Scientific work is usually a cooperation and this is true for the research presented here. Take for example the effort of collecting more than 1,600 specimens of Vatesus beetles. In one army ant emigration, which might last up to 8-9 hours in E. burchellii, you might end up with a few, sometimes even without any, Vatesus specimens. So special thanks goes to those people that helped to collect these beautiful ant symbionts during countless nights in the forest, to those who helped with laboratory work, those that gave me scientific advice, and to the people of La Selva Biological Station (Costa Rica) for their generous support of the project - pura vida.
The video shows how we collect army ant symbionts using a handheld aspirator. More explicitly, it shows how Adrian (see below) collected a last larval instar of Vatesus cf. clypeatus sp. 2 following an Eciton hamatum emigration at La Selva, Costa Rica. For more information see section Vatesus biology. It was a lucky coincidence that we met Jay Ireland - an avid natural photographer - at La Selva and we are happy he joined us during a night to take some amazing videos of army ant emigrations.
© Jay Ireland
I am studying army ants and their associated arthropods since 2008 and, ever since, I was fascinated by these associations. The image on the left shows me collecting myrmecophiles from army ant emigrations with an aspirator. Doing this for hours is quite exhausting, so thanks to all the field assistants helping to collect the little critters. Let me know if you have any comments about the content of the webpage. A list of publications is given in my CV.
Daniel Kronauer, PhD
Without Daniel, none of the studies introduced here would exist. It was a lucky coincidence that we met at a conference in Copenhagen where Daniel was looking for somebody studying Eciton myrmecophiles in his New York lab. Ever since, Daniel supported the work, he helped during field work, teached me molecular barcoding, and was an integral part of most studies. He is also an avid photographer and some of the images you find on this webpage are made by him. Check out his wonderful book about army ants, with a chapter about army ant guests too.
Field assistant I
Sebastian Pohl, PhD
Sebastian is a long-time friend. He bailed me out during the first field trip when my actual field assistant canceled at short notice. It was fun chasing army ants with him and gaining by his knowledge about everything. He is also a person enjoying to share his knowledge - extensively.... There is one fun fact about Sebastian. Although Sebastian is skinny, he was the