Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Nomenclaturial (In-)Consistency in Higher Classification of Ants

You would think that nomenclature is something pretty obvious and objective derived from and built on top of the scientific discoveries of the relationships of taxa. Furthermore you would expect that scientists have some sort of consistency in this conduct. Let's see how this applies to two recent studies by Phil Ward, Sean Brady, Ted Schultz and Brian Fisher on army ants and myrmicine ants.

The underlying preferred phylogenetic trees are here for the dorylines (army ants)

and the clade including Tetramorium and Leptothorax/Temnothorax of the myrimcines

The nomcenclaturial conclusions are well worth to follow. For the myrmicines Ward et al. make the following synonymies 
Tetramorium = Rhoptromyrmex syn.n.=Anergates syn.n. = Teleutomyrmex syn.n.

Protomognathus is not included in the current phylogeny, but because of some mtDNA based evidence included in the synonymy. 

At the same time, the sister clade including Leptothorax, no synonymy has been proposed.

Tetramorium includes now some of it social parasites Anergates and Teleutomyrmex that are listed in the IUCN RedList (eg Anergates, Teleutomyrmex) but not Strongylognathus. This will add to an additional confusion outside the taxonomic world. The reason for omitting Strongylognathus from synonymy is the older name than Tetramorium and thus all the Tetramoriums would have changed - this then is too much for the authors. So they stop here by mentioning to get to the ICZN to solve the problem later.

This somewhat arbitraty behavior is even more obvious. The same authors don't follow with their practice to clean up obvious historical artifacts in their work on dorylines. It is obvious, that all the doryline genera ought to be synonymized with Cerapachys (or the oldest available name), or then many old suppressed generic names would have to be revived (what the indirectly do in their figure, but not explictely in the text), and thus exactly the opposite of their lumping in the myrmicines. But nothing has been done.

If the phylogenetic analyses are that strong (why this might not be the case will be discussed in a follow up blog), why not have more genera, that in many ways can be diagnosed  with behavioral or morphological traits (in some cases even apomorphies) rather than have increasingly huge taxa in which informal species groups will be defined? The worst being the formicoid clade that is entirely based on molecular analysis. The advantage of diagnosable groups is obvious, and the handling of taxonomic information is simple with the current IT infrastructure where we can link all names to the respective database in place.

If there is such a strong believe in molecular data and analysis - because it is based on sound scientific analytical tools - why not be as strict in inferring the respective nomenclaturial changes? In the present case, this objectivity is definitely missing or not obvious.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Ant movies: The Trials of Life, Episode 7, Living Together

Ant movies: The Trials of Life, Episode 7, Living Together 49:13

David Attenborough

14:11 Oecophylla in Australia, interaction with caterpillar; ants welcome caterpillar
17:41  Oecophylla in Australia, interactio with caterpillar; stealth caterpillar enters the nest to predate on grubs
21:20 escape of of the butterfly - not chemical but mechanical defense through slipery scales

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ant movies: Krieg der Ameisen (La guerre des fourmis)

Krieg der Ameisen (La Guerre des Fourmis)  (Arte)

Olivier Blight, Eric Provost, Stephand Caut, Jim Xerda, Volker Witte)

[This movie is 3:02.08 but in fact it is three times the same movie. Recording started at 2:02, the begin oft the third repetition is at 2:21:30]

2:02:00 Monitoring methods; pitfalls, pooter
2:03:00 Tapinoma not affected by Linepithema
2:04:58 overview of Linepithema distribution, simulation model on the affect oflimate change
2:05:34 Volker Witte on Linepithema in Germany
2:05:56 study of ant language and communication
2:06:30 origin of the gland (Pavans gland), dissection, experiment to show the impact of the gland substances.
2:08:30 life cycle: brood
2:09:30 Donana NP: study of the impact of Linepithema on predators and other fauna (Elena Angulo), using Quercus suber,
2:10:45 experimental design
2:12:45 results
2:13:00 Stephane Caut: impact assessment, dissecting a toad
2:14:30 life cycle; fight on the power in the nest
2:15:00 impact on Camponotus vagus? Recruitment, fight between C and L; use of SEM for tarsus of L
2:20:02 Argentine ant the largest predator of the world
2:20:10 The impact of L in Corsica

