Aphaenogaster cockerelli

Aphaenogaster cockerelli is without question one of my favorite desert ants. They are large enough to see easily, quite distinctive in appearance, and usually seem to be up to something interesting.  Their general appearance is one of grace - they have long legs and a smoothly curving alitrunk with a pair of curved spines on it. Their nests are quite conspicuous, usually a (sometimes very) large nest entrance surrounded by gravel. While they will bite if their nest is disturbed, they are generally pretty easy going and tolerant of close observation.

One of the neat things about Aphaenogaster cockerelli is that they are often staggering along carrying something that seems impossibly large back to the nest; a caterpillar looking like rolled up carpet slung over their shoulder, a gigantic beetle, something like that. It seems as though their initial reaction upon finding something large is not to go back and get help, as with many other ants such as Solenopsis xyloni (the Southern Fire Ant), but rather to try to drag the whole thing back to the nest immediately.

As always, click on the small photos to get a better view.

A typical nest mound, with a six inch ruler. The nest entrance is at the base of the rock, in shadow.

A view of a different nest. Again, the nest entrance is at the base of the rock.

Aphaenogaster cockerelli looking out of the nest entrance.

A couple of Aphaenogasters looking out of the nest entrace. This nest was in the side of a sand cut bank in a wash.

Some people call Aphaenogaster cockerelli the "long legged ant", with good reason.

It is pretty common to find lots of Aphaenogaster standing around the nest entrance, as in this nighttime photo.

One of the neat things about Aphaenogaster is that you often find them carrying things that seem to be far to large for them. This worker is carring a Geometrid (inchworm) caterpillar.

Here is an Aphaenogaster worker discovering a scarab beetle carcass...

...and the epic struggle involved in moving it.

This willingness to go it alone sometimes works to their disadvantage. Here a single A. cockerelli wrestles a group of Pogonomyrmex californicus for a section of a mesquite pod.

The Pogos finally figured out what was going on and forced the Aphaenogaster to leave.

A different Aphaenogaster, about to make the same mistake with another group of Pogonomyrmex californicus.

Attempting to move a large seed pod. The seed pod is from a plant in the genus Medicago. It is related to alfalfa and the common lawn weed "Black Medic".

Aphaenogaster cockerelli continued