Saturday, November 18, 2006

Male ants update

So I have been going through all of my male ant specimens and trying to identify them, at least to genus. I have been surprisingly successful. I was able to print out a copy of the 1943 Smith paper on North American male ants. This obviously has a lot of drawbacks, just due to its age. Many genera had not been described yet and some of those that had now go by different names. Plus it is only North American ants, which is also not too helpful. I also ordered a copy of the Japanese male ant paper by Yoshimura and Onoyama (2002). This hasn't yet arrived but I was also pointed to an online key of Japanese male ants, which I have been using. Obviously, Japanese ants are not exactly the same thing as ants from the rainforests of South America, so that is definitely a problem. And the website has some basic problems with broken links and very few actual pictures of male ants.

Despite all of these issues, I have found both of these resources to be very useful. By using a combination of these two resources, combined with my own general knowledge of neotropical ants, I have been able to identify a surprisingly large number of specimens to genus. I am beginning to see patterns in how they look and starting to recognize specific genera without the key. I really want to put up some sort of a key to my male ants but I need pictures first, which is a whole different problem I am still working on. Right now, though, I would like to make the following recommendations to anyone working on a similar issue:

Go to the Taxonomic Keys page of the Japanese Ant Image Database. Many of the links in the online key dead end but you can always go to this page and find the appropriate link. Start with the male key to subfamilies and use it a couple of times on some specimens. Then do the same specimens with the Smith key (but first go through the keys and replace the outdated genera names with their current names -- this will make things much less confusing. You can go to the Hymenoptera Name Server to get current names). Between the two keys, you can get a fairly good idea of how to identify male ants to subfamily. Once you've done that, try the genus keys. It won't be easy of course, since the fauna are so different (and paltry compared to Ecuador!), but I have found myself amazingly pleased with my progress. You know you're on the right track when you start to recognize the worker in the ant with a little Aha! Of course that's what you are!

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