2:21.30 Krieg der Ameisen 3
2:22:47 description of the local ant fauna, ca 160 local species; Messor life cycle,
2:24:20 Description of a European project to study ant faunas (which one?) Olivier Blight, Eric Provost (Aix-en-Provence)  Cereste in S-France
2:25.50 the original distribution of Linepithema and the history invasion: Madeira first record, than mainlaind.
2:27:00 moving of a nest, and the way they do it
2:28:29 polyploidy: 15-20 queens in one nest
2:29:30 queen
2:30:19 agressivity test
2:30:50 food
2:31:30 fight with Messor
2:33:55 aggessivity test comparing nests of different geographic origin: no fights
2:36:10 chemical analysis – the profiles are equivalent
2:38:00 use of water and storage
2:39:08 Aphaenogaster nest, fight with L, recruitment, attack from hundred to hundred thousand of ants attack
2:41:20 killing of the queen (but this is wrong, this is a Camponotus worker)
2:42:07 The impact of argentine ant on the ecosystem (Provost): L have no enemies and thus can distribute unlimited.
2:43.30 impact of L in Donana NP and especially their impact on Quercus suber ecosystem. Jim Xerda
2:45:21 measuring the speed of discovery of new pray: L the fastest ant in discovering food – but does not work when too hot, where other ants can work (food competition);
2:47:30 competition against other animals: but no quantitative measurments.
2:48:50 new nest of L
2:49:13 nest mould
2:50:00 tending of aphids
2:51:30 description of Corse with more than 80 ant species.
2:52:30 search of the front line argentine ants / native fauna.
2:52:40 use of baits
2:54:30 no linear expansion, but human impact that assures that they invade much faster
see the begin

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Ant movies

(Popular) Science 

There is a fascinating, growing number of popular science movies on ants becoming available. To use them for my own work, I try to add tags describing the subject covered.

1. Alles über Ameisen 52.07. EO Wilson, Nigel Franks
2. Krieg der Ameisen 3:02:08. Arte. Discussion of Argentine Ants
3. Wild City of Ants 44:56.  National Geographic. Ted Schultz, Alex Wild, Nigel Franks
4. Die heimliche Weltmacht   43:14. Arte. Bernd Hölldobler
5. Planet Ant - Life Inside The Colony 1:28.46. Leaf cutter ants kept in artificial nest
6. Ant colony raids a rival nest 3:44. BBC. Myrmecocystus
7. Silver Desert Ant, Cataglyphis bombycinus 12:31 BBC, Rüdiger Wehner, David Attenborough
8. The amazing Cataglyphis ant 2:52. BBC, David Attenborough; Cataglyphis bombycinus
9. Lord of the Ants 52:52 PBS. About EO Wilson.
10. Empire of The Desert Ants  55:48. BBC. Myrmecocystus
11. Butterfly eggs and caterpiller survival: Myrmica and lycaenids, ichneumonids.  6:31, BBC, David Attenborough. Life in the Undergrowth.
12. Polyrhachis in mangrove forest, living in the intertidal zone. 3:54. BBC, David Attenborough. Life in the Undergrowth. (submersible life, communication, territorial disputes)
13.  Pogonomyrmex (harvester ants) and Aphaenogaster  in Arizona. 3:24,  BBC. David Attenborough. Life in the Undergrowth. Competition
14. The Trials of Life, Episode 7: Living Together. 49:13 BBC. David Attenborough
15. Honey Ants - A nice sweat treat! 1:53 Animal Planet. Camponotus inflatus.
15b. Yummy Hnoey Ants. 2:53 Australian Screen. Camponotus inflatus
16. NPR Science: Ants That Count! 4:35 NPR: Experiment to show that ant can count their steps, Cataglpyhis, Wehner.
17. Cataglyphis bombycinus,  7:04. Tunis. Including shots of soldiers outside the nest.
18. Odontomachus trap jaw ant:  1:29 Ondontomachus in nature, Alex Wild
19. Anochetus trap jaw ant: 3:06 High speed camera movie shot in the laboratory
20. Ants: super soldiers 4:21. A potpurry of ant behavior related  to predation
21 Ant societies and what we can learn from them: Laurent Keller at TEDxLausanne 17:30


1. Un chien andalou (1928). Luis Buñuel.  4:06; 8:38

Ant Movies: Alles über Ameisen

Alles über Ameisen (animal planet with EO-Wilson, Nigel Franks)

1:38 Oecophylla weaver ants
3:21 the weight of all ants is about the same as all humans
5:00 Metathoracal (Metapleural gland) ants a chemical plants
6:00 functional morphology, mandible
6:30 Wilson, pheidole
9:09 morphological diversity
9:18 social life as character of ants: Wood ants
10:00 social work makes you stronger..
10:32 division of labor – all work can be done by all, only queen is irreplaceable; life cycle
11:04 trophallaxis
11:30 role of queen – different casts
12:00 larval development
13:00 life cycle, sexual production, mating competition
14:00 the fate of males, nest foundation by queens
14:24 origin of ants
16:30 communication
17:30 trail pheromone
18:45 nest mate recognition – cracking of the code: oecophylla and spdiers
20:00 oecophylla and spiders fighting
21:09 Cataglyphis bombycina, orientation, Wehner
22:19 vector navigation vizualization
23.21 polarization patterns
25:30 Attine
29:15 antibiotic like substances / metapleural gland Beattie
31:24 extracting metapleural content
33:03 Honey pot ants, Mulga, Camponotus inflatus
23:25 Wood ant; thermoregulation
37:18 Smaragd Ameisen, Polyrhachis with Lycaenidae silk nests; rattle ants because the communicate via audible vibrations
39:20 Phil deVries about lycaenids
43:31 Oecophylla
44:21 cracking of defensive behavior and chemical code by a spider
46:23 driver ants Eciton
47:28 Nigel Franks human /ants comparison: what is the chain of command: top down vs bottom up
49:12 decision making
50:50 study of biology: make something complex from simple structure: individual behavior to a complex behavior. IN ants no hierarchy, no leader, but everybody is involved in decision making

