Thursday, May 11, 2006

Solenopsis Sucks!

Oh, how I hate thee, let me count the ways.

1) There are lots and lots of species but no good identification key. Nothing. Even Jack Longino doesn't have a key for Costa Rican Solenopsis. And he has a key for everything.

2) They are really really small.

3) A good many of them look very, very similar. There aren't a lot of good characteristics to latch onto so even putting them into morphospecies is difficult.

4) At the same time, there is quite a lot of variation within species in terms of size, color, etc.

5) I have a lot of them to go through -- 557 at last count.

5) I think they're looking at me funny.

I have just spent the last two days back at Harvard trying to get all of my Solenopsis specimens into morphospecies. I'm not done yet but I have made significant progress. I do have a couple of morphospecies that I feel very good about but I also have a lot of morphospecies that I do not feel good about at all. Fortunately, Stefan said he would take a look at them when I was done and see if he agrees with whatever I did, so at least I have that. Thank God. Things I have learned:

  • Solenopsis sucks (see above)
  • Every single one of my specimens which I thought were Carebarella were actually Solenopsis. This is good in that I have one less genus to deal with but bad in that I, apparently, also suck.
  • Staring at ants all day is hard. Taking a break is good. I recommend taking a break with someone who has cool ant tattoos like Corrie Moreau.
  • Thief ants, a subgroup of Solenopsis, have an awesome taxonomic history. I copied the following paragraph from an unpublished revision by Isidra Moreno Gonzalez and Bill Mackay which is on Bill Mackay's website:
"This group of ants was originally proposed as the subgenus Diplorhoptrum of Solenopsis by Mayr, in 1855. In 1862, Mayr synonymized the subgenus with Solenopsis, where it remained until 1930. Creighton (1930) revived it from synonymy with Solenopsis, where it remained as a subgenus until 1966, when Ettershank synonymized it again with Solenopsis. In 1968, Baroni-Urbani raised it to the status of a genus, later Kempf (1972) again synonymized it with Solenopsis, where it has remained (Bolton, 1987)." How fun is that?

Bill's site, by the way, does have a key to a portion of Solenopsis, but it is incomplete, has not been published, and may or may not be useful. I personally have not found it too helpful. I have pretty much given up on putting any names on anything and am just trying to sort to morphospecies at this point. I did get one actual name -- S. virulens -- on a giant fire ant, but am not expecting much more than that. I do have a couple of very distinct ones, though, so as soon as I can get my pictures up I will put them up on my website for everyone to see. Maybe someone will just be able to recognize them.


  1. Totally agree about Solenopsis. S. virulens is the only Solenopsis I could put a name on, too. And ecountering these little beasts in the forest, was one of the few moments when I was tempted to drop my pants... They sting like hell.

  2. it sucks so bigtime, i cannot say how much, it really s u c k s.