According to National Geographic, there are about 10,000 species of ants in the world. During the spring and summer I can find at least four species in my backyard garden. The only ones I can readily identify are the carpenter ants (Camponotus sp.) that show-up in the early spring. These are newly emerged queens that are looking for rotting wood in which to start a new nest. Unfortunately (for them) there isn’t much rotting wood in my yard so within a couple of weeks they all disappear.
I have no idea how to identify the other species (and to be honest have never tried). I just call them medium sized, small and really small (the carpenter ants are the big ants). This year I have nests of the medium and small species living very close together: one in each of two wooden half-barrel planters that sit side by side. They seem to co-exist quite fine and although they are sharing the same turf, the workers seem adept at avoiding one another. Just in front of the barrels is a long piece of lumber set into the ground as a barrier between the lawn and garden, and this piece of wood has become something of an ant highway for both species. [Update: the medium sized ants are Formica neorufibarbis and the small ants are Lasius pallitarsis. Many thanks to Doctorant on The Ant Farm and Myrmecology Forum for help with the identification].
A couple of weeks ago (the same day I photographed the weevil in these posts: Weevil meets flash diffuser and Maple syrup in the garden of good and weevils) I put a couple of small drops of syrup on the lumber highway to try and coax the ants to stop for a taste and pose for some photos. This is a trick I tried originally last July (see About insects: macro photography of an ant having an evening snack http://wp.me/p2wM8r-8d).
As you can see, the drops of syrup were well received by both species, and at times the drops were literally surrounded by a circle of ants—but only one species per drop at a time.
The photo at the top of the page is one of the “medium” species, and the photo below is one of the “small” species.
The photos above were all taken with the Zuiko 35mm macro lens. Naturally I wanted to try and get closer if I could, so I also tried photographing them with the El Nikkor and telescopic extension tube rig that I described in Maple syrup in the garden of good and weevils. The best photo I got with the El Nikkor is shown below. The problem is that by the time I broke out the El Nikkor the drops were surrounded by ants and it was impossible to get them all in focus.
The odd thing is that it didn’t occur to me to photograph the ants from above to show how they formed a ring around the drop of syrup. I guess I’ll just have to break out the syrup again soon and try again. After all, I know where they live…
The technical stuff:
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5
Lenses: Zuiko 35mm macro and El Nikkor 50mm F2.8 enlarger lens
Settings: manual exposure (Zuiko: F11 @ 1/200 sec; El Nikkor: F8 @ 1/200 sec)
Lighting: Olympus FL-36 flash (on TTL)