Monday, 23 November 2009

Rickia wasmannii everywhere

Thanks to John Pontin for pointing out the Rickia infested ant in one of this years Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. I had the portfolio at home, but hadn't noticed the fungus on the ant. It's a bit hard to tell from the online image, but is really quite clear when it's a bit bigger.

I'm thinking that the ant is probably Myrmica rubra. As far as I know, R. wasmannii has not been recorded on this species before. Perhaps the photographer, András Mészáros, would be able to help establish whether I'm right?

I'm starting to think that R. wasmannii is actually quite common in Europe, but just under-recorded. Has anyone else made Rickia sightings?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blog Action Day 2009

Those nice folks at Blog Action Day don't seem to know how to make things simple. Kittens. If they decided to make kittens the subject I'd be able to write a nice concise blog on why kittens are important. Instead I'm left to ponder how to cover undoubtedly the biggest issue of our time: climate change.

The trouble is that with a subject this big, it's hard to know what to write. After weeks of wondering what to write I'm afraid that I'm going to do a stream-of-conciousness on the subject. This will start with me getting back on my soap box, briefly, and mentioning biodiversity loss (I've already covered the subject before): I really care about all biodiversity, from the smallest to largest, cuddly to ugly, friendly to just plain scary, I think it's all amazing. I find it staggeringly difficult to understand how people can not feel a similar sense of awe and wonder. The biggest threat to this thing that I love is climate change.

However, it's not just wildlife that will suffer, as humans will too. Part of this will be as a direct impact of climate change, part will be as a result of the loss of biodiversity. It will and has arguably already started to happen all over the world. It will be have respect for money or power. Saving our failing economy will not help us in the long run. Quite frankly, if we don't do something, we're screwed.

There may be some sceptics reading this. I'm never quite sure what you say to sceptics. Do you ask whether they think after 30 years of collecting data and improved modelling, hundreds of experts worldwide are wrong? Do you ask them whether they think it is some kind of global conspiracy? Do you tell them that denial won't stop these things from happening? Or do you simply tell them to wake up to the fact that a single species can have a significant, long-term impact upon an entire planet?

The rest of us have to continue to strive to make a small difference. I'm guilty of failing to do this as much as anyone. I'm currently sitting in an artificially lit office, writing on a computer that is draining electricity. None of us are going to eliminate our energy requirements altogether, but it would be nice to think that we could all get into some positive habits that, when multiplied up, might just make ensure a better future.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Rickia wasmannii in the UK

Did anyone else notice the photograph on Plate 8 of the 'Ants of Surrey', captioned 'A rare variety of M. sabuleti with unusually shaped hairs? I'd had the book for ages and not paid any attention to it until a few weeks back. The unusually shaped hairs looked remarkably familiar to me.

I emailed John Pontin, to see if he had any specimens of these ants. After a bit of a mix-up over my address (which has changed since the last BWARS newsletter, by the way) I finally retrieved the two specimens he sent to me. They are covered with Rickia wasmannii, as I suspected, more so than the specimens I collected in Bavaria. This fulfils my ambition of finding it first in the UK, even if I didn't collect it. It also means probably two more papers to write (one for the mycologists, one for the myrmecologists).

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Lasius neglectus found in the UK

According to a BBC News report released yesterday the invasive species Lasius neglectus has been found in Gloucestershire in the UK.

For those who are unaware of L. neglectus, it is a relatively newly discovered invasive ant species. It has been marching across Europe and, because it does not seem to be too bothered by cold conditions, a number of myrmecologists have been predicting that it will become or was already established in the UK, making it the first non-native ant that could survive away from heated buildings. The question was how long it would take for its presence to be realised, as it looks very similar to the common black garden ant Lasius niger.

More information on the identification, biology and status of L. neglectus.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Swiss ant list

I visited Switzerland in June 2009 and have started to work through the specimens collected. This list will grow over the next few months and I'll try to get some photographs of the more interesting species up.

          sp. A 1

1 See: Schlick-Steiner & al. (2006). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 40: 259-273.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Competition time

My first ever competition, and it's a tricky one!

