These little ants might no look like much, and I’ll admit that my photo isn’t great (the buggers kept moving), but today I am scratching more than half a dozen welts from stings that hurt like the dickens yesterday. My brother-in-law, my wife’s cousin, and I all bravely set out with our machetes at the ready (mine was borrowed, actually) into the wilds of Coclé province in search of evidence for the vegetarian spider I am here to study. On second thought, the “wilds” of Coclé weren’t so wild, since most of the forests were slashed and burned long ago to make room for cattle pasture. Bad news for the forest, but good news for Vachellia plants and the Pseudomyrmex ants that live on them, since they are one of the first pioneer species to grow in cleared areas.
Much to my surprise (even though it shouldn’t have been), we found about five stands of multiple Vachellia plants, and in these groves, there were often different ants living on plants practically right next to each other. There were small, aggressive brown ants that stung like crazy (the ones above are an example), larger, black ants that didn’t sting quite as readily (but still did their work if given a chance), and one species of tiny ant that didn’t seem big enough to cause any harm. As soon as I get my collection permits, I’ll try to bring some of these ants into the Smithsonian laboratories and check them out under a microscope. Pictures will surely follow!
Of course, the main reason I’m here in Panama is in search of Bagheera kiplingi, although it seems we might’ve found something a bit more interesting yesterday. While scanning up and down several plants in different parts of Coclé province (see map below), mostly around Natá and Aguadulce, we found several jumping spiders on the Vachellia plants (the same spot that Bagheera kiplingi is found), although these spiders had different coloration.
The big question is what this might mean, since the spiders we found (top picture) have a resemblance to Bagheera kiplingi (below). Is this another species of vegetarian jumping spider? I can’t wait to get my collection permits to find out!