Ants On Merriam Mtn
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San Diego County Ants:
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Ants On Palomar Mountain, San Diego County

Distant Marine Layer From South Grade Road

Flight over Palomar Mouintain. Scanned from 35 mm Kodachrome transparency (April 1969).

In June, 2007 Phil Ward (UC Davis) recorded 16 species of ants in Palomar State Park: Boucher Lookout and along Boucher Trail and Adams Trail. Collections were made in a mixed coniferous forest with Pseudotsuga macrocarpa, Calocedrus decurrens, Abies concolor, Quercus kelloggii and Q. chrysolepis. Dr. Ward's checklist is available at the following URL. Special thanks to John Henning for finding some of the ants on this page.

  Ants Of Palomar Mountan State Park by Phil Ward  

Amblyoponinae: Dracula Ant (Amblyopone pallipes)

The dracula ant (Amblyopone pallipes = Stigmatomma pallipes) is one of the most interesting species on Palomar Mountain. This small, subterranean predator of forested areas is seldom seen. It has greatly reduced eyes composed of only one or two facets and long, slender mandibles each lined with a row of teeth. It is a specialist predator on geophilomorph centipedes that live in the forest soil and duff. I have yet to find one of these curious ants.

Photo courtesy of

Other Species Reported For Palomar Mtn State Park By Phil Ward:
Species In Bold Have Image Links On Wayne's Word Ant Pages

Tapinoma sessile

Formica moki, Lasius pallitarsis

Solenopsis molesta, Crematogaster, C. hespera, C. mormonum, Monomorium ergatogyna, Myrmica punctinops, Stenamma punctatoventre, S. cf. snellingi, Temnothorax andrei, T. nevadensis.

Undoubtedly, Some Ant Species On Owens Peak, The Merriam Mtns
& Twin Oaks Valley May Also Occur On Palomar Mtn.

Grey Field Ant (Subfamily Formicinae): Formica moki

Field Ant (Subfamily Formicinae): Lasius pallitarsis

Lasius pallitarsis: Photo courtesy of

Boucher Lookout, Palomar Mountain State Park

Myrmicinae: Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex subnitidus)

Pogonomyrmex subnitidus: This species is very similar to Pogonomyrmex californicus and is listed as a subspecies of the latter species in some references.

Pogonomyrmex subnitidus with prominent propodeal spines.

Pogonomyrmex californicus From South Escondido

Harvester ant (cf. Pogonomyrmex californicus) with no propodeal spines. Notice the basket of hairs (psammophore) protruding from underside of head. See following two images (presumably a queen of this species) with conspicuous psammophore

The basket of hairs (psammophore) around & below mandibles helps this queen carry mouthfuls of dry, loose sand without spilling out.

Pogonomyrmex californicus swarming colony in South Escondico (18 June 2021) prior to nuptial flight of males and virgin queens. Colony typically founded by one queen but may develop multiple queens (polygynous). Ant colonies with one queen are termed monogynous. According to (23 Oct. 2015), alates stay close to home and produce thousands of inbred offspring. Queen can live 20+ years and store sperm from original mating flight.

Generalizations About Ant Species:

Factors favoring cross breeding in ants: Male and female alates emerging at different times and multiple colonies swarming at same time in the same general area. In monogynous colonies if queen dies the entire colony may die. In polygynous colonies another queen can replace the dead queen. Like so many topics in biology, generalizations and oversimplifications can sometimes lead to errors. With all the diverse species of ants on this planet there are undoubtedly many exceptions to mating behavior, swarming times, nuptial flights, etc.

Ant Facts From Wikipedia

A queen ant (called a gyne) is an adult, reproducing female ant in an ant colony. Generally she will be the mother of all the other ants in that colony. Some female ants, such as the genus Cataglyphis, do not need to mate to produce offspring, reproducing through asexual parthenogenesis or cloning, and all of those offspring will be female. Others, like those in the genus Crematogaster, mate in a nuptial flight. Queen offspring ants develop from larvae fed a special diet in order to become sexually mature among most species. Depending on the species, there can be either a single mother queen, or potentially hundreds of fertile queens in some species. A queen of Lasius niger was held in captivity by German entomologist Hermann Appel for over 28 years. Pogonomyrmex owyheei has a maximum estimated longevity of 30 years in the field.

