Meccas for Myrmecology: Mobile, Alabama

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The port at Mobile, Alabama, photographed from across the bay.

The port city of Mobile, Alabama holds special significance for students of ant science.  Jo-anne and I took a weekend trip down to the gulf coast in January, and as we are both myrmecologists we felt compelled to stop and take a few photographs.  Not only is Mobile the childhood home of ant guru E. O. Wilson, but the city's docks have been the point of introduction into North America for some notorious pest ants.  We'd have neglected our intellectual heritage to just drive through.

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Mobile's busy international commerce has made it ground zero for several biological invasions, mostly stowaway species carried accidentally in cargo.   The most famous is the red fire ant Solenopsis invicta, but it is likely that the port also welcomed the South American big-headed ant Pheidole obscurithorax and the rover ant Brachymyrmex patagonicus.  Below are portraits of Mobile's evil ant spawn:

Solenopsis invicta

Solenopsis invicta

Pheidole obscurithorax

Pheidole obscurithorax

Brachymyrmex patagonicus

Brachymyrmex patagonicus

Oddly, all three of these ants are from the Paraguay river basin.  It's as if Mobile is a wormhole through which the South American ant fauna transports itself for reassembly in the northern hemisphere.

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As if we didn't already have enough pest ants to worry about, here is a relatively new one. The rover ant Brachymyrmex patagonicus, a tiny South American species, has been working its way under the radar across the southern United States. Its presence is now large enough that pest control…
Solenopsis geminata, the tropical fire ant The latest upload concerns three species in the subfamily myrmicinae that have been traveling about the globe with human commerce.  Solenopsis geminata, the tropical fire ant, is the most worrying of these tramps, but the other two, Pheidole moerens and…
Figure 1. For the 32 most-studied ant species, the percentage of publications 1984-2008 in various contexts. In thinking about where the myrmecological community ought to devote resources in the age of genomics, it occcured to me that putting some numbers on where researchers have previously…
My earlier list of the most-studied ant species contained a few omissions.  Here is a more inclusive list: Ant species sorted by number of BIOSIS-listed publications, 1984-2008 The Top 10 Species Publications Solenopsis invicta 984 Linepithema humile 343 Lasius niger 250 Formica rufa 167 Atta…

Thank you for sharing these nice pics. The two tiny Rover Ants enjoying their sugary meal are quite tiny. A pest who looks really nice, a bit like so many small rodents...

When rewiring a light post in my front yard in Mobile, Alabama, hundreds of very large ants came pouring out of the post from underground. They occasionally jumped and it made a sort of clicking noise. Their actions were aggressive and obviously agitated, yet not toward me as I kept my distance. They were very fast and had a sort of odd shaped head, not being round. They were quite dark in color and they quickly disappeared into the grass below. I should have captured a few of them for identification purposes, but that was not foremost on my mind at the time.

I did not recognize these ants, even having graduated in Biology from the University of South Alabama a few years ago. I did a few searches on the internet and the closest description and photographs were that of the Myrmeciinae Myrmecia. I found no information on this ant having taken residence in North America. If you have any information on what I described, please comment and I will be notified.

By Joelle Webb (not verified) on 27 Mar 2009 #permalink