Ants in Roosevelt State Park, Scott County, Mississippi [MS State Park Ants]

Joe A. MacGown and JoVonn G. Hill

            Roosevelt State Park is located on Hwy 13 South near Morton in Scott County, Mississippi. The park, which is located between Meridian and Jackson, is adjacent to the Bienville National Forest. This park, like many in the state, offers cabin rentals and camp sites, as well as a motel, and other attractions such as a swimming pool, playing fields, nature trail, and a lake.

            We arrived at Roosevelt State Park sometime near 10:00 A.M. on 15 August 2006 and checked in at the gate house to let them know that we would be collecting ants. Conveniently for us, the manager of the park, Andre Hollis, was manning the entry, and he was quite interested in what we were doing. He even asked if we could send him a report of the ants we collected at the park, which was the first time this had happened at a state park. Of course, we were happy to find some interest, as most people are merely interested in killing any visible ants!

            After driving around the park, we decided to begin our collections at a day use area near the lake at 32°19"14"N 89°40'47"W. We avoided the campgrounds and cabin areas, so as not to disturb the campers. However, the day use area looked to be fairly representative of the habitat types at the park, and within walking distance we were able to collect in several different habitats. We parked near an area that was basically an open hardwood forest, with several of the trees being relatively large. The soil here was sandy, with a good mix of leaf litter and other vegetative matter mixed in. It didn't take us a moment before we saw workers of the ubiquitous black carpenter ant, Camponotus pennsylvanicus (DeGeer), crawling around. This large formicine ant is especially common in wooded areas that are frequented by people. They are one of those species that thrive on sundry food items discarded by people at campsites. Of course, as the name "carpenter ant" implies, they typically make their colonies in wood, and therefore a forested habitat is preferred. Unfortunately, these ants will also nest in the wood of man-made structures, and they are considered a serious structural pest.

A photo of the day use area near the lake.      

            Within seconds of finding the carpenter ants, we spotted the introduced rover ant, Brachymyrmex patagonicus Mayr, crawling on the ground. This tiny dark brownish-black species was only first reported (as B. musculus) as occurring in the U.S. in 1978 from New Orleans, LA. In only 30 years, this species has managed to spread throughout much of Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, into much of Florida, into Georgia (at least as far as S.C.), and into southern Arkansas. Although this species does not bite or sting, it is making its presence known as a nuisance pest in much the same manner as the little black ant, Monomorium minimum (Buckley). When it invades an area, it doesn't take long before it has established many small colonies. This species seems to prefer, or least thrive in, disturbed areas, a situation of which man is creating more and more of.

            Searching in a rotted and somewhat hollowed out area at the base of a loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) revealed some acrobat ants, Crematogaster ashmeadi Mayr, as well as a small dacetine ant species, Strumigenys rostrata Emery. Crematogaster ashmeadi is brownish to somewhat bicolored and has very short propodeal spines. Hopping around in the soil amidst the acrobat ants were several ant loving crickets, Myrmecophilus pergandei Bruner. This cricket is known to live among a variety of ant species from which it receives sustenance by mimicking the ant's behavior. However, it is not always a welcome guest and must be ever vigilant against attacks by its host ants. It is generally able to avoid being killed by means of its extreme speed, jumping ability, and seemingly erratic defensive maneuvers. Indeed, the cricket is difficult to capture as evidenced by our attempts to collect it. This species was collected in Oktibbeha County, MS and studied by a student at Mississippi State University in 1939, but unfortunately his research was never published. His information and the fact that it occurred in the state were consequently overlooked by researchers, and it wasn't until recently that this species was published as occurring in the state (MacGown and Hill, 2006). In our searches for ants in Mississippi, we have found this cricket in several widely separated localities and it appears that it has a wide range in the state.

The eastern ant loving cricket, Myrmecophilus pergandei.
This appears to be a male, as the females
have greatly expanded hind femora.

