Ants Of Daley Ranch 1

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San Diego County Ants:
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Daley Ranch Ants:  
  Part 1  
  Part 2  
  Part 3  
  Part 4  
  Part 5  
  Part 6  
  Part 7  
  Part 8  
  Part 9  
Ants Of Daley Ranch, San Diego County Part 1 (of 9)
Note: Part 1 is also Home Page. © W.P. Armstrong: Updated 8 June 2016
This is an ongoing survey of ant species found at Daley Ranch, Escondido, California. It is based on ants discovered along the numerous trails, and in pitfall traps placed off the trails in different habitats throughout Daley Ranch. Many ant species that I have verified for nearby Owens Peak (San Marcos), Merriam Mountains (Escondido) & Palomar Mountain also occur in the Daley Ranch area. In fact, some of these species have remarkable ranges spanning several states. I have included information and images of most of the species encountered at Daley Ranch on the following pages. In order to speed up the load time for images, I have subdivided the report into nine parts (files). Some of my ant identifications were verified by entomologists James Trager, Iowa State University & Editor Of, Alex Wild, University of Texas, Phil Ward, University of California, Davis, and Gordon Snelling . Additional ant species (not found at Daley Ranch) were reported by the U.S. Geological Survey in post burn study areas of interior San Diego County south of Daley Ranch (see below). The habitats included chaparral, coastal sage scrub, grassland and riparian woodland. It is possible that some of these additional ant species reported by the USGS might also be found in similar habitats of Daley Ranch.

What Good Are Ants?
While searching for ants in Daley Ranch (November 2015), an inquisitive gentleman asked me "What good are ants?" In their natural habitats, most of the world's 12,000+ ant species are living in their complex societies without bothering people unless, of course, you happen to disturb their nests or get too close to their migratory or swarming paths. When they get introduced to places where they don't belong, serious ecological problems often arise. Cases in point are the ubiquitous Argentine ants in California, the numerous alien ant species in the Hawaiin Islands, and South American fire ants in the southern U.S. Ants are ecologically diverse and constitute a large portion of the total animal biomass of their natural habitats. In fact, it has been estimated that the weight of all the ants in Africa exceeds the weight of all the elephants! Ants fill various important ecological roles, such as herbivores, predators, seed dispersers, and pollinators. They are also important scavengers & decomposers, recycling the nutrients in dead animal & plant matter back to the ecosystem. Like earthworms, they help improve soil quality. By digging tunnels, ants aerate and turn over the soil, bringing nutrients closer to the surface and allowing rainwater to percolate more readily through the soil. Some ant species form important symbiotic relationships with plants, such as acacia ants and swollen thorn acacias of Central America, and the remarkable epiphytic "ant plants" of tropical Asia & Australia. In southern California, native ants constitute the diet of several endangered animals, including the coastal horned lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum), granite night lizard (Xantusia henshawii), and the arroyo toad (Anaxyrus californicus). Coastal horned lizards feed exclusively on harvester ants (Messor & Pogonomyrmex) and the destruction of these native ants by Argentine ants in urbanized areas has eliminated this unique lizard in some areas of San Diego County. Ants are also valuable research organisms in several disciplines, including social behavior, communication, genetics of caste determination, and robotics studies. Because they are sensitive to microclimate change and are ideal functional measures of ecosystem disturbance, ants have been studied by The U.S. Geological Survey to show the effects of large California wildfires in San Diego and Orange Counties.

Epigenetics: The Making of Ant Castes

New research on ants and honeybees points to DNA methylation as a crucial factor in determining the caste of a developing individual. Epigenetics refers to developmental changes in gene expression or phenotype without changing the original DNA sequence. Epigenetic traits are caused by methylation of certain DNA bases, thus affecting the development of the larva. It is a mechanism that occurs by the addition of a methyl (CH3) group to DNA, thereby often modifying the function of the genes.

Exons In Epigenetic Ant Research

In eukaryotic cells, the initial messenger RNA (M-RNA) transcribed from the DNA (gene) is modified (shortened) before it leaves the nucleus. Sections of the M-RNA strand called introns are removed, and the remaining portions called exons are spliced together to form a shortened (edited) strand of mature M-RNA that leaves the nucleus and travels to the ribosome for translation into protein. Perhaps the deleted sections (introns) were needed by our ancestors, but are no longer necessary. In fact, this hypothesis was actually utilized in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In this episode the crew was reverting back to their ancestral state because their introns were reactivated.

