Ant cricket and beetle Amphotis marginata in a nest of Lasius fuliginosus
The ant Lasius fuliginosus builts its nests into wooden environments, for example tree stumps. In the depth it is shaped by a carton-like substance, produced by the ants and with a „domesticated“ fungus involved. When ant workers leave the nests on trails, marked with pheromones, they might seek for food (mostly aphid secretions) in distances up to 30 meters. In the area around the nest, so called foraging trails are especially busy, as different kinds of foraging substances need to be carried in, in order to feed the fungus, in order to create new cartonage and in order to feed queen, nest mates and offspring.
Such a foraging trail is of course a very attractive place for invaders (non ant species) to either capture some food from the workers on their ways into the nest, or even to attach to these workers to get a ride inside the nest too, interesting for brood parasites for example, but also for all kinds of organisms, which prefer nest micro climatic conditions and want to be additionally secured or at least tolerated by the ants. All these organisms, such as insects, mites or nematodes, even pseudoscorpions, need to have specific adaptations in order to be not attacked by the ants.
Three examples are presented in my video. The ant cricket Myrmecophilus acervorum is a common inhabitant of different ant species. Here I found it while „walking in row and order with the ants“. That unusual tiny cricket is assumed to be able to adopt the „smell“ of a nest, which is why ant workers accept it around them. I discovered the specimen of my footage in a later afternoon (around 18:00 in May 2020) directly on top of the tree stump, in which the nest is hidden (in the depth). There it directly followed ants within their foraging walk to the nest entrances. It was directly walking with them in a row and seemed to imitate additionally antennae movements of ants. It after a while left the row of ants (unharmed and without getting a special attention) and went into a hideaway on the side of the tree stump. Generally, there is not much known about the biology of this cricket. There is evidence that it feeds on food and even brood of the ants.
Another ant trail invader is the tiny beetle Amphiotis marginata (Nitidulidae), which performs behaviors, which make its stay inside foraging trails of ants (seemingly associated with Lasius fuliginosus only) even necessary: Hölldobler & Kwapich (2017) had studied this beetle and its behaviors in detail. According to their findings, the beetle shows a complex behavior to beg for food from passing-by antworkers. Movements of its antennae are an important part of such a contact and might in the optimal case lead to a response by the ant to antennate back to the beetle’s head, and subsequently the beetle might be fed as if it were an ant conspecific. The authors describe that a beetle is not always successful. In the best case, hectic ants on their way home might simply oversee the invader (kleptoparasite), in the worst case, they might detect it as a stranger and would then attack it. For protection, the beetle is able to closely adhere to the ground with its claws, while the side edges of its elytrae are shaped downward to the ground. This way, ants are unable to lift such a beetle up and would continue their ways after a while. Hölldobler and Kwapich also mention that they observed cases, in which ants were nevertheless able to lift detected beetles up and then cut their legs off, which means the end of the beetles adventurous life. The beetle specimen in my footage found a bad position aside to an ant path, which was such busy that it was overseen and even unable to approach single workers to beg for food. The authors above found some indications that the beetle’s larvae might develop inside ant nests.
As an acarologist, I am of course interested in mites, which are associated with ant nests. I in detail was involved in research about non-native ants: in the USA (Lousiana) I did research about the leafcutter ant Atta texana and the red imported fire ant Solenopsis invicta, all in cooperation with John C. Moser. I even described a new species of astigmatid mites from S. invicta. I also did some unpublished research on native ants and thus know that also Lasius fuliginosus possesses greater numbers of mite-associates (Parasitiformes and Acariformes). As an example given in this video, we see a rather big mite of the Mesostigmata (Parasitiformes), which I could not determine closer based on my footage. Mesostigmata generally can appear as phoretic organisms (feeding for example on nematodes or mites inside the ant nests, but being carried by ant workers there), they can also invade by themselves and might appear as brood or kleptoparasites. The mite in my footage walked directly on the ant trail without being harmed. It might be like the ant cricket able to adopt ant nest scents to be protected.
Berlin, Plötzensee/ Rehberge, May 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth