Next generation leaves the nest: funnel ants

Shows ants ready to fly, a nest opening of Aphaenogaster longiceps, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Amber- coloured Funnel ants, Aphaenogaster longiceps

Ants en masse

It was amazing: there had been a major build up of ant nest funnels over a couple of days and, almost all at the same time, gorgeously amber- coloured ants began boiling up out of the nests.

In some places, particularly the north-western facing slopes, there were so many nests and it could have been Riddick Chronicles-like but these ants, Aphaenogaster longiceps, were all intent on getting out of the nest and into the warmth, to take their maiden flights. There seemed to be a lot of stumbling, to manage their wings and to find a good place to launch from, and it wasn’t clear if the worker ants were helping or hindering in the melee.

The ants flew and the next generation will be starting with queens building new tunnels to lay their eggs in.

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Ecosystem engineers

The activities of the funnel ant are very important to the ecosystem because they affect soil hydrology, nutrient distribution, soil organic content and vegetation growth.

The funnel ant, A. longiceps, is one of the range of ants that make the Reserve their home. This ant is one of around eight species of Aphaenogaster in Australia and occurs everywhere except Tasmania. They are called ‘funnel ants’ because of the shape of their nest entrances. Nests are active in the top 30cm of soil and are maintained for a certain amount of time, with the ants continually involved in shifting soil.

Shows ant nest openings of Aphaenogaster longiceps, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Funnel shape of nest opening

Shows older nest opening, Aphaenogaster longiceps, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

An older nest opening, made permanent with clay particles and water

These ants tend to be night foragers and don’t tend to go far beyond the immediate vicinity of their nests. They are omnivorous, and known to milk aphids living in plant roots. Many Australian plants are myrmecochorous; that is, they have seeds adapted to dispersal by ants. The seeds have elaiosomes which the ants, like the funnel ant, collect for food. In doing so, the ant gets a feed and the seed is spread – a mutual benefit.

Sources and further resources

Andersen, A.N. (1991) The Ants of Southern Australian: A guide to the Bassian fauna. CSIRO: East Melbourne.

Richards, P. J. (2009) Aphaenogaster ants as bioturbators: Impacts on soil and slope processes. Earth-Science Reviews, 96, 92–106. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012825209000877

Shattuck, S. & Barnett, N. (2014) Ants Down Underhttp://anic.ento.csiro.au/ants/index.aspx

Wild, A. (n.d.) Australian Ants, Regional Ant Faunas. http://www.alexanderwild.com/Ants/Regional-Ant-Faunas/Australian-Ants/

 

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