Salton Sea 2014 (Part 4)
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Part 4: Ant Images (Continued)
Myrmecocystus (Formicinae)

Close-Up Images of Myrmecocystus: For Latest ID See Addendum

What looks like a boulder in the above image is actually a coarse sand grain.

A winged queen and three workers.

The Repletes (Honeypots) Of Myrmecocystus

The genus Myrmecocystus is commonly known as "honeypot ants." Worker ants tend special polymorphic ants (repletes) called plerergates. These unusual ants hang from the ceiling deep within the nest and are "living storage units." They store large quantities of nutritious honeylike fluid in their swollen abdomens to feed the colony during times of famine and drought. This is an adaptation for living in extremely hot desert environments with prolonged drought, such as the Salton Sea region. See the following image.

Addendum: Identification of Myrmecocystus North Of The Salton Sea

In conclusion, I am uncertain about the common bicolored Myrmecocystus (subgenus Endiodioctes) ants north of the Salton Sea. There may be more than one species. Myrmecocystus mimicus is common in southern California and this may be that species; however, the very similar M. flaviceps has been reported from this area. I have one photo of a honeypot ant from Box Canyon North of Mecca and the Salton sea that appears to be M. flaviceps. Tergum III has densely appressed hairs and the gaster is dull black compared with the glossy black gaster of M mimicus. M. flaviceps has been reported from Mecca, North of the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree National Park (Cottonwood Campground), Deep Canyon near Palm Desert, and the Algodones Dunes!

Correction: Tergum I In My Labeled Images Is Actually Tergum III

If you count the propodeum as tergum (tergite) I and petiole as tergum II, then the first tergum of expanded abdomen (gaster) is tergum III or tergum IV depending on whether there are one or two petiole nodes.

Myrmecocystus mimicus From Tehachapi, CA. Gaster Shiny
Black & Tergum III Not Covered By Dense, Appressed Hairs