           Several more of these crickets were found in the soil at the base of a southern red oak (Quercus falcata Michx.) not more than 20 meters from the pine tree where the others were found. This group of crickets were in a large colony of the black carpenter ant, which was atypically in the soil. Several of the females were quite large and were much bigger than any previous individuals we had seen. The carpenter ant colony was located in the soil below the leaf litter and was approximately 0.5 m in diameter and appeared to extend underneath the roots, possibly into the base of the tree itself. In a small pocket of the carpenter ant nest area a colony of Pheidole dentigula Smith was found. These little dimorphic ants, which have minor and major castes of workers (as do all of the Pheidole species in the state), are very common in the soil in wooded habitats in Mississippi. An incipient colony of Camponotus castaneus (Latreille) with a large dealate queen and only a few workers was also found in the soil with the black carpenter ant colony. This species is easily distinguished from the black one by its extremely shiny reddish to orangish-brown coloration and lack of obvious and plentiful white pubescence. An exotic species of the litter and soil dwelling genus Strumigenys, S. membranifera (Emery), was in the same sample of soil. This species is referred to as a pan tropical tramp species and is now common throughout much of southern Mississippi. A colony of Paratrechina vividula (Nylander) was also discovered in the same area of soil occupied by the carpenter ants. These small, light yellowish-brown ants are in the same subfamily as carpenter ants (Formicinae) and are common in open areas such as pastures, roadsides, or open woods similar to that found in the park here. Yet another species in the subfamily Formicinae, Formica pallidefulva Latreille, was found nesting in the same little patch of soil. This species is shiny reddish-brown and superficially resembles C. castaneus. Formica workers can be differentiated from Camponotus workers by the presence of three ocelli (simple eyes) located near the top of the head above the level of the compound eyes (there are other differences between the genera as well), a feature lacking in Camponotus workers. The rover ants, mentioned early, and also in the Formicinae, were also found nesting in the soil here, and were seen crawling on the base of the tree and the surrounding area. One further species, Solenopsis invicta Buren, the imported red fire ant, was found foraging in this area. This species was not particularly plentiful here in the shaded area provided by the many trees, but was plentiful enough in open areas. All in all, the base of this particular oak had quite a few species of ants present that were seemingly living together in harmony. This is a situation we have witnessed many times, previously having seen as many as 23 species of ants living at the base of a tree.

           Another colony of Pheidole dentigula was found in the soil under litter beside a pine log. A colony of what appeared to be Solenopsis abdita Thompson was in the same area. Workers of this somewhat rarely collected minute species are yellow and very similar to workers of the related and common thief ant, Solenopsis molesta (Say). It is almost impossible to separate workers of this species, but the queens are very different with the queen of S. abdita being dark brownish-black in color, and the queens of S. molesta being yellow. Although we have collected S. abdita here and there in MS, it has not yet been reported in a publication as occurring in the state and will be included a manuscript being prepared listing the ants of Mississippi. Several individuals of the common black, bispinose Myrmecina americana Emery were found in the litter here. This slow moving species has been found at virtually every wooded habitat we have searched in Alabama and Mississippi. Workers of the dark brown colored Aphaenogaster fulva Roger were collected as they were foraging near the pine log. It is likely that they were nesting inside of the log itself, as they tend to nest in rotting wood. We didn't bother searching for the colony as this is a very common species. Another very common species, Hypoponera opacior (Forel), was found in the soil and litter. This somewhat elongate brown ant doesn't really look like an ant, but rather some type of wingless wasp.

           We baited some of the oak trees with a small splash of peanut butter applied with a stick. This is a good way to lure several arboreal, as well as some ground dwelling ant species, from their colonies. At this particular site we only collected two species at the bait, Solenopsis invicta and Temnothorax schaumii Roger. Temnothorax schaumii is a small cryptic ant that nests in bark or various cavities in trees. Before we started baiting trees, this species was only known from Mississippi by a handful of specimens, but we now know that it occurs in many localities in the state.

           The sandy soil in the day use area proved to be ideal habitat for several other species of ants, some of which we found nesting. Although we didn't find its colony, we did see workers of Camponotus americanus Mayr crawling on the ground in this area. This species of carpenter ant has a reddish-brown body and a black head. It is most similar looking to C. castaneus, which is uniformly reddish colored. Two species of Aphaenogaster were collected here including Aphaenogaster lamellidens Mayr and Aphaenogaster treatae Forel. Both of these species are relatively large ants approaching the size of carpenter ants. Aphaenogaster lamellidens workers were found crawling beside a rotting log, from which they likely emanated, as they almost always nest in rotting wood. This large species is dark reddish brown and often has blackish colored legs. Under a microscope, it is easily identified by the small tooth found on the frontal lobes that is directed backwards toward the top of the head. Aphaenogaster treatae is another large reddish-brown species that possesses a distinctive flattened lobe occupying about the basal fourth to fifth of the antennal scape. If you have good eyesight his feature can actually been seen in the field with ant in hand! Nests of this species were found in open areas in the soil with a simple hole for the entrance to their underworld. The distinctive half craters found at the entrances of the fungus growing ant, Trachymyrmex septentrionalis (McCook), were found at the edges of the more open woods and the more overgrown adjacent slope. This common species is related to the leaf cutting ants of South and Central America and is fascinating in its own right. They cultivate a subterranean garden of fungus which they grow on a substrate of various pieces of vegetative matter and insect feces. While we were observing them, they were in the process of carrying pieces of soil from inside of their colony to the mound of soil above ground. Several colonies of Pheidole metallescens Emery were discovered in the sand, which is their typical nesting habitat. The minor workers of this species are small and black looking to the naked eye, but under the microscope they have brilliant greenish-blue to purple iridescence and are quite beautiful to behold. Another small black colored ant, Monomorium minimum (Buckley), which has a common name of "the little black ant", was found foraging in the area, although the nests were not found.

