A simple twig ant, Pseudomyrmex simplex

Pseudomyrmex simplex (Minas Gerais, Brazil)

Among the more common twig ants across the Neotropics is the pleasingly orange Pseudomyrmex simplex. I somehow managed to avoid photographing it until our recent Brazilian adventure, however. Here are a couple shots of workers carrying larvae to safety after I split open a small twig containing a satellite nest.

As these ants are shiny, photographs of them are prone to glare if the light is not sufficiently soft. Here, I spent extra time arranging my mylar diffuser to get the lighting right.

Pseudomyrmex simplex (Minas Gerais, Brazil)

photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 200, f/13, 1/200 sec
diffuse twin flash

Elongate Twig Ants (Pseudomyrmex ejectus)

Pseudomyrmex ejectus at the nest entrance (Florida, USA)

Why are Elongate Twig Ants (Pseudomyrmex species) so slender?

All the better to fit into the narrow crevices of their twiggy lodgings:

Pseudomyrmex twig ants don’t carve their own nest chambers the way most other ants do. Rather, they inhabit old burrows in twigs and stems dug by the larvae of other insects, especially beetles. Their flexible, elongate bodies allow them to maneuver in tight cavities:

Elongate twig ants comprise about 200 species found in the tropics and subtropics of the Americas. Their above-ground nesting preferences make them vulnerable to winter freezing, which is presumably why they don’t extend far into the temperate zones. That’s a real shame for we northern myrmecophiles. With the exception of a handful of hyper-aggressive ant-plant species, Pseudomyrmex are delightfully gentle, quirkly little insects.

Ant Metamorphosis

Here’s an image for the textbooks:

gracilis2Ants, like butterflies, pass through egg, larva, and pupa phases on their way to adulthood. While in Florida earlier in this summer I found a nest of the twig ant Pseudomyrmex gracilis with brood present in all stages, providing the material to make these images.

The key was placing the developing ants on a glass slide.  This provided distance between them and the cardboard background, so that the backdrop is blurred while the insects remain in sharp focus.  These images are not what I’d call fine art, but I’m happy with them as solid illustrations of ant biology.


photo details (both photos): Canon mp-e 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 100, f/11, 1/160 sec, twin flash diffused through tracing paper