Tasmania – A Couple of Ants

2014 February 19

Since it was the middle of the Tasmanian winter in June, there wasn’t a lot of ant activity. I only found two ants, in fact: a black one under the bark of a rotting stump near the apple orchard, and a red one down in the blueberry mulch. At first, I thought the black one was one of the infamous “bulldog ants” of Australia, based on the big, aggressive mandibles and the distinctly segmented abdomen.

But, when I look up the Myrmecia family that the bulldog ants belong to, I see that one of their main ID features is large eyes. And I’m not so sure that the one I photographed here even has eyes, so that doesn’t seem right after all.

The lack of visible eyes suggests that it is something else entirely that leads an almost completely subterranean existence.

In fact, she looks a great deal like the ones in the genus Amblyopone, which apparently go by the common name of “Southern Michelin Ants” – possibly because the distinct segmentation of the abdomen reminds people of the Michelin Man. They are often referred to as “primitive”, mainly because they have small colonies and lack a lot of features found in other ants, although this is a bit unfair[1]

This red one looks more like the kinds of ants we see back in Michigan, although a bit leggier than I’m accustomed to.

She’s got a pretty good set of mandibles, but nothing like that first one.

I don’t know what kind she is. Unfortunately, searches for Tasmanian or Australian ants tend to be heavily biased towards pages with titles like “Jack Jumpers – Australia’s Killer Ants”, making it harder to track down smaller, less offensive ants like this one. I did find something that looks a lot like her as the 5th entry on this page, but the picture is marked “Pending ID”, which helps me not at all. I eventually found this Insects of Tasmania site, and while they didn’t have an ID for this ant at the time, they now (as of October 2015) have a likely candidated identified as Notoncus spinisquamis.

[1] The term “primitive” implies that they somehow haven’t “come as far” as other ants, but actually they are every bit as well-adapted to their environment as more “modern” ants. It’s just that their ancestors diverged from the other ants much longer ago than for most other ant species, and so they have a lot of features of the mutual ancestors of all ants that are not present in the “modern” ants. But, they have developed their own unique differences from that original ancestor of all ants. The actual “primitive” ants would be that distant, common ancestor. Which no longer exists, because that was millions and millions of years ago.

2 Responses
  1. Katbird permalink
    February 19, 2014

    You are missing some lovely snowy weather here in the Midwest USA!

  2. February 20, 2014

    Unfortunately, I’m not missing it – we were in Tasmania back in June, so right now I’m suffering through the subzero cold and snow with everybody else.

    But someday, the sun will shine! Someday the snow will melt! I must believe that, or go insane!

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