Sunday, January 30, 2005

How to Enjoy "Ants of the San Francisco Bay Area"

Native ants were much more in evidence back in the late 50s and early 60s when I was a boy. Even in those days the coast horned lizard, which specializes in eating native harvester ants, was rare in the Cupertino area -- but at least I ran across a few. The introduced Argentine ant has mostly driven the native ants out anywhere near "civilization". Their extirpation has had an impact on the very structure of the landscape: native plants such as baby blue-eyes historically are ant-dispersed.

When present, ants tend to be "keystone species" -- rather important -- by reason of their sheer numbers and the ways in which they modify their environment. I've read a few books on ants, finding them an interesting study. Recently I marveled at the Ants: Hidden Worlds Revealed exhibit of the California Academy of Sciences in their temporary location in downtown San Francisco, which includes living "working" colonies!

I write to share a couple of Web sites that give great access to the world of local native ants. I discovered it was delightful to use them together. First visit Ants of the Bay Area on the California Academy of Sciences AntWeb. Use their "Search Ants by Bay Area County" function to generate the list of ants native to the county you want to study. It generates a list of species whose names may mean next to nothing to you if you are not an ant specialist. You could click on each to get a picture of a dead ant of that species and some technical taxonomic information.

But here's a better idea for most humans: print out the list, then go to another Web site [or save paper by opening the second Web site in a new window!] more helpful for helping you to get a sense of what they are: -- undoubtedly one of the most user-friendly portals to the world of ants. Alex Wild of the University of California Davis, the author, says: "Ants have been a long-standing interest of mine, and not surprisingly the bulk of my photographic efforts have focused on these insects. The name of this image gallery reflects this emphasis- the word 'myrmecos' derives from the ancient Greek word for ant."

Go to his "Ants" page to pair the names on your list with pages of stunning photographs of living specimens in their natural habitat! Where possible, Alex provides common names -- and natural history notes! With the help of you can make county lists generated by AntWeb "come alive"!

This is a thumbnail (used by permission) of a new world army ant native to the San Francisco Bay Region -- common but rarely seen, Neivamyrmex californicus:

It is a specialist predator of other ants.

To see one of Alex's favorite closeups of one of the red mound ants native to our area, click here:
Formica integroides


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