Formicidae

January 18th, 2016
By Bremer,Jonathan Sloan

Our lab’s Plant for Wildlife project uses colored pan traps to survey the insect diversity present in suburban environments in and around Gainesville, FL. Though our study focuses on likely pollinators, other groups of insects that are not usually thought of as effective pollinators are trapped as well. One of the most common insect families found in our samples is Formicidae: the ants. Approximately 1000 species of ants are known to live in North America north of Mexico and can be found in almost any type of habitat from the most arid deserts to rainforest to tundra. Ants are very important to many of these ecosystems and often make up a significant portion of the animal biomass. All known non-parasitic ant species are eusocial, meaning that female ants will produce two different types of offspring: reproductive males and females (often called “alates” because they have wings in order to disperse effectively) and sterile female workers that gather food, build nests and care for young.

Formicidae from NW Gainesville May, 2013

Unidentified alate from NW Gainesville May, 2013

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Male Eurhopalothrix sp. from NW Gainesville  September, 2013

In some ants, workers are differentiated into different morphological types called “castes”. These polymorphic workers are most commonly divided in minor workers and major workers or “soldiers”. Minor workers tend to do most of the foraging and care for the nest while major workers usually have enlarged heads with powerful mandibles that are used to defend the nest.

Members of the genus Pogonomyrmex gather seeds to feed their colonies and are widespread and very diverse in the southwestern United States, but only one species, P. badius, is found in Florida. P. badius is also the only member of the genus known to have polymorphic workers. The soldier caste is pictured below.

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Pogonomyrmex badius soldier from Melrose, FL May, 2015

Other ant species are specialist predators. The workers of the genus Odontomachus (commonly known as trap-jaw ants) hunt springtails and other small invertebrates. Their long mandibles are held outward at 180 degrees until their prey contacts one of a number of specialized sensory hairs above the mouth. The jaws then snap closed with incredible speed (one of the fastest movements in the animal kingdom), stunning or impaling the prey on inward pointing teeth.

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Odontomachus sp. worker from NW Gainesville September, 2013

Workers in the genus Strumigenys are not closely related to Odontomachus but have similar adaptations for hunting small, fast-moving prey. Because of their small size and habit of nesting and foraging underground, they are less frequently observed.

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Strumigenys gundlachi from NW Gainesville September, 2013

For more information and amazing photographs, visit the links below.

AntWeb

Myrmecos

Be sure to visit the site again soon. It’s a new year, and we have a lot of exciting new projects starting in the Spring.

Chrysididae

November 24th, 2015
By Bremer,Jonathan Sloan

The hymenopteran family Chrysididae (also known as the “cuckoo wasps”) derives it’s name from the greek word, chrysis, meaning “golden” and refers to the bright metallic coloration shared by most members of the family. It has been suggested that this metallic appearance causes the wasps to be more difficult for birds and other predators to capture. Although they are related to stinging wasps, the chrysids’ stingers have been modified into long tubes that they use to lay eggs in the nests of other insects.

Chrysis sp. (Chrysididae: Chrysidinae)

Chrysis sp. (Chrysididae: Chrysidinae)

Members of the subfamily Chrysidinae have exoskeletons that are heavily sculptured and abdomens that are concave on the underside, allowing them to roll into a ball. These are adaptations that were developed in order to survive the attacks of the stinging wasps and bees that they parasitize. The larvae feed directly on the host bee or wasp larva or kill the host larva and feed on the provisions gathered by its parent, a feeding strategy known as kleptoparasitism.

Amisega floridensis (Chrysididae: Amiseginae)

Amisega floridensis (Chrysididae: Amiseginae)

Members of the subfamily Amiseginae retain the metallic green or blue coloration of their cousins in the Chrysidinae but lack the heavy sculpturing and ability to roll into a ball. This is because they seek out and lay their eggs in the eggs of stick insects, a seemingly safer way to make a living. Both of the specimens pictured above were captured in colored pan traps in NW Gainesville during the summer of 2013 as a part of the Plant for Wildlife project.

BugGuide

Chrysis.net

Art in Biology continues

November 16th, 2015
By Bremer,Jonathan Sloan

Thank you so much to everyone who came to the Hippodrome on Friday night to see the opening of the Art in Biology show. We got a great response and enjoyed the opportunity to answer questions about our work. If you missed the opening, there is still time! The show is going to be up through November 22nd, and the Hippodrome Gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from approximately 5:30 until 8:30 pm. For anyone will not be able to make it out, the photos and descriptions from the Special Projects Lab are available at the following link. Online Gallery

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Jon Bremer stands next to his photos.

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Chris Johns and Peter Houlihan explain their work.

