Name: Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus)
Other names: gravel ant or southern meat ant
Description: The meat ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus) is a member of the genus Iridomyrmex in the subfamily Dolichoderinae, it was described by British entomologist Frederick Smith in 1858. The meat ant is associated with many common names due to its appearance, nest-building behavior and abundance, of which its specific name, purpureus, refers to its colored appearance. Its enormous distribution, aggression and ecological importance have made this ant a dominant species. The meat ant is monomorphic (occurs in a particular form), although there is evidence that certain populations can be polymorphic. It is characterized by its dark-bluish body and red head. It is a medium to large species, measuring 6–12 mm (0.24–0.47 in). The workers and males are approximately the same sizes at 6–7 mm (0.24–0.28 in) and 8 mm (0.31 in), respectively. The queens are the largest and appear mostly black, measuring 12.7 mm (0.50 in). The iridescence in workers ranges from green or blue to plain green and purple, varying in different body parts and castes. Meat ants inhabit open and warm areas in large, oval-shaped mounds that are accompanied by many entrance holes. The nest area is always cleared of vegetation and covered with materials including gravel, pebbles and dead vegetation. They are also polydomous, where a colony may be established in a series of satellite nests connected by well-defined paths and trails. Satellite nests are constructed away from the main nest and nearby areas with valuable food sources so workers can exploit them.
Distribution: The meat ant is one of the best-known species of ant endemic to Australia; it has an enormous geographical range, covering at least one-third of the continent. Its range spans 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) from east to west, and 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) from north to south. This extensive range has allowed the meat ant to form large nesting grounds in areas where no development has occurred, and large amounts of gravel and open space have led to an abundant supply of materials (i.e. pebbles and dead pieces of vegetation) used to construct nests. Its isolation has also allowed meat ants to form associations with neighbouring nests of the same species. The ant is particularly dominant and frequently seen across the coastal and inland regions of southeastern Australia. Based on examined material, meat ants are widespread throughout New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria. In Queensland, they are frequently encountered in the eastern regions, whereas their abundance is limited around the north and central parts. The ants are common in the southwestern regions of Western Australia, though not in the north. However, the Division of Entomology of the CSIRO states that the ant's presence in the state has not been verified. Most specimens collected in South Australia are from the south-east, but some populations are known in the north-west and northeast regions of the state. In the Northern Territory, specimens have been collected in the north and south regions but compared to other jurisdictions the ant is uncommon. No specimens have been collected from Tasmania or any outlying islands surrounding Australia.
Habitat: Meat ants thrive in varied habitats, especially where it is open and warm. These ants are adapted to and thrive in warm climates and areas with constant high temperatures. The meat ant shares its distribution with many other animals and insects, some of which may cause harm to the ant or rival it, such as the banded sugar ant (Camponotus consobrinus). Nests are seen in box-pine scrubs, Callitris forests, dry and wet sclerophyll woodland, eucalypt open woodland, in farm pastures, flat savannah woodland, mallee woodland, heath, mulga, riparian woodland, around roads and cracks in sidewalks, and urban areas such as urban gardens and parkland. Nests are also common in lateritic ridges, granite outcrops and clay formations. Meat ants are able to survive in dry areas if there is a rich supply of water and food resources (such as honeydew and arthropod prey), especially along river banks, station properties and irrigated areas. Meat ants typically occur at altitudes of 5 and 1,170 m (16 and 3,839 ft) above sea level, though at times they can be found at heights of 915 m (3,002 ft). Those that are found at these altitudes are always associated with Eucalyptus rubida, and colonies situated in eastern New South Wales tend to nest near E. melliodora and E. blakelyi. In the south coast of New South Wales, meat ants are mainly found in heath shrubland, but are absent from heavily timbered slopes and cannot build nests in quartz. Other areas where the ants do not occur include dense pastures, dense bushes, tropical rainforests and treeless areas. For example, the Canberra suburb of Turner was constructed on subterranean clover pasture, which meat ants do not nest around. Their populations would later flourish and nests became numerous around houses after shrubs and trees were planted.
Diet: Like other Iridomyrmex species, the meat ant is an omnivore, retrieving food sources from various insects it tends, including caterpillars and various sorts of butterflies, particularly the larvae of the Waterhouse's hairstreak (Jalmenus lithochroa). Meat ants usually feed on honeydew from sap-sucking insects, flower nectar, sugar and other sweet substances. In captive colonies, workers prefer to consume small pieces of grapes rather than honey solutions and other sweet foods. These ants prey on various insects and animals, collecting both live and dead invertebrates and acquire meat from dead vertebrates. Insects the meat ants prey on include giant lacewings, which they swarm up trees to kill, the butterfly genoveva azure Ogyris genoveva, Indian mealmoths, almond moths, the Western Australian jarrah leafminer and the larvae of the wasp Trichogramma. Large and developed larvae of the cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae) are attacked more effectively by meat ant workers than those of other Iridomyrmex species. On sandy beaches, this species is observed preying on the polychaete annelid worm, Armandia intermedia, causing high mortality rates on them (rates of 30 percent). These ants will feed on a number of dead or alive animals, including metamorphic crucifix toads, snakes, lizards, and birds. On some occasions, swarms of workers have been found on dead foxes. The meat ant is the only known ant in Australia that feeds on fresh guano. The collection of guano by a nearby meat ant colony shows the opportunistic nature of the species. Observations show that trails of workers in groups of two to four were found collecting the guano under an active bat roost within an abandoned mine and proceeded to return it to the nest. The collection of guano by any Australian ant colony was never recorded prior to these observations, but it is unknown why meat ants collect fresh guano.
Life Cycle and Reproduction: The number of individuals in a colony varies. A mature nest of several years old can hold between 11,000 and 64,000 ants, while other colonies can house around 300,000. In some cases, enormous colonies can have as many as a million ants. Observed colonies are known to contain nearly 70,000 larvae and 64,000 workers; some can have 20,000 males and over 1,000 virgin queens, but others may have more virgin queens than males. The ratio of worker ants to the number of the larvae in colonies ranges from one worker for every two larvae or two larvae for every worker. The population of a nest can be affected or altered by several factors: human interference can severely damage or completely destroy nests which potentially devastates the nest population, and overshadowing is the main cause of a nest's demise. As well as that, neighboring nests may increase in population if damaged or abandoned sites are taken over. Meat ants also rely on their nests to withstand climatic stress in summer and winter, as foraging activity and food sources are sometimes limited in summer, and in winter plant growth is almost impossible and workers are unable to survive cold temperatures. As a result, meat ants overwinter, which is a process where some organisms wait out the winter season due to cold conditions making everyday activity and survivability almost impossible; populations may be affected greatly.
Dymadex's blogs on bugs, including insects and arachnids. Insects are hexapod invertebrates like ants, beetles, bees, and flies. Arachnids are joint-legged invertebrates like spiders, scorpions, ticks, and harvestmen. Other organisms in this blog include centipede, millipede, and worms.
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