Myrmecologists the world over said it couldn’t be done.
But Atta Girl did it.
“Ants of the Desert” is a six-song medley about six different ant genera inhabiting arid grasslands near the intersection of the Chihuauan and Sonoran Deserts along the southern Arizona/New Mexico border, in the Chiricahua Mountains. The ant species diversity of this area is high; there are perhaps forty species all together in the habitat where these six are found.
How does one write six different songs only about ants? you ask. Ah, but if you spend some time watching ants, you will learn that they are deliciously diverse in both appearance and habit. Below is some scientific and anecdotal information about the ant species honored in the medley. For more information about these ants, click on the photo (all photos by Jen Fogarty, courtesy of antweb.org) to visit the Antweb site, a veritable treasure trove of ant taxonomy.
|Dorymyrmex (previously Conomyrma) biocolor is in the subfamily Dolichoderinae. They make up for their small size by their large numbers. D. bicolor like to mess with Myrmecocystus mimicus (see below) by pummeling their nest entrance with tiny rocks during peak foraging times, which for some reason seems to keep the larger Myrmecocystus at bay and presumably out of the way.|
|Pogonomyrmex barbatus, affectionately known to entomologists by the nickname "Pogos", are large seed-harvesters in the subfamily Myrmicinae. Though they move deliberately, their sting is powerful, with the same toxin as in rattlesnake venom. You won't miss their nests, which can be a meter across, and six feet deep, containing thousands of workers.|
|Like Dorymyrmex, but much tinier, Forelius are dolichoderines, known to most people as "sugar ants." They hold their own in a desert filled with ants ten or more times their size by swarming densely over their food sources.|
|Novomessor (now Aphaenogaster) cockerelli (Myrmicinae) are the matriarchs of the desert. They forage day and night, cruising around on their long legs like they own the place. They compete and fight with Pogonomyrmex, and are known to plug up Pogo nest entrances with sand early in the morning to reduce competition from them. A delicacy to these ants are vulnerable pre-pupal caterpillars that have begun wandering around to find a spot to make their cocoons.|
|Myrmecocystus mimicus (subfamily Formicinae) are honey pot ants. Workers called "repletes" expand their abdomens into huge balloons to store food for the colony to use during dry spells. The repletes are tempting bounty for both mammals and other M. mimicus colonies who conduct raids, so their nest entrances are tiny and usually well camouflaged. (This gives the blues to scientists trying to map colony locations.)|
|Formica is one of the biggest genera on earth - the name means simply "ant" in Latin. "Formica Lullaby" is about F. perpilosa, which has a special relationship with the lycaenid (blue) butterfly caterpillar Hemiargus isola (which is also sometimes tended by Myrmecocystus, Dorymyrmex, and Forelius for the sweet goo it produces to keep ants around for protection). When the caterpillars have finished feeding on the flowers of acacia trees, they often pupate within Formica nests at the roots.|