According to A. Chittka, Y. Wurm and L. Chittka (2012): "As in honeybees, the bulk of DNA methylation in these ants was in the exons of transcribed genes, with the levels of methylation correlating positively with gene expression."

    Epigenetics: The Making of Ant Castes by Alexandra Chittka, Yannick Wurm, Lars Chittka. Current Biology Volume 22, Issue 19, pR835-R838, 9 October 2012.   Full Text Version   PDF Version

DNA is the master molecule of life that contains in coded form all of our genetic characteristics. In fact, the remarkable diversity of life is based on the "infinite" arrangements of DNA molecules. Mutations (stable hereditary changes in DNA) may lead to the evolution of new species. Although DNA sequences (genes) may remain stable for many generations, they may be turned on or off by regulator proteins. In the following simplified illustration of a small section of DNA with 68 base pairs (rungs), the molecule has 4^68 possible arrangements or 87 duodecillion (87 followed by 39 zeros)! [The previous statement assumes an unlimited number of A's, T's, C's and G's.] In epigenetic traits, like the castes of ants, the DNA is methylated but the original base sequence is not altered.

Some species of Pheidole have a supermajor (supersoldier) that is larger than regular majors. It has a strikingly massive head compared with its body. These species have 3 castes: minors, majors and supermajors. Most of the 1000+ species of Pheidole have only 2 castes, but apparently have the genetic potential (ancestral DNA) to produce supersoldiers. Biology professor Ehab Abouheif at McGill University in Montreal discovered that dabbing larvae with methoprene, a chemical that mimics juvenile hormone, will induce the development of supersoldiers. These large biting ants are presumably better able to defend the colony against invasions of aggressive army ants.

Telomeres In Epigenetic Ant Research

Telomeres are repetitive strands of DNA (sequences of repetitive bases) at the terminal ends of linear chromosomes. They play an essential role in maintaining the integrity of the chromosome by protecting it from degradation and from end-to-end fusion with other chromosomes. Telomeres are essentially protective "end caps" of non-coding DNA at the extreme ends of chromosomes. Telomeres have been metaphorically compared with the tips of shoelaces that keep the laces from unraveling. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres lose a small amount of DNA. Eventually, when all of the telomere DNA is gone, the cell can no longer divide and dies. End replication problem is not an issue in prokaryotic cells because they have circular DNA molecules without ends.

  Evolution Page: Telomeres & Aging Process  

Another interesting area of ant research concerns the biology of aging: "The link between caste-specific differential methylation and maintenance of telomeres (chromosome ends) is intriguing because of its potential links to the biology of ageing." Queens and worker ants are diploid with 2 sets of chromosomes and males are haploid with only one set. Queens may live more than 20 years while workers may only live a few months, even though they have the same DNA. How is this possible? Does it involve telomeres?

Ants Of Daley Ranch Listed By Subfamily
  Part 1  
  Part 2  
  Part 3  
  Part 4  
  Part 5  
  Part 6  
  Part 7  
  Part 8  
  Part 9  
These Ants Very Likely Occur At Daley Ranch
OP = Owens Peak, San Marcos But Not Verified At Daley Ranch As Yet
MM = Merriam Mtns, Escondido, But Not Verified At Daley Ranch As Yet
Part 9 = Uncertain Species: Dealate Females & Unidentified Worker Ants

Subfamily Dolichoderinae: One petiole node; no acidopore.

Addition Ant Species Reported By USGS Surveys South Of Daley Ranch

The following additional ant species were identified by the U.S. Geological Survey in post burn study areas of interior San Diego County south of Daley Ranch (2011). The habitats included chaparral, coastal sage scrub, grassland and riparian woodland. It is possible that some of these species may also be found in similar habitats of Daley Ranch.

Matsuda T., et al. 2011. Effects of Large-Scale Wildfires on Ground Foraging Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Southern California. Environmental Enntomology 40 (2): 204-216 (Entomological Society of America).