Can anyone correctly identify the ant in the photograph? I'll start the competition with no clues and we'll see how it goes. (I'll probably find out if anyone's still reading this blog after my months of absence.)

I'll send a hard copy of my next paper (which will probably be about this ant) to the first person to correctly identify it to species level. Plus you'll get the respect of your peers.

Those with whom I've already spoken about this are excluded from the competition - they'll just have to ask me nicely for the paper.

Friday, 24 July 2009

No apologies

I will not make excuses for not blogging recently.
I will not make excuses for not blogging recently.
I will not mkae excuses for not blogging recently.
I will not make excuses for not bloging recently.
I will not make excuses for not blogging recently.
I will not make excuses for not blogging recently...

Ant work resumed again last night. Blogs may follow.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Selenochlamys ysbryda

Way too many things stopping me from posting at the moment, from my computer dying completely (thankfully it turned out that I only needed to reset the bios to repair it) to major, if welcome, distractions. I'm sure that things will settle down eventually, but for now I'm anticipating ants taking a back seat. I know: it truly is a scary thing to consider.

Back in July I reported on a species new to science from the UK, the ghost slug Selenochlamys ysbryda.

One of my new colleagues saw something last year that he claimed to be a ghost slug right outside of our office building in Talgarth, but wasn't able to get Cardiff Museum to verify it without a photograph. Last week, having given up hope of finding another one, he found it again in the same spot. Again, no one could find a camera, so I picked it up, took it home and now have a pet slug.

So here it is! The photograph below was confirmed by Ben Rowson at Cardiff Museum as S. ysbryda, who also stated that Talgarth is the furthest north that this species has been found (though Brecon comes a close second). The other verified records are from Caerphilly, Cardiff, Gorseinon and Newport, so it's evidently not been widely found yet. I shall be looking out for it in my garden in Bronllys, about two miles further north.

I shall be taking this specimen, and any others that I find, to Cardiff Museum, to assist with their research on the species. Until then it'll be feeding on worms from my garden.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

New year, new home, new job, new species

Apologies for the lack of recent posts. I moved at the end of November to start a new job in Talgarth, Wales. Following my move it took my ISP a whole month to set up my connection here, with a lot of extended phone calls and a rather long and comprehensive written complaint from me to get them to sort it out as quick as they did. Needless to say I am not best pleased with the company.

One rather important event that took place over the last month was that my recent paper was published, describing a new species, Monomorium subcomae. It may not be much, but it is my first new species. (I don't have the time or resources to conduct large scale taxonomic reviews. At the time I did the M. subcomae work I was working off of a table in my kitchen - at least now I have a dedicated office/lab.)

The type material for M. subcomae was collected in Kuwait by David M. King, though Mostafa Sharaf has already informed me that he has the species from Egypt. The specimens gradually found their way to me through Brian Taylor, along with numerous other tubes from around the Mediterranean.

M. subcomae is one of many species in the Middle East and North Africa that are related to Monomorium areniphilum, all of which have a propodeum that it on a distinctly lower plane than the promesonotum, as well as large eyes and distinctive striate sculpture on the head. Not many of the areniphilum-complex are bicoloured, so this makes M. subcomae relatively easy to identify. The key in Collingwood & Agosti (1996) can be easily adapted to include M. subcomae as follows:

17Eyes large, greater than 0.25 times HW 17a
 Eyes small, 0.25 times HW or less 18
17aVentral surface of head with numerous long setae subcomae
 Ventral surface of head glabrous venustum

As yet nothing is known about the ecology of M. subcomae. Perhaps over time people like Mostafa will be able to fill in some of the details.

Citation and abstract: Lush, M. J. 2008. A new species of Monomorium (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) from Kuwait. Zoology in the Middle East 45: 67-72.