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Acrobat Ant

Crematogaster spp.

Crematogaster ants at willow aphids, photo © by Michael Plagens

Observed at Mesquite Wash, Maricopa Co., Arizona, USA. March 2008. The ants are attending to small green aphids on new spring growth of Goodding's Willow (Salix gooddingii). The species shown here could be C hespera.

Formicidae -- Ant Family

These distinctive ants can be readily identified to genus by their small size (ca. 2mm) and the spade-shaped abdomen. They move slowly and very often visit or tend to aphids or scale insects. There is a stinger at the abdomen tip - too small to penetrate human skin - but effective at repelling small predators, including those that might harm the aphids. In return for their protection, the aphids secrete sugary honeydew for the ants.

In the Sonoran Desert, these ants also visit extrafloral nectaries and exudates from developing flower buds - especially cacti. Here again, the ants offer some protection by virtue of their pugnaceous little sting. There are several similar species, two are shown here. In the Superstition Mountains east of Mesa, Arizona new buds of Chain-fruit Cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida) are heavily guarded by Crematogaster ants. Image and video below, August 2012.

Crematogaster ants at willow aphids, photo © by Michael Plagens

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Copyright Michael J. Plagens, page created 27 March 2009,
Updated 13 June 2013