by Matthew Cobb
Last night, Alex Wild (@Myrmecos) tweeted this great photo of a bizarre Ugandan ant, Calyptomyrmex (species not given, but maybe piripilis – if so, it’s about 2-3 mm long), which he took on a recent trip to Africa. Alex wrote on his website: “Calyptomyrmex is a small myrmicine genus found in Africa, Asia, and Australia. These robust, ornamented ants inhabit rotting wood and leaf litter in forested habitats. Little is known of their biology.”
Alex had disturbed the nest, so this worker was delicately picking up one of her sisters or nieces:
Ed Yong (@edyong209) was intrigued by the striking bobbles (aka “the ornate, spatulate hairs”) all over the ant and invited Alex to speculate what their function might be. The answer was “I’m guessing they retain soil odors: it’s smell-camouflage for hunting unsuspecting prey in dark spaces in the leaf litter.” I’m not convinced (something about an odour camouflage doesn’t quite ring true to me, though I couldn’t put my finger on why). It would be possible to test the hypothesis by seeing whether you could extract smells from the bobbles, using a tiny fibre and a technique called Solid Phase Micro-Extraction (SPME). Of course, you’d have to see whether a nude ant had absorbed significantly less of the soil odour.
Many Calyptomyrmex ants have these bobbles to one degree or another - some of the bobbles are small and thin (in the preserved specimens at least), others are bubbly.
So, WEIT readers, what do you think of this funky ant?
Here’s another, in the wild:
And here’s one in a white box:
Thanks to Alex for permission to reproduce these photos. If you want to buy copies of these or any of his thousands of other fantastic photos, head on over to his website!
You see Jerry, Twitter is useful!