Subject: These aren’t salamanders!
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
April 25, 2016 9:32 am
I was recently on a salamander hunt in an urban forest environment when I came across the following nest under a rock. I leaned in close and was surprised to see that the round white ones had legs (and antennae) and were not just larvae as I had thought. I’ve included two photos: the first being the overall view of the hole beneath the rock and the second a closer view of the larvae (?).
We’ve had some issues in the recent past in the Halifax region in Nova Scotia with fire ants creeping up and I thought I may have come across one of their nests while in the woods (“woods” used very loosely as I can see houses if I squint and hear the highway in close proximity). After spending awhile searching through the life cycles of various ant types, I then wondered if perhaps I had happened across ants feeding upon the larvae of another insect. I’m hoping you’re able to clear up my my confusion, but in the meantime I’ll keep searching – maybe the actual paper insect ID book might be helpful.
If it makes any difference, the area where I found the nest is a few metres away from a small area of wetland and we have had a relatively mild winter so there was not a lot of snow melt.
You have happened across Ants, but instead of “feeding upon the larvae of another insect” they are harvesting honeydew from Aphids. We did not recognize either your yellow ants or the white Aphids, so we searched on the web and quickly found the Cornell blog New York State IPM Program and a posting of Citronella Ants caring for or tending Root Aphids. The site states: “The life and habits of citronella ants aren’t well-studied, but they do have one fascinating trait. They tend herds of underground aphids, known as root aphids as if they were cattle, and harvesting sweet honeydew excreted by the sap-loving aphids. Root aphids feed on the roots of shrubs and plants.” Additional images and information can be found on Wild About Ants, Scientific American and BugGuide.