Dolichoderinae (Forelius mccooki).

Ecitoninae (Neivamyrmex nigrescens, N. californicus).

Formicinae (Camponotus vicinus).

Formicinae (Formica francoeuri).

Myrmicinae (Crematogaster hespera, C. mormonum).

Myrmicinae (Pheidole hyatti, P. clementensis).

Myrmicinae (Pogonomyrmex rugosus).

Myrmicinae (Monomorium ergatogyna).

Myrmicinae (Solenopsis molesta).

Myrmicinae (Tetramorium spinosum).

Hunter Moon rising from behind the massive granitic formation north of Daley Ranch. The enormous Cretaceous boulders of Daley Ranch are mapped as monzogranite, granodiorite, diorite, quartz-bearing diorite and tonalite. Image taken from Owens Peak in San Marcos.

Oak woodland on slopes above creek bottom dominated by willows. Some of the most interesting & unusual ants have been found in the leaf litter under coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) and Engelmann oaks (Q. engelmannii).

Many interesting insects, spiders, solpugids and scorpions show up in my ant traps at Daley Ranch north of Escondido. This is a camel cricket in the family Rhaphidophoridae (probably in the genus Ceuthophilus). Members of this family have strongly curved bodies, giving them a hump-backed appearance--hence the name "camel crickets." Unlike true crickets of the family Gryllidae, they lack wings and auditory organs.

A small, golden beetle caught in a pitfall trap. According to beetle authority James N. Hogue at Cal State Univ. Northridge, it is a chrysomelid beetle in the genus Colaspidea. Dr. Hogue is author of Field Guide To Beetles of California. The shiny gold becomes a dark, brassy color or shiny, metallic green when placed in alcohol. See following images at

  Colaspidea smaragdula Images At  

While searching for ants with intense concentration, it is always wise to be very alert and check your surroundings for reptiles! This is a large red diamondback rattlenake (Crotalus ruber).

3 Species Of Honeypot Ants At Daley Ranch

Honeypot or honey ants (genus Myrmecocystus) are one of my favorite species of ants. They are found in arid and semi-arid regions of the western United States and Mexico, including a remarkable three species at Daley Ranch! Foraging workers harvest sweet plant fluids, including nectar from a wide variety of flowers, extrafloral resin glands, and juices from bruised or broken fruits. Active foraging is done during the day (diurnal species) or at night (nocturnal species). At Daley Ranch these ants are very fond of honey solutions and even love my Werther's hard candies. Special worker ants called repletes are fed these plant secretions until their gasters (abdomens) swell to the size of grapes in some species. The unusual repletes hang from the ceiling of tunnels deep within the nest and are "living storage units." They store large quantities of nutritious honeylike fluid in their swollen gasters to feed the colony during times of famine and drought. Workers simply go down to the replete tunnels and receive liquid food from the repletes by regurgitation (trophallaxis). This is an adaptation for living in extremely hot desert environments with prolonged drought. The habit of these ants for storing sweet liquids in replete workers was well known to indigenous people living within the range of this genus. Several other ant genera also have repletes with swollen gasters in their nests. For example, the black honey ant (Camponotus inflatus) is a favorite treat for Australian Aborigines.

I stopped for hiking break at Daley Ranch and to share my Werther's with a dark-colored, diurnal honeypot ant colony (Myrmecocystus mimicus). Honeypot ants store sugar solution in special workers called repletes--a favorite treat for indigenous people. See nocturnal honeypot (M. mexicanus) & Werther's At Joshua Tree N.P. Note: Replete image posted on Facebook without attribution.

Honeypot ants hanging from the ceiling of Myrmecocystus nest. Photographed at the Cincinnati Zoo.
© Greg Hume (17 September 2006), Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The black Australian honey ant (Camponotus inflatus)
© Avilasal (24 Sept. 2011), Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A Dark Honeypot Ant (Myrmecocystus mimicus)

Note: This species of Myrmecocystus has a black or dark brown body (integument), although the head and thorax are slightly reddish. Ants in the subgenus Eremnocystus are typically blackish or dark brown. Ants in the subgenus Endiodioctes are typically bicolored with red heads & mesosomas, and with black gasters (M. wheeleri has an orange-ferruginous gaster). Ants in the subgenus Myrmecocystus have yellowish (amber-colored) bodies. The latter species are typically nocturnal with large eyes. As a botanist for my entire career, I must say that some ant genera are very difficult to key down to species. Myrmecocystus is one of those genera!