           Several species including Strumigenys pulchella Emery, Strumigenys louisianae Roger, Pheidole dentata Mayr, and Temnothorax curvispinosus Mayr were both found in soil and in leaf litter that was accumulated on the ground. These species are very common in wooded habitats. Most Strumigenys species are minute soil dwelling ants that are specialized predators on collembolans and other similar microorganisms, although a few species are arboreal. Pheidole dentata is a very common species in forests in this region and nests in both rotting wood and in the soil. This species is similar to the other Pheidole species we collected at the park, but much larger. Temnothorax curvispinosus nests in a variety of places including in hollow cavities of any imaginable type and in the soil, although they are often thought of as being mostly arboreal. This species is rather small, yellowish in color, and has elongate propodeal spines. The bright yellow, elongate Pseudomyrmex pallidus (F. Smith) was collected on a branch of sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua L.). This large eyed ant nests in hollow twigs or stems of various plants. Another arboreal ant, Solenopsis picta Emery, was found as it was foraging in some leaf litter. This species is minute and similar to the yellow thief ants, but is dark brown in color. The often arboreal Camponotus snellingi Bolton was collected as workers foraged on an oak tree. We have found this species nesting in rotting logs, standing dead trees, dead limbs, or sections of dead wood on live trees of both hardwoods and pines. Occasionally this species is also found in man-made structure where it may nest in the woodwork. This species is bicolored with most of the body and head being reddish colored and the last few segments of the gaster being black.

           Across the road from the open wooded area, we collected a few species of ants that were nesting in the open sandy soil adjacent to the lake in full sun. The imported fire ant was much more common over here, although no large obvious mounds were seen. Many small colonies of Pheidole bicarinata Mayr and Monomorium minimum were present in this area as well. The Pheidole colonies were not obvious and were for the most part only marked by a simple hole in the ground, although some had small craters surrounding them. Several minor workers were foraging, as it was not overly hot yet. To lure some of the major workers out of the nests, bits of cookies were placed near the entrance hole, and it was not long before some majors had made their way to the surface to satisfy their sweet tooth. The little black ants had a similar nest entrance, but always with a small crater surrounding the hole. They reacted to the cookie bait in much the same way as the Pheidole, with many workers flowing out of the nest to transport the food back to their colony. Walking a bit further down the sandy area along the lake we found colonies of two common dolichoderine ants, Dorymyrmex bureni (Trager) and Forelius mccooki (McCook). Both of these species are yellowish red, with Dorymyrmex being much larger than Forelius. They are both extremely fast moving species that seem to prefer sandy soils and can withstand high daytime temperatures.

           After a couple hours, we left the day use area and made our way to the nature trail at 32°19'19"N 89°41'00'W. We ate a small lunch before making doing some brief collecting. Before the entrance to the trail was an open, somewhat sandy area where we found colonies of Dorymyrmex bureni, Forelius mccooki, and Solenopsis invicta. Foragers of another species of Aphaenogaster, A. carolinensis (Wheeler), were collected as they foraged on the ground along the nature trail. This species is similar to A. fulva, but is not as dark in color, has shorter propodeal spines which are directed backwards (longer and straight up in A. fulva), and has shiny yellow legs (dark brown in A. fulva). Black carpenter ants were also common here and were seen in abundance as they foraged along the forest floor. Sifting through some leaf litter in a somewhat swampy area turned up a few species. Several of them, including Hypoponera opacior, Strumigenys membranifera , S. rostrata , Strumigenys louisianae, and Temnothorax curvispinosus, we had collected at the first site. But, a few new ones were collected as well including Linepithema humile (Mayr), Paratrechina faisonensis (Forel), Strumigenys talpa Weber , and Crematogaster lineolata (Say). Linepithema humile is an exotic ant native to Argentina and commonly called the Argentine ant. This is not an ant you want to have around, because it can take over large areas suppressing native ants. It is voracious species that can occur in numbers so immense, that they simply boggle the mind. Fortunately, it does not appear to have become firmly established at the park, although the fact that it is there does not bode well. Paratrechina faisonensis appears to be the woodland counterpart to P. vividula, and is very common in forests in this region. Strumigenys talpa was only reported from Mississippi for the first time in 2005 (MacGown et al, 2005). Crematogaster lineolata is another species of acrobat ant that is similar in appearance to C. ashmeadi, but is larger, darker, and has longer spines (among other differences that can be seen with a microscope).

