Ants of the
Idaho National Laboratory
William H. Clark and Paul E. Blom
Ants are a very common,
widespread and well known group; possibly the most successful of all
the insect groups. They occur practically everywhere in terrestrial
habitats and outnumber in individuals most other terrestrial
animals. The habits of ants are often very elaborate, and a
great many studies have been made of the behavior. Ants all
belong to the class Insecta of the order Hymenoptera (ants, bees,
and wasps). Bolton (1995) recognized 9,536 valid ant taxa.
Estimates for the total number of living ant species in the world
range from 15,000 to 20,000 (Hölldobler & Wilson 1990, Bolton 1994).
Ants are one of the few groups of insects that are universally
recognized by their very similar body forms. But there are a
few other insects that strongly resemble and mimic ants, and some of
the winged forms of ants resemble wasps from which they are derived.
Data on species
diversity and the ecology of the species are fundamental to our
understanding of both natural and disturbed ecosystems.
Despite their real and potential importance, our knowledge of the
diversity of soil arthropods is still very incomplete. The
role ants play is pivotal as recognized by Hölldobler & Wilson
(1990): "Ants are everywhere, they run much of the terrestrial
world as the premier soil turners, channelers of energy,
dominatrices of the insect fauna...". Ants may form very
important high protein food sources for many animals including birds
(sage thrashers at INL, Clark & Blom 1992) and horned lizards [Clark
& Comanor 1976, Whiting et al. (1993)]. Ants also help
recycle nutrients by utilizing carrion as food (Clark & Blom 1991).
The INL is a U.S.
Department of Energy multi-purpose laboratory whose primary mission
has been to research nuclear technologies. In the process of
fulfilling this mission, the INL researchers have generated
radioactive and hazardous wastes (U.S. Department of Energy 1994).
Much of the waste generated in the past is buried in shallow
subsurface pits. Many invertebrates, including ants, burrow
into and nest in the soil. Little is known concerning the
potential roles of ants in the restoration aspects of waste
including ants, tunnel and nest in soils. Because of these habits,
they are potentially important at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL)
where they may tunnel into and disturb buried waste. Ants are
very important components of the desert ecosystem based on their
distribution, habitat preferences, food habits, and relative
abundance. For these reasons the ant taxa present at the INL
were investigated. A cursory survey of the ants at the site
was published in 1971 which reported 22 species. A more
thorough examination was needed.
Our research in the
northeastern portion of the Snake River Plain at the INL from 1986
to 1996 produced thousands of ant collections, of which 1,115
(mostly nest series) are used in this manuscript. These
collections contained 46 species in 19 genera from three
subfamilies. This more than doubles the number of the species
previously reported from the INL. Of the ant species found 18
(39 percent) are considered rare on the site, 12 (26 percent) are
present but not common, 11 (24 percent) are common, and only five
(11 percent) are found to be abundant. All but three ant
genera known for the state of Idaho can be found at the INL.
Additionally, four species collected during this research are
reported from Idaho for the first time: Liometopum
luctuosum, Formica gynocrates, Formica spatulata,
and Myrmica sp. Myrmica sp. is undescribed (new
The goal of this
investigation is to provide a more thorough survey of the INL ant
fauna for both biodiversity and waste management purposes. The
To produce an updated
checklist of the INL ants.
To summarize thee
pertinent published information and literature of the INL ants,
To present keys,
distribution maps, illustrations, and ecological information on
We found a moderately
rich ant fauna for the cool desert on the INL, which is
predominantly sagebrush steppe. Including corrections to the
taxonomy of species reported from the site, this investigation
increased the number of known taxa by 270 percent. It is
difficult to speculate how complete this species enumeration is for
the INL since our methodology does not permit use of accumulation
curves. The 46 species on the INL seem to us a very rich fauna
given the relatively small size of the INL (890 square miles) and
moderately high elevation and latitude. It is likely the
diversity of soils (parent materials) and vegetative communities
within the reservation's boundaries may contribute to a greater than
expected biodiversity. Still we expect there may be additional
taxa to be found (e.g. Crematogaster, Brachymyrmex).
There is much to learn
concerning the ant fauna (as well as all arthropods) at the INL.
Future directions for research should include:
ecological studies. Fundamental information for most taxa,
such as colony size (individuals per colony) and colony densities
over the various communities is needed.
and ecological studies on the "rare" ants collected (Temnothorax
tricarinatus, Stenamma smithi).
fire. Fire is a natural event at the INL although the fire
regime has been altered by man. What is the potential role
of ant community in the area's fire ecology, especially for
community persistence and post-fire recovery?
For More Information
or for a copy of the full report,
please contact William Clark
firstname.lastname@example.org or Paul Blom
pblom@BioDataManagement.com. Voucher specimens of the ants
used in this study are deposited in the Orma J. Smith Museum of
Natural History, Albertson College of Idaho.
Bolton, B. 1994, Identification guide to the ant genera of the
world. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 222pp.
Bolton, B. 1995. A new general catalogue of the ants of the
world. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 504 pp.
W.H., and P.E. Blom. 1991. Observations of ants
(Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmicinae, Formicinae,
Dolichoderinae) utilizing carrion.
The Southwestern Naturalist 36:140-142.
W.H., and P.E. Blom. 1992. Sagethrasher, Oreoscoptes
montanus (Townsend) predation on a mating swarm of the
harverster ant, Pogonomyrmex salinus Olsen. Journal of
the Idaho Academy of Science 28:29-32.
W.H., and P.L. Comanor. 1976. The northern desert horned
lizard, Phyronosoma platyrhinos platyrhinos, as a predator of
the western harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis, and a
dispersal agent for Eriogonum baileyi. Journal of the
Idaho Academy of Science 12:9-12.
Hölldobler, B. and E.O. Wilson. 1990. The ants.
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 732 pp.
Department of Energy. 1994. 1994 INEEL site-specific plan.
U.S. Department of Energ, Idaho Operations Office, Idaho Falls. 229
Whiting, J.J., J.R. Dixon, and R.C. Murray. 1993.
Spatial distribution of a populations of Texas horned lizards (Phrynosoma
cornutum: Phrynosomatidae) relative to habitat and prey.
The Southewestern Naturalist 38:150-154.