A gamergate is a mated worker ant that can reproduce sexually, i.e., lay fertilized eggs that will develop as females. Gamergates are restricted to taxa where the workers have a functional sperm reservoir (spermatheca). In various species, gamergates reproduce in addition to winged queens (usually upon the death of the original foundress), while in other species the queen caste has been completely replaced by gamergates. In gamergate species, all workers in a colony have similar reproductive potentials, but as a result of physical interactions, a dominance hierarchy is formed and only one or a few top-ranking workers can mate (usually with foreign males) and produce eggs.

Cerapachys biroi belongs to the subfamily Dorylinae (Ecitoninae) that includes the army ants (Dorylus). Although ony 2 mm in length, C. biroi raids the nests of other ant species to feed on the brood. In fact, it is called the "clonal raider ant." It has no queen. Its life cycle includes a foraging phase and a reproductive phase where it lays unfertilized diploid eggs that typically develop into more females. The rare occurrence of haploid males indicates that it has not lost the potential for sex.

Ulike most ants that have reproductive queens and mostly non-reproductive workers, all individuals in a Cerapachys biroi colony reproduce clonally via thelytokous parthenogenesis. Parthenogenesis refers to the development of egg cells into embryos without fertilization, and thelytokous refers to offspring that are all female. Parthenogenesis does not always result in genetically identical clones. If the haploid cells are formed by normal meiosis (as in the queen honeybee), crossing over during Prophase I of meiosis may result in some genetic variability. Another source of genetic variability is random assortment of chromosomes. If the unfertilized eggs develop from mitotic oögenesis (without the reduction division of normal meiosis), then their offspring will be identical clones of each other.

Ceropachys biroi exhibits an unusual cyclic behavior, shifting between a reproductive (egg-laying) phase and a foraging phase. Some references state that offspring are "almost" genetically identical to parents (mothers). Apparently there is some chromosomal crossing over during oögenesis. Thelytokous parthenogenesis can be apomictic (mitotic) or automictic (meiotic). In C. biroi, the occasional occurrence of haploid males, which are clearly derived meiotically, indicates that meiosis is functional and therefore makes automixis more likely as the mechanism underlying thelytoky. According to D.J.C. Kronauer, et al. (2012), diploidy is restored after meiosis.

  • Kronauer, D.J.C., Pierce, N.E., and L. Keller. 2012. "Asexual Reproduction in Introduced and Native Populations of the Ant Cerapachys biroi." Molecular Ecology 21: 5221-5235.    Get This Article On-Line
  Ants Of The Merriam Mountains  

The 18-inch Schmidt Telescope: In 1993 the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was discovered by Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker and David Levy in this observatory. The following year this famous comet collided with the planet Jupiter.

Dolichoderinae: Pyramid Ant (Dorymyrmex bicolor)

Nest of small mound-building ants of the genus Dorymyrmex.

Formicinae: Carpenter Ant (cf. Camponotus semitestaceus)

I originally thought this was Camponotus vicinus; however, C. vicinus has a black gaster like C. dumetorum. The species on Palomar Mountain has a feruginous (rust-colored) gaster & thorax. It appears to be in the C. vicinus-complex that includes C. semitestaceus and C. ocreatus.

This is not a wasp! It is a large queen carpenter ant (probably Camponotus ocreatus) almost 20 mm in length. It was discovered under a pillow in a friend's bed who lives on Palomar Mountain.

Doane Pond, Palomar Mountain State Park

Formicinae: False Honey Ant (Prenolepis imparis)

Prenolepis imparis is sometimes called a false honey ant because the colonies have food storage repletes like honey pot ants (Myrmecocystus). "False honey ant" is an unfortunate name, since the storage product in the swollen gasters of young workers (repletes) of these ants is fatty, not sugary.

Lower Doane Valley, Palomar Mountain State Park

A forked ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) in Lower Doane Valley.

Watch out for rattlesnakes when crawling around looking for ants!
Large Southern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis ssp. helleri).

Minute pseudoscorpions live under the bark flakes of ponderosa pine.

Addendum: Palomar Mtn 18 May 2018

Dolichoderinae: Velvety Tree Ant (Liometopum occidentale)

These aggressive, biting ants give off a pungent odor if disturbed.

Velvety tree ants (Liometopum occidentale) under a coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) If you place your hand near their ant trail they will quickly crawl onto your fingers and proceed to bite without hesitation! These ants are appropriately described as "bitey."

Dolichoderinae: Black Pyramid Ant (Dorymyrmex insanus)

This native southwestern ant appears to be holding its own against massive army of Argentine ants in my yard. The specific epithet "insanus" refers to its confusing taxonomic history and not any aberrant behavior.

Formicinae: 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 have observed this species at Daley Ranch and near the old Palomar Mtn School on the road to the Palomar Observatory.

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

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