Ants in George Payne Cossar State Park, Yalobusha County, Mississippi [MS State Park Ants]

Joe A. MacGown and Rebekah J. Jones

            George P. Cossar State Park is located eight miles east of Oakland just off Hwy 55 in Yalobusha County Mississippi. The park is situated on Enid Lake and offers many activities, many of which are centered around the lake. Vacation cabins and campsites are available, a restaurant is open year around, there is a swimming pool, and several other attractions. Much of the forest in the park is mixed hardwood-pine and a nature trail loops through a part of the forest near the boat launch area. An additional advantage of the park is that much of it is surrounded by the Holly Springs National Forest.

            While out collecting ants and other insects on 28 July 2005 in northcentral Mississippi, we decided to see what species we could find at George P. Cossar State Park. We arrived at the park just before lunch and explored the area a bit before stopping at the nature trail (34°07'46"N 89°53'25"W) where we began our collections. The trail was located near the boat launch area and passed through a mixed pine-hardwood forest that had many scattered rotting logs, many of which bordered the trail edges. The woods here proved to have a good smattering of many common woodland species. As we traversed the area we spotted several formicine ants including four species of carpenter ants, Camponotus americanus Mayr (a reddish species with a black head), Camponotus chromaiodes Bolton (the red carpenter ant), Camponotus decipiens Emery (a bicolored red and black species), and Camponotus pennsylvanicus (DeGeer) (the black carpenter ant), and two species of Formica, F. dolosa Buren and F. pallidefulva Latreille. These two reddish Formica species greatly resemble carpenter ants but differ in that the workers have ocelli present on the head, a characteristic not found in Camponotus workers. Interestingly, several of the F. pallidefulva colonies that we found were in rotting branches on the ground, which differed from their usually nesting in the soil. Two other common species, Paratrechina faisonensis (Forel) and Brachymyrmex depilis Emery, also in the same subfamily, were found nesting in soil and leaf litter.

          The subfamily Myrmicinae was well represented with 17 species collected. Among these, four species of Aphaenogaster were found including A. carolinensis (Wheeler), A. fulva Roger, A. lamellidensMayr, and A. treatae Forel. These ants are some of the larger myrmicine ants found in the state and many species are associated with rotting wood. However, some species also nest in the soil including A. carolinensis and A. treatae. Two species of the dimorphic Pheidole genus, P. dentata Mayr and P. dentigula Smith, were found here. Pheidole dentata colonies were found in rotting wood and in the soil, and P. dentigula was found nesting in soil under leaf litter. Scattered colonies of the fungus gardening ant, Trachymyrmex septentrionalis (McCook), were found in the soil along the trail. Crematogaster lineolata (Say) and Temnothorax pergandei Emery were found crawling on the ground. Monomorium minimum (Buckley) colonies were also found in the soil along the trail.

         Several additional species were collected in soil and leaf litter samples including Stigmatomma pallipes (Haldeman), Hypoponera opacior (Forel), Ponera pennsylvanica Buckley, Strumigenys angulata Smith , Strumigenys ohioensis Kennedy & Schramm, Strumigenys rostrata Emery, Strumigenys louisianae Roger, Temnothorax curvispinosus Mayr, and Myrmecina americana Emery. Stigmatomma pallipes is a relatively large, dark colored, primitive species that has distinctive elongate, bidentate mandibles. Both Hypoponera and Ponera are common litter dwelling ants that resemble certain small wingless wasps. The four Strumigenys species collected are all minute, slow moving dacetine ants that possess strange strange setal ornamentation and peculiar spongiform tissue. These unique creatures are specialized predators of collembolans and other tiny arthropods that run amuck in the underworld beneath our feet. Temnothorax curvispinosus is a small yellowish species that has a pair of elongate propodeal spines and typically nests in either the soil or in hollow cavities of many types. Myrmecina americana is a black, bispinose ant that is frequently found in litter samples, especially next to rotting wood.

          Before leaving the park we made a quick stop at the picnic area near the office. We picked up a couple of additional species here and noted the presence of imported fire ants, most likely the hybrid form, Solenopsis invicta X richteri. Colonies of Forelius mccooki (McCook), a very rapid moving little yellowish-brown ant, were found in the soil. Individuals of the cryptic arboreal dwelling Temnothorax schaumii Roger were collected on trees.

          Twenty-nine total species were collected at the park, excluding the imported fire ant, which we did not collect samples of. Most of the ants we collected are considered to be common species in the state, but a few more rare species were discovered to occur there as well. Stigmatomma pallipes, Strumigenys angulata, Strumigenys ohioensis, and Temnothorax schaumii were the most interesting species collected, with S. angulata considered to be the most rare of those in the United States. However, based on recent collections by the Mississippi Entomological Museum (MEM) we now know this species to be widely distributed in Mississippi. Strumigenys ohioensis was only recently discovered to occur in the state (MacGown et al, 2005), but is similar to S. ohioensis in that it is also now known to occur throughout the Mississippi. Likewise, S. pallipes (has been found in many localities in the state, but usually only in small numbers. Before recent collections by the MEM, this species was only known from the state by a couple of specimens, but with more recently designed litter sampling techniques this species, and other litter dwelling species, has been found to be much more widely distributed than previously thought. Temnothorax schaumii is another species that was almost overlooked in the state, but has been recently found to be fairly common, especially on oak trees. We have had great success collecting this species at peanut butter bait on trees. Another species, Formica dolosa, was also only recently reported from the state (MacGown and Brown, 2006), although it is not considered to be rare.

List of ant species collected (arranged alphebetically by genus)

Aphaenogaster carolinensis (Wheeler)
Aphaenogaster fulva Roger
Aphaenogaster lamellidens Mayr
Aphaenogaster treatae Forel
Brachymyrmex depilis Emery
Camponotus americanus
Mayr
Camponotus chromaiodes
Bolton
Camponotus decipiens Emery
Camponotus pennsylvanicus (DeGeer)
Crematogaster lineolata (Say)
Forelius mccooki (McCook)
Formica dolosa
Buren
Formica pallidefulva Latreille
Hypoponera opacior
(Forel)
Myrmecina americana
Emery
Monomorium minimum
(Buckley)
Nylanderia faisonensis
(Forel)
Pheidole dentata
Mayr
Pheidole dentigula Smith
Ponera pennsylvanica Buckley
Stigmatomma pallipes (Haldeman)
Strumigenys angulata Smith
Strumigenys louisianae Roger
Strumigenys ohioensis Kennedy & Schramm
Strumigenys rostrata Emery
Temnothorax curvispinosus Mayr
Temnothorax pergandei
Emery
Temnothorax schaumii
Roger
Trachymyrmex septentrionalis (McCook)

Literature Cited

MacGown, J. A., R. L. Brown, and J. G. Hill. 2005.  An annotated list of the Pyramica (Hymenoptera:  Formicidae:  Dacetini) of Mississippi.  Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society  78: 285–289. [pdf]

MacGown, J. A. and  R. L. Brown. 2006. Survey of Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of the Tombigbee National Forest in Mississippi.  Kansas Entomological Society  79: 325-340. [pdf]