I carefully attempted to key out this dark honeypot ant using the on-line dichotomous key to Myrmecocystus species. Some of the couplets were quite difficult, but I got down to couplet 15: Tergum III with "little or no pubescence" (M. mimicus) and "Tergum III with dense (appressed) pubescence" (M. faviceps). According to entomologist Dr. Phil Ward at UC Davis (personal communication, 17 August 2015), my ant is M. mimicus. My images match those of entomologist Dale Ward, so apparently this species can be quite dark in color.

 See Amazing BBC Video About Honeypot Ants (Myrmecocystus mimicus) In Horseshoe Canyon, Arizona 

  Mymecocystus mexicanus at Joshua Tree National Park  
Mymecocystus semirufus or mendax in Borrego Valley
cf. Mymecocystus wheeleri in nearby Merriam Mtns

Circular entrance to honeypot ant (Myrmecocystus) nest.

Honeypot ants (Myrmecocystus) feeding on saturated sugar water solution. The body length of adult majors is about 6 mm.

Honeypot ant exhibit at Oakland Zoo: The amber globs are swollen abdomens (gasters) of special ants called repletes. They are filled with a nutritious, honeylike fluid and serve as living food storage units. During times of drought & famine, the workers simply go down tunnels deep in the nest and receive food from the repletes by regurgitation (trophallaxis). This is sort of like going down stairs to a snack bar in your office complex only the food is not regurgitated! The ant species in photo (Not Close-Up Inset) was labeled Myrmecocystus mimicus, a fairly common ant in southern California.

  More Information & Images About Honeypot Ants  

An Amber-Colored Honeypot Ant (cf. Myrmecocystus wheeleri)

This species of Myrmecocystus superficially resembles nocturnal, amber-colored species in the subgenus Myrmecocystus; however, it is clearly diurnal even on hot summer days. It doesn't match any species in the subgenus Eremnocystus which are typically blackish or dark brown. Ants in the subgenus Endiodioctes are typically bicolored with red heads & mesosomas, and with black gasters; however, M. wheeleri has an orange-ferruginous gaster. I have found what I believe to be the latter species along I-15, a few miles west of Daley Ranch. Because I have not as yet verified this ID with an authority I am using cf. (compare with).

Myrmecocystus (cf. M. wheeleri) on Boulder Loop Trail of Daley Ranch.

Myrmecocystus (cf. M. wheeleri) in the Merriam Mtns near I-15, a few miles west of Daley Ranch.

Myrmecocystus wheeleri enjoying a Werther's along Boulder Creek Trail. Like the dark-colored Myrmecocystus mimicus, they are very fond of sugar. Although a diurnal species, they will retreat into their nest during the mid-day heat of summer.

A Nocturnal Honeypot Ant (cf. Myrmecocystus testaceus)

In the following comparison image, the left Myrmecocystus specimen was collected in a pitfall trap near Boulder Loop trail 16 November 2015. If it is truly nocturnal, it may be M. testaceus. The right specimen was collected on a hot day in August from a very active nest in full sunlight. It appears to be M. wheeleri that also occurs in the Merriam Mtns near I-15, a few miles west of Daley Ranch. The nocturnal species M. testaceus is reported from similar chaparral and coastal sage scrub habitats in Orange County, just north of San Diego County.

Could this be two different species of yellowish (amber-colored) Myrmecocystus from the Boulder Loop trail in Daley Ranch? The diurnal species (right) was collected from Boulder Loop Trail on a hot day in August from a very active nest in full sunlight. It appears to be M. wheeleri that also occurs in the Merriam Mtns near I-15, a few miles west of Daley Ranch. The left specimen was collected in a pitfall trap about 200 m away on a cool day in November (16 Nov. 2015). It appears different and might be a M. testaceus.

  Myrmecocystus wheeleri in the nearby Merriam Mtns.  

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