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Ants collected at Palestinean Gardens, George County Mississippi

Joe A. MacGown and JoVonn G. Hill

            We arrived at the Palestinean Gardens Nature Conservancy (30°59'21"N88°37'12"W) site at 4.5 mi NNW Lucedale in George County at about 9:00 AM on 12 May 2006. We met Rebecca Stowe, who is in change of Nature Conservancy lands in this area, just as we pulled up. The Palestinean Gardens area was only recently donated to the Nature Conservancy and is an very interesting collecting spot. It is a relic dune scrub site with turkey oak, rosemary, gopher apple, and other scrub type plants present. Gopher tortoises occur here, and plenty of their burrows were in evidence, although we didn't see any of the tortoises themselves.

            After talking to Rebecca a bit, we got to work and started looking for ants. The first thing we did was put peanut butter bait on various oak trees near the entrance. We then headed to the dunes to see what we could find. This site, similar to most places in Mississippi, had an over abundance of fire ants, Solenopsis invicta Buren. There were also many colonies of Dorymyrmex bureni (Trager), a species we typically find in sandy habitats. We found a few colonies of the small, dark colored exotic Brachymyrmex patagonicus Mayr nesting here. Two other exotic species were also found nesting here: Cyphomyrmex rimosus (Spinola) and Pheidole obscurithorax Naves. All three of these species made their way into the state from the coast and appear to be heading slowing northward. Thus far, B. patagonicus has been found to be the most widespread of these species in Mississippi, although it is most common in the southern third of the state at this point in time.

            Several colonies of Forelius pruinosus Roger were found in the open sandy area and both female and male alates were collected. At 10:20 AM we observed workers and male alates crawling out of several colonies that were located very near one another (it is possible that it was one large extended colony). We watched them for several minutes hoping to see some alate females join them. However, at least while we were watching, no females showed up. We dug into one nest to see if we could find some females in there but didn't. Earlier that morning, another nest in a different spot was dug into and both alate females and males were found.

            Searching through a forested area, we found both Aphaenogaster miamiana Wheeler and Pheidole dentata Mayr nesting in a rotting oak log on the ground. Pheidole moerens Wheeler was also found in wooded areas nesting in soil and litter at bases of trees and in rotting wood. This species is yet another exotic one that is spreading northward. Thus far, George County is the farthest north that we have found it. Both species of attine ants known to occur in Mississippi, Cyphomyrmex rimosus (Spinola) and Trachymyrmex septentrionalis (McCook) were found nesting in the area. Searching through some litter at the bases of palmetto yielded Strumigenys rostrata Emery and Nylanderia faisonensis (Forel).

            Three litter samples were taken from the site. One consisted of leaf material from the bases of palmetto and oaks, and the other two were from litter in the woods at bases of trees. A past trip to this site a couple of years earlier yielded the minute, exotic species, Strumigenys silvestrii Emery, which is a new state record, and we were hoping to find some more individuals of this species. And, indeed, there was one specimen in the litter sample. Other ants in the litter samples included Hypoponera opacior (Forel) and several other common species that we collected otherwise such as Brachymyrmex patagonicus , Nylanderia faisonensis, Solenopsis invicta,and Pheidole moerens.

            As we got ready to leave, near noon, we checked the peanut butter bait in hopes of picking up some cool arboreal ants. Unfortunately, the only species we collected at the bait was Solenopsis invicta.

            Another trip to the site was made by JGH on the morning of 13 November 2007. Five species were collected, two of which were new records for the site including Prenolepis imparis (Say) and Pheidole metallescens Emery. Prenolepis imparis is a common species that is typically active during the cooler periods of the year, and Ph. metallescens is a small species that nests in sandy soils. Minor workers of P. metallescens are dark brown to blackish in color with blueish to greenish reflections.

            Only seventeen total species were collected at the Palestinean Gardens site. However, this low species count was not unsurprising for such a restricted habitat, especially with the many exotic and dominant native species present. Both Forelius pruinosus and Dorymyrmex bureni are considered to be dominant dolichoderine ants and both prefer sandy habitats, such as is found at Palestinean Gardens. These two species were very abundant at the site, and they certainly could have had some negative effects on overall diversity, especially in the open areas. With the exception of Trachymyrmex septentrionalis, which grows fungus as its food source and therefore is not in direct competition with most other ants, all of the other native ants collected were restricted to the wooded areas and were found in either leaf litter, rotting wood, or on trees. The site had six introduced species present, which was a very high proportion of the overall ants collected. The red fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, was by far the most abundant exotic species there. Four of the exotics, Brachymyrmex patagonicus, Cyphomyrmex rimosus, Pheidole moerens, and Pheidole obscurithorax, were seen in lesser numbers, but were relatively abundant. Only one specimen of the rarely collected Strumigenys silvestrii was found, although 3 specimens were collected there on a previous visit to the site. Overall, the exotic species seemed to be maintaining a strong foothold in the habitat, despite the strong present of the dominant dolichoderine ants. To compare the species of ants from Palestinean Gardens to other localities with similar habitats, click on the links below under the heading "links to ants of other sandhill or sand dune habitats".

Formicidae List (arranged alphabetically by genus)

Aphaenogaster miamiana Wheeler
Brachymyrmex patagonicus Mayr
Crematogaster ashmeadi Mayr
Cyphomyrmex rimosus (Spinola)
Dorymyrmex bureni (Trager)
Forelius pruinosus Roger
Hypoponera opacior
Nylanderia faisonensis (Forel)
Pheidole dentata Mayr
Pheidole metallescens Emery
Pheidole moerens Wheeler
Pheidole obscurithorax Naves
Prenolepis imparis (Say)
Solenopsis invicta Buren
Strumigenys rostrata Emery
Strumigenys silvestrii Emery
Trachymyrmex septentrionalis (McCook)

Links to ants of other sandhill or sand dune habitats

Ants of Deaton Preserve, Greene County, Mississippi
Ants of Horn Island, Jackson County, Mississippi
Ants of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Baldwin County, Alabama
Ants of Fall Line Sandhills Natural Area, Taylor County, Georgia
Ants of Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area, Emanuel County, Georgia
Ants of Big Hammock Natural Area, Tattnall County, Georgia