Friday, June 11, 2010

The mother lode

We got a present while tromping through the cerrado yesterday. Check these bad girls out!

Cephalotes clypeatus trying not to get aspirated.

Cephalotes clypeatus is a really unique, absolutely beautiful member of the genus. The pictures on Ant Web (linked) don't really do it justice: the cuticle on living specimens is very translucent, and forms a sort of membranous ridge around virtually the whole dorsal aspect of the animal. Combined with the striking amber-gold coloration, it gives something of a knight-in-shining-armor kind of feel to this species. (In the ridiculous Avataresque ant-based action movie I've been writing in my head, these gals are definitely going to play the role of shock troops / tanks for the good guys -- thrill as the canopy ants defend their ancient home against the marauding Ponerines!)

Anyway, Scott hasn't come across too terribly many of this species in the area, and they fall into an interesting spot in the phylogeny, so I was a little worried about coming home with a clypeatus-shaped hole in my sample set. But what did we find while out collecting pitfall traps, but a shining amber stream of C. clypeatus?

Fortunately for us (unfortunately for them), they were even nesting in a fallen limb that had gotten hung up on its way down. This means that we were able to collect what may be the whole colony. And it's a doozy!

Scott gently taps them out of the log, while I stand ready with an aspirator. There's a trick to doing this without inhaling sawdust. 

We were able to get through one of the four sections today. Who knew so many ants could fit in a log?! Although my sample requirements aren't anywhere near so big, by randomly sampling from the whole colony, Scott will be able to make some important observations about the distribution of size variation among workers; this in turn will play an important role in understanding the evolution of social structure and caste determination.

The end of the line -- C. clypeatus digestive tract, with midgut (left), ileum, and rectum. The little snakey bits are malphigian tubules; the little white hairs are tracheae. 

So that was my day -- cracking open logs, sucking ants through straws, and then staring at them through a microscope. Ahh, the good life...

Many thanks to Galen for squeezing off these shots in between frantic ant-wrangling!

1 comment:

Mom said...

I'm smiling, because this all seems to be so "you!" Hugs . . .