Trap-jaw ants on Florida’s sand ridges

Trap-jaw ants on Florida’s sand ridgesFlrorida_ridges01 copy

Florida’s inland ridges are a series of sand ridges and bars located throughout Central Florida. Some of these ridges formed over 1 million years ago. The ridges resemble sand islands featuring a unique flora and fauna. Among their inhabitants are also trap-jaw ants and one species has a particularly interesting story: Odontomachus relictus was only recently described as a species (Deyrup & Cover 2004) and occurs only on two of these sand ridges (Lake Wales Ridge and Brooksville Ridge). The species might be a relict species that has been isolated for about 1 million years or longer. So far little is known about the life history of O. relictus which triggered my curiosity.

I study Odontomachus relictus to test if populations on each ridge have diverged given the amount of time they might have been isolated. I have analyzed molecular data (mtDNA), measured morphology & color, and conducted behavioral assays. My results show that populations are genetically isolated and each ridge may indeed represent a distinct species. This would make this not one, but two of the rarest ants in North America. The first manuscript describing my work is currently in preparation for submission.

Odontomachus relictus preying on termite -- Lake Wales Ridge, Florida

Odontomachus relictus preying on termite — Lake Wales Ridge, Florida

Deyrup M. & S. Cover. (2004): A new species of Odontomachus ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) from inland ridges of Florida, with a key to Odontomachus of the United States. Florida Entomologist 87(2): 136-144.