Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Swedish Made Simple

Most days I have inane songs stuck in my head. However, for most of today it has been 'F.U.N.E.X?' that has been haunting my thoughts.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Witness to a birth... sort of

Seven weeks ago (to the day) I found a Lasius queen in a soil claustral cell beneath some moss in a woodland.

I don't make a habit of collecting Lasius queens to rear colonies from - they are two-a-penny in the UK (only slightly more expensive than a-dime-a-dozen at todays exchange rate) and the workers are marvellous escapologists, making them difficult to keep.

However, this queen looked like a Lasius flavus queen, so I thought she might be something more interesting since woodland is not the normal habitat for L. flavus. I collected the queen and the soil of the cell surrounding her and placed everything in a tube.

She had remained in that tube until yesterday, when I decided it was time to investigate why I hadn't seen any activity for about three weeks. Of course, this meant that when I discovered the queen and brood and two callow workers it was too late to get them back in the tube, so I had to find them some alternative accommodation in a plaster nest.

I left them to settle into the plaster nest, checking on them every couple of hours. Then in the early evening I counted not two but three workers, so I decided that I would take them into work today, so that I could keep an eye on them.

I'm glad I did. Not a lot happened until 16:00 when, as I was moving to get a drink, I spotted activity. The queen was licking what was obviously an emerging adult ant. The other workers were also showing an above normal level of excitement (i.e. they were moving, rather than just standing over the brood). The queen continued to lick this fourth worker for about 30 minutes, until she left it, twitching, presumably to harden its cuticle.

This was very exciting for me, as in ten years of studying ants it was something I had never before witnessed. To be fair, I've only been keeping ants for about a year and it's the sort of thing that you need to be in the right place at the right time to see.

Once I got them home, at around about 18:00, there was a fifth ant! They are yellow, so I'm becoming more convinced that they are just the common L. flavus, but they're entertaining me.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

New species

I honestly can't remember the last time a new species of invertebrate was found in the UK (excluding bacteria from the definition). That makes it quite an event when something as significant as a slug is found, sort of the British equivalent of the Vu Quang ox.

The slug was described by specialists at the National Museum of Wales and Cardiff University, who named it Selenochlamys ysbryda, after ysbryd, the Welsh word for ghost. The beast is subterranean, lacking pigmentation and blind. It spends its time eating earthworms.

Sadly though, S. ysbryda is probably not native to the UK, as its nearest relatives live in the mountains of eastern Europe, Georgia and eastern Turkey. Because it may have invaded British shores, the National Museum of Wales are seeking any additional records, to see how widespread it is, and have provided an identification guide.

More information can be found at the National Museum of Wales website and BBC News.

Temnothorax saxonicus

It's been too long since I last added anything to this blog, so it is a shame that I write this in the middle of fixing a(nother) mistake. I originally thought this specimen was Temnothorax nylanderi, collected well outside of its known range, and had started to pursue this, involving other people.

Instead it is Temnothorax saxonicus and I'm feeling quite sheepish. What's especially silly is that I collected T. saxonicus again just down the road from this specimen and had no problem with the identification.

I had taken these photographs and was sorting them out when I realised that the head was the wrong shape for T. nylanderi. On checking my measurements I discovered that I had originally incorrectly measured the head width. Thus, instead of the head length being less than 1.090 times the head width, the head was longer, which clearly made this T. saxonicus.

T. saxonicus is a rarity in Germany and is listed as 'highly endangered' (RLD2). The only place I collected it was just west of Poikham, Bavaria, though there is a slim chance that I may have other specimens unidentified. Seifert has told me that he expects this species in any comparable habitat along the river Donau (Danube).