Identifying The Ants You Find This Ant Keeping Season.
Whether you are new to ant keeping or an experienced myrmecologist, identifying the genus and species of an ant can be rather tricky. This is especially true when you are trying to identify a queen rather than workers. If you try to identify ants all by yourself in my opinion you will probably struggle for quite awhile. One of the best things you can do is use the vast array of resources available to you!
Taxonomers.com is an excellent user driven resource that allows fellow ant keepers to help identify ants. Even more importantly in my opinion is the sites ability to collect data about nuptial flights. The site can track a huge range of environmental factors such as weather, elevation, location, time of day, time of year etc. I believe the potential use of this information to better predict where and when nuptial flights will occur cannot be underestimated.
What I hope people realise from the later part of this article is that identifying ants can be really tricky. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Join Facebook groups, use Taxonomers.com and other resources. The ant keeping community is always happy to help!
Now if you're not from Australia this next section unfortunately won't be as applicable to you, however I think it would be a good idea to go through some of the most common Australian ants that people request to have identified. It's impossible to go through everything but maybe this can help. Or you can just enjoy the pictures.
Iridomyrmex and Ochetellus
I frequently see people requesting help to identify a small (<10mm) black queen ant they have found in their garden. 90% of the time it's a small species of Iridomyrmex, or Ochetellus, an extremely similar genus, unfortunately it's often impossible without a powerful microscope to tell the difference or a specific species. As a result we often end up accepting Iridomyrmex sp. or Ochetellus sp. as the ID
The only Iridomyrmex species in my opinion that is easy to identify is the infamous Iridomyrmex purpureus. Iridomyrmex purpureus queens are entirely black (unlike the workers) and are very large ( >15 mm), The workers however have iridescent gasters and a purple/red thorax and head. These ants are notoriously aggressive despite being relatively small.
Polyrhachis has got to be amongst my favourite ants, and I think many people associate me with these girls now? The distinguishing feature of the genus is the spikes on the petiole, the section connecting the gaster and the thorax. Polyrhachis are often metallic in colour and have various spikes and spines.
Camponotus are some of the largest ants in Australia, The queens for these ants are just incredible, ranging from 10mm to 20mm in some of the largest species. The Camponotus queen is often the mental image most people have when they picture a queen ant. Huge size, big domed back and a plump gaster. The workers have both minor and major castes and it's these huge soldiers that can sometimes be confussed with Myrmecia.
I don't think I really need to say much with these guys ... Just look at those mandibles. Queens can bey tough to pick without a lot of experience as some species are wingless creating an underdeveloped thorax. Differentiating between species can also be challenging as some species have finite difference between them. As you become familiar with the ants in your area you'll begin to ID to species level quicker.
Hope you enjoyed checking out some awesome Aussie Ants !