A view of the lake and shoreline.

           A total of 36 species were collected at the park, which was quite high considering we were not there more than 3 hours. Additionally, we typically collect 6-10 samples of leaf litter that we later run through a Berlese funnel. These samples invariably add several to many subterranean species to our overall count. Unfortunately, our journey to the state park was but a brief stop on a longer circuit that eventually led through Louisiana (almost to Texas), through southern Arkansas, and back through the Mississippi Delta culminating in our return to the MSU campus. Although we did collect six gallons of litter, they did not fare so well during our travels as the temperatures at this time were exceedingly hot, being 100°F or more everyday. For the most part, we pulled very few ants from the Berlese samples, a fact that we attributed to the samples getting too hot. It is very likely that a return trip to the site could easily add 20 or more species. However, our hand collecting foray was very good and gave us an indication of the ant fauna at the park.

           On 2 July 2010, MacGown and Hill again collected at the state park. Collections were made at the campground (32°19’16”N 89°40’39”W), which was in an open hardwood/pine forest, and in hardwood/ pine woods along the road that lead to the cabins (32°18’46”N 89°40’29”W). We collected 31 species of ants during this trip, including 13 new species for the park: Stigmatomma pallipes, Camponotus decipiens, Crematogaster pilosa, Lasius alienus, Nylanderia sp., Pheidole tysoni, Ponera exotica, P. pennsylvanica, Strumigenys abdita, S. ornata, Solenopsis carolinensis, and Tapinoma sessile.

           Thus far, we have found 49 species of ants in the park in only a few total hours of collecting. Discouragingly, the park was home to five exotic species including Linepithema humile, Brachymyrmex patagonicus, Strumigenys membranifera , Solenopsis invicta, and Strumigenys silvestrii. It is hard to estimate the effect of introduced ants such as S. membranifera and S. silvestrii, because they are so small and cryptic in their behavior. They are simply overlooked by the majority of man. The other three species are more obvious in their effects, and those effects are rarely good. The only bright side about their presence in the state park was that they had not yet completely over run the place and pushed the native species aside. For one reason or another, the natives were holding their ground, which is essential when it comes to battling these species. Many times, high dosages of pesticides geared at the "bad" ants, may also negatively impact the native species. This then leaves the door open for the exotics to fill in the habitat, unimpeded by the competition of the native ants. We did note a large presence of the rover ants, a species which has been here for such a short time, that no one really knows what its overall effect will be. Despite the presence of the five exotics, the park had a very nice mix of native species that filled a variety of microhabitats. Most of the ants collected would be considered common species, but Strumigenys talpa was only recently reported from the state, and Strumigenys abdita and Solenopsis abdita are both new additions to the state.

List of ant species collected

Aphaenogaster carolinensis (Wheeler)
Aphaenogaster fulva Roger
Aphaenogaster lamellidens Mayr
Aphaenogaster treatae Forel
Brachymyrmex patagonicus
Camponotus americanus
Camponotus castaneus (Latreille)
Camponotus decipiens Emery
Camponotus pennsylvanicus
Camponotus snellingi Bolton
Crematogaster ashmeadi Mayr
Crematogaster lineolata (Say)
Crematogaster pilosa
Dorymyrmex bureni (Trager)
Forelius mccooki
Formica pallidefulva
Hypoponera opacior
Lasius alienus (Foerster)
Linepithema humile
Monomorium minimum (Buckley)
Myrmecina americana Emery
Nylanderia faisonensis (Forel)
Nylanderia vividula (Nylander)
Nylanderia sp.-02
Pheidole bicarinata Mayr
Pheidole dentata Mayr
Pheidole dentigula Smith
Pheidole metallescens Emery
Pheidole tysoni Forel
Ponera exotica Smith
Ponera pennsylvanica Buckley
Pseudomyrmex pallidus (F. Smith)
Solenopsis abdita Thompson
Solenopsis carolinensis Forel
Solenopsis invicta Buren
Solenopsis picta Emery
Stigmatomma pallipes (Haldeman)
Strumigenys abdita Wesson & Wesson
Strumigenys louisianae Roger
Strumigenys membranifera Emery
Strumigenys ornata
Strumigenys pulchella
Strumigenys rostrata
Strumigenys silvestrii Emery
Strumigenys talpa
Tapinoma sessile (Say)
Temnothorax curvispinosus Mayr
Temnothorax schaumii
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 J. G. Hill. 2006. The Eastern ant cricket, Myrmecophilus pergandei Bruner (Orthoptera: Myrmecophilidae), reported from Mississippi, U.S.A. Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences 51: 180-182. [pdf]