North Carolina’s state is desirable for many insect species due to warm weather and ideal humidity levels. Almost 250 species of ants that inhabit the forests, trees, rainforests, and other humid regions are found in this state.
On 16 November 2023, an article about the presence of super rare ants (Aphaenogaster mariae Forel) hiding in North Carolina trees was published in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington after the discovery of these arboreal ants by Michelle Kirchner from North Carolina State University and a few other researchers.
Many types of ant species are present in this region, so locals remain conscious of the attack of destructive and poisonous ants. Some of them got worried after the discovery of this rare ant species, while others wondered about their behavior. So, entomologists from NC University provided detailed information about their physical or behavioral features.
Rediscovery of super rare ants in North Carolina trees
This state got public attention worldwide in the past few days when an article was published in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington on 16 November 2023.
A Ph.D. student from North Carolina State University named Michelle Kirchner found a rare species of ants in this NC state that had already been discovered in the eastern US but in smaller numbers.
She found Aphaenogaster mariae Forel ants in the North Carolina Piedmont or the Triangle region of this state for the first time and provided information about the colony in a documented form.
This species was discovered in 1886 in Florida by a naturalist, Mary, but now, it has been rediscovered by Michelle, who provided detailed information after keen observation of their colonies.
She did not expect this rediscovery but found a nest of these arboreal or spine-waisted ant species in the arboreal trees during a visit to the Triangle region.
At that time, Michelle was a researcher in applied ecology and entomology at NC University and discovered this rare species during a visit to the NC Piedmont or Triangle region.
In addition, she found colonies of these spine-waisted ants on white oak trees, and their nests were present in the tree canopies almost 17 meters above the ground.
So, this news got the spotlight in the media and scientific community because no one knew about their location, preferred habitats, population size, appearance, etc., before this discovery.
Bonnie Blaimer from the Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity, Elsa Younsteadt, and Matthew Bertone were also part of this research work.
Furthermore, Michelle was the first one to find an entire colony of this rare species and provide pictures of the male ants belonging to this species.
Location of arboreal ants in North Carolina trees
These super rare ants were found hiding in the arboreal trees of North Carolina. They belonged to the genus Aphaenogaster, commonly known as spine-waisted ants for their slender bodies.
However, this newly rediscovered species was slightly different in nesting behavior from other fellows of this genus, as its nests were found in tree canopies, dead branches, tree holes, etc.
However, other members of this genus typically make their nests on the forest floor and hide under the detritus, rocks, and rotten logs.
One of the first things she observed was their localized behavior as their colonies were close to each other. Moreover, their colonies were found to be present on white oak trees.
Also, she tried to know about this arboreal species’ different life stages and population sizes because they had accessed ants’ nests in the trees.
Colony size of super rare arboreal ants
A mature colony of moderate size was found, and the nest had around 1000 members. Foraging workers, female ant alates, male drones, larvae, and pupae were found in their nests.
The researchers collected a few samples from hardwood forests in the North Carolina Piedmont. They climbed trees using ropes and collected them from barks or dead branches.
After keen observation of these collected insects, they identified ants as A. mariae. They found 1048 adult ants in the nest, and 604 adults were workers or foragers.
The average number of workers in their nests was found to be ranging between 266 and 613 after observing multiple nests located on different trees, but most of them were localized.
Around 79% of immatures were larvae, including 19 pupae, while the remaining 71 were at the larval stage out of the 90 immatures collected from the colony.
There were 255 drones and 185 female alates in the nest. Furthermore, they found 4 intercastes in adult ants because they resembled workers and queens regarding physical features.
Morphology of Aphaenogaster mariae Forel ants
The researchers observed collected samples of Aphaenogaster mariae Forel ants and captured their photographs. The presence of striae on the gastral segment was a defining feature that was clearly visible in queens and workers.
Typically, queens are bigger than foragers and other adult workers, but this colony had small-sized queens. They found that their queens were almost equal in size to workers.
The appearance of male drones was re-described by Michelle in the paper in which she mentioned their dark-brown colored heads, oval eyes, shining scutum, mandibles, or clypeus, etc.
In addition, the male A. mariae had wider heads on the posterior end and a short postpetiole. It is also observed that drones have erect dorsal setae but do not have spines on the propodeum.