biologe

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Tag: deadwood

Ant Lasius fuliginosus: Winged alates and insect/mite nest cohabitants

Ants usually reproduce via mating flights. So also the black wood ant Lasius fuliginosus, whose nest I discovered in the Berlin urban park „Rehberge“, where it was (and is) located in the depth under a spruce tree stump. I filmed them under favorable (climatic) for mating flights.

In some cases workers needed to force them to stay out. This behavior is well visible in my film.

Do ants live alone inside their nests? No, not at all. Numerous non-ant-organisms are adapted in living with them, using all kinds of tricks to be not attacked by the ant workers. A known example is the beetle Amphiotis marginata. Where do they reproduce, where does the offspring lives and develops? Semingly according to science and researcher Prof. B. Hölldobler still partly unknown. I also cannot contribute much. But: An undetermined larva of the same family, Nitidulidae, was found to be active under fruit bodies of the fungus Trametes versicolor on the nest top, adjacent to a beetle pupa (not known, whether the same species or family). When exposed to the ant trail near the fungus, the nitidulid larva was attacked, but not caught and was seemingly sufficiently defensive without a visible activity, thus may be chemically. The behavior is visible in my footage. The pupa in contrary was caught and carried away by the ant workers.

Numerous other insects, many mite species and nematodes inhabit ant nests. But some might just occasionally get in contact with a „suddenly“ forming ant nest colony, being remnants may be from former conditions, and nevertheless persist the passing ants on their crowded trails. Two species of mites of the Astigmata seemed to belong to that kind of cohabitants.

According to the visible different galleries of bark attacking insects, it is assumed that this was the way, how these mites came to their place on the inside of the (still partly well intact being) bark of the spruce stump, may be indicating that it was not too long ago felled down. Most conspicuous were the irregular shaped galleries of the bark beetle Dryocoetes autographus (Scolytinae), partly still equipped with remnants of dead beetle individuals. As typical secondary bark infesting insect, this beetle prefers harmed or dead wood. And might have been there already before or while the ant nest grew.

Film about ant Lasius fuliginosus in a park in Berlin with nest cohabitants, 2020, all copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

The mites were found free or attached to a wood insect on: the inside of the bark, which the ants use as major trail to access their main nest in the depth, means much ant fluctuation. But there was no clear indication for a direct phoretic interaction with the ants, because species one was only found as one deutonymph attached to another insect host, species 2 in different instars, rather no further ant-transport necessary.

Species one: a deutonymph on an undetermined beetle larva, later isolated and filmed via light microscope in motion. Seemingly belonging to Acaridae. Species two: two or three free deutonymphs and two tritonymphs close to bark beetle remnants, being Histiostomatidae, seemingly Histiostoma dryocoeti Scheucher, 1957. Due to the filming activities and the few mites, no slides were prepared, determinations are based on light microscopic footage and photos of living (thus not cleared) individuals. Scheucher’s description is bad and lacks juveniles, males and the female’s dorsum, the deutonymph’s drawing is almost sketch-like. Already for that reason, I determine my mites as Histiostoma cf. dryocoeti. being determined basically based on the deutonymph. Also because I could not see all important deutonymphal details, but the shape (smurf-house-roof-shaped, dorsal view) of the proterosoma, the entire body proportions, the pattern of dorsal setae (as far as visible on the photos) and especially their shape (like typically for bark-beetle-histiostomatids more or less directed forewards, but distinctly shorter than normally) as well as the leg shapes (distal end similar to Scheucher’s drawings) and the rather small rounded suckerplate and the short palposoma (ending with or before dorsal proterosoma) fit more or less to her description. The seemingly corresponding tritonymphs were not described by her, but according to my research fit at least to bark-beetle-species (dorsal structures). But paired posterior elongations are visible and might (not necessarily) indicate similar structures in adult females too, while Scheucher doesn’t show the female dorsum at all and just writes „no special features existing“ about it. Thus the tritonymphal morphology forces me to name the species with „cf.“ even more. The tritonymphal mouthparts (palparmembrane) seemingly show lateral elongations (almost fitting to Scheucher’s description).

I filmed on one day directly on the nest, mites were recorded the same day and subsequent days (end May, beginning June)at home using a light microscope with upper light and a stereo microscope.

Berlin, December 2020, copyrights Stefan F. Wirth

Systematics and biology of termites and about their phoretic associations

They live in eusocial communities, but are not closer related to ants or bees. Termites belong to the cockroaches.

 

Queen, king and castes

 

Usually one queen and one king are reproductive and act as heads of the nest. The different work fields of a nest are executed by infertile specimens, which can show very different and specialized body shapes. The diversity of different castes is in phylogenetically „primitive“ taxa lower than in „higher developed“ termite groups.

 

As example specimens of a deadwood species from Italy

 

This species was found in deadwood of a small forest in Portici (Gulf of Naples, Italy) and might represent the taxon Kalotermitidae. This taxon branches off rather basically  in the systematic tree of termites. Nest work can be taken over by nymphs of later alates.

 

deadwood-termites from Italy, Youtube: copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, April 2020

 

 

How is wood-eating possible?

 

Wood eating termites bear bacteria and protozoans  in their digestive tracts, which perform the digestion of cellulose.

 

Evolution, sister taxon and endosymbionts

 

Termites (Isoptera) evolved within the cockroaches (Blattodea). According to modern systematics (e.g.  Beccaloni & Eccleton, 2011) the cockroach taxon Cryptocercidae is the sister-clade of the termites. But there are controversial theories existing.

According to such reconstructions, the last common ancestor of cockroach taxon Cryptocercidae and termites possessed bacterial and protozoan endosymbionts. Molecular data proved that endosymbionts in both groups are closely related to each other. The last common ancestor of both groups showed in case of their indeed sister-group-relation a tendency towards social communities. Cryptocercidae live temporarily in bigger groups together with their offspring.

 

Subsocial lifestyle in Cryptocercidae

 

Cockroaches of the Cryptocercidae as putative sister taxon of termites live inside galleries in deadwood and feed on wood fibres. At least one parent and its nymphs live subsocially inside their galleries. Cryptocercidae adults and nymphs groom each other, and parents feed juveniles with wood fragments afer these had passed their anus openings.

 

According to recent systematic/ phylogenetic reconstructions the Kalotermitidae belong to the basically branching termite groups. Such basic groups of termites still show a low diversity of castes only.

 

Associates, commensalism and phoresy

 

Like ants or bees, termites share their nests regularly with associates of other groups of animals,

often mites and nematodes. Some of these organisms use termites as carriers for a transport over bigger distances. details of such associations between insects and mites are not well studied yet. But carrier-passenger-situations with transfer („taxi“-) purposes are called phoresy. Phoresy ist mostly considered as a neutral association between different organisms and is thus interpreted as commensalism. Commensalism is differed from strategies like parasiticm or symbiosis and requires that two organisms in association do not harm or noticeably benefit each other. The term commensalism often includes associations, in which the true context for both organism partners is simply not understood yet.

 

Not yet mites of the Gamasina (Parasitiformes) were reared in greater numbers out of my Italian termite substrate. They might represent phoretic cohabitants of those termites. Other mite species of different mite groups (Parasitiformes and Acariformes) were only found in smaller numbers and died out too quickly for collections and determinations under my culture conditions, unfortunately already before the beginning of my shootings. seemingly microclimatic conditions had become too unfavorable.

 

Copyrights Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin 2019 – 2020, all rights reserved