Tonight!

November 13th, 2015
By Bremer,Jonathan Sloan

Come out tonight, and see all of the amazing art and science by Sarah Beth Carey, Chris A. Johns, Emily Woodruff, Mitch Walters, Lindsay Johnson, Barry Kaminsky, Stephanie Cinkovich, Zach Randall, Cody Coyotee, Peter Houlihan and Jonathan S. Bremer!

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Hanging in the Gallery

November 10th, 2015
By Bremer,Jonathan Sloan

Today, we hung all of the photos for the Art in Biology show on Friday evening. Everyone’s photos look amazing!

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Art in Biology Show update

November 5th, 2015
By Bremer,Jonathan Sloan

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Four of the artist/biologists participating in the show. From left: Cody Howard, Lindsay Johnson, Jon Bremer, Sarah Carey. Photo by Bernard Brzezinski/UF Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out news.ufl.edu today for a write-up on the Art in Biology photography show at the Hippodrome Theatre.

 

Art in Biology at The Hippodrome Gallery

November 3rd, 2015
By Bremer,Jonathan Sloan

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Later this month, a group of researchers from UF Biology and the Florida Museum of Natural History will be displaying photographs from their research in the art gallery at the Hippodrome Theatre. An opening reception will be held November 13th, 2015 from 6-8pm. The exhibition will open for viewers until November 21st. Jon Bremer will be displaying photographs of pollinators from the Plant for Wildlife project and Schaus’ Swallowtails from our captive population. Come see our research subjects magnified!

Butterfly Pupae

October 12th, 2015
By Bremer,Jonathan Sloan

Here in the Special Projects Lab, we are almost always rearing some type of butterfly for research or conservation purposes. Often, these butterflies will live out their entire life cycles, egg through adult,  right here in the lab. When a caterpillar is finished growing, outdoors or in our lab, it will attach itself to a twig or leaf and molt its last larval skin, becoming the butterfly’s pupal stage, the chrysalis. This stage is non-motile and while in it, the caterpillar reorganizes most of its tissues and becomes the adult butterfly. Following is a selection of composite photographs of three pupae we have had in the lab over the past couple of months.

D. gilippus

Danaus gilippus pupa. ~24mm

The chrysalis of the Queen, like many other chrysalides, has markings that appear bright metallic gold. These butterflies are similar to Monarchs (D. plexippus) in appearance and host plant preference.

E. atala

Eumaeus atala pupa. ~16mm

The pupa of the Atala is usually found along with others on a frond of a cycad, attached with black silk. The yellow spots on the dorsal aspect of the caterpillar can still be seen on the bottom of the chrysalis pictured above.

Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus

Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus pupa. ~29mm

The pupa of the Schaus’ Swallowtail, like the other swallowtails, is held upright by a sling of silk around the middle. The individual shown above is unusually light-colored; most are dark brown or grey.

 

For more on what happens inside chrysalides, see this episode of the podcast Radiolab, featuring our collections coordinator, Andrei Sourakov. Click this YouTube link to see a monarch caterpillar molting and forming a chrysalis.

 

FANN Collaboration

September 28th, 2015
By Bremer,Jonathan Sloan

Recently, our outreach, conservation work and collaborations with the Florida Wildflower Foundation and the Florida Association of Native Nurseries for the Florida Milkweed Project were featured in the FANN Native Plant and Service Directory and outlined on the FANN website. This collaborative project involves collection and production of native ecotype milkweed seeds and providing information on best practices for gardeners and professionals.

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Dukes’ Skipper

September 28th, 2015
By Bremer,Jonathan Sloan

This weekend, our team went out into the field to learn how to find and identify the Dukes’ Skipper (Euphyes dukesi), a rare and localized butterfly in the family Hesperiidae. Though the species exists in several disjunct populations along the Atlantic coast of North America and the Mississippi River valley, the northern Florida population is recognized as a distinct subspecies (Euphyes dukesi calhouni), sometimes referred to as the Florida Swamp Skipper.

Most of our morning was spent inspecting areas with suitable host and nectar plants in the hydric hammock of the refuge with no luck. Many similar-looking species were sighted, but no Dukes’. As it got later in the afternoon, we were able to find a small stretch of road along a flooded area where the preferred host plants (Rhynchospora sp.) were growing. Once there, we were able to spot four individuals of the Dukes’, observe them in their natural state and also snap a few photographs.

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Euphyes dukesi calhouni female

 

This will be valuable experience for our field team in the coming months as we will be surveying sites all over the state in order to assess the status of the population in Florida. Stay tuned for more updates on this and other projects!

More information on the Dukes’ Skipper:

Xerces Society

BugGuide

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