. For a first on live Probolomyrmex, see:
    Agosti D (1995) A revision of the South American species of the ant genus Probolomyrmex (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). J. N. Y. Entomol. Soc. 102:429-434.

    I won’t argue about the beauty and quality of your images though. 😉


  4. We could have had this second photograph of Probolomyrmex in the Neotropical Ant Course in Peru, because Rodrigo Feitosa collected a couple of workers alive, but we missed that, and for caution, they were put in alcohol. Though, we were glad to have had Tatuidris photographed alive (not sure if it was the first time).

  5. Thanks for linking me to your “Processing a field guide photo” post Alex, and also for showing a bit more behind the scenes stuff with this one. Really helps the whole learning process! Amazing work as usual 🙂

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