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

antbase down: up again

Antbase is up again. All the citations are now linked again to the original descriptions, or all the citations given to the group. This new system allows us to provide access to all the descriptions (via antbase), or subsequent citations (via HOL, linked from the bottom of the antbase search return page) irrespective whether the publication is open access, we have a copyright waver or they are copyrighted.

What we have not resolved yet is access to all the publications. We are few steps away from a solution, but need to implement it. The solution will not include a per se open access but via a login. What the condidtion for a login will be is still under discussion. Certainly, those who are supporting antbase will get it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

antbase down: (almost) alive again

After far too long, is up again. It is not the same as before, because we changed our policy. We cannot risk again to be shut down because we have copyrighted material online. For our convenience we provide at the beginning none or only to those publications access that are older than 1926, the cut of day for copyrighted material, and gradually will add more to it. This is not the solution that we envision, but that’s reality we life in, and as long as we publish in non-Open Access journals we are our own culprit.

However, being now based in Switzerland, we have the legal environment to provide access to all the descriptions, irrespective of their date of publication (for details see Agosti & Egloff). We thus will make it to our goal to provide as in the past at least access to all the descriptions.

For those offered support during the last month, we would like to suggest to monitor antbase and let us know, whether we are missing out on a description and the respective original treatment. This will help us to stay up to date with less effort from our side. Hopefully at some point, the goal of a synchronization of the our database (the Hymenoptera Name Server) and antcat will work out, and make all of use more efficient and using all our individual strengths.

If you are even more devoted to provide access, you can help us to mark up the publications on Plazi and make it accessible much more widely, such as in the Encyclopedia of life or

For now, Norm and Joe are working at the HNS side to insert all the links that have been taken down. This should be done in the next couple of days so that antbase will be fully operational as described above.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

OA ant publications: Neotropical Ants issue

Hindawi published in the revitalized Psyche (70 articles published only this year) a special edition Advances in Neotropical Myrmecology, including the description of some very unusual ants like the second species of Tatuidris.

From a cataloguing point of view and thus also from a nomenclatorial point, I do not find an indication that the journal is not just an e-only-journal but has the still necessary printed version. Also it is a bit awkward that there is no proper volume number, as Psyche had before, but just the year.

Despite all of this, I am always delighted to see publications from the sprawling Neotropical ant community, and that ants are used in environmental and especially monitoring studies.

Monday, February 27, 2012

antbase down

Antbase is still down, even 27 days after it has been shut down - the story about that will be written up with due distance to this event.

This morning I met my colleagues Helen and Sakine to discuss the future development of the Iran Ant Fauna Project. In this situation, I am the user of antbase and thus realize what it means – if I would not know already – to be cut off from the literature supply.

One of the first thoughts was to think about how we can avoid this in future, and this I am sure will not happen again. The second thought was about the ephemeral nature of the Internet. Somebody outside a project decides to shut down a service and off is such a rather expensive resource. This again is something to keep in mind, but not very helpful right now. The third thought was, I can’t believe it, and there must be ways around.

And there are.

Remember, one important element of antbase was that you can get from a reference directly to the respective page or publication. And this service is now cut, because the link exists, but it does not resolve. The way around is to do the following that works to publications at around 2009.
1. Go to’s WayBackMachine and search for
2. Click the latest snapshot of antbase and enter the search term you want. You can get all the publications out this way.
3. Copy the title of the publication you want into the search field on the upper right corner of and you will get the respective publication from the ant collection Brian and I once helped the Internet Archive to establish.

We are now close to have the entire data moved to a new site and will be able to relaunch antbase within the next days.

General issues are dealt with here.

Specimen collection

Today I got the most extraordinary ant collection for identification ever. I wonder, what words can mean, and how loosely they can be interpreted. I met this student from Mashad at IRIPP to discuss his project to write a book about the ants of Iran. Among others we discussed how he has to label and mount the ants. For that I showed him some examples, and explained it again at the recent first meeting of Iranian myrmecologists and this is the result. Yes, I do not speak Farsi, and I eat up ends of my words, but even pictures (the slides with mounted specimens) don't do the job. A real challenge for intercultural communication.
Even tough I would have preferred a detailed list of specimen information, his list at least includes geo-coordinates (I assume from a GPS in the field) which allows to derive all the rest of the information.
The good thing - though demanding some time - is that there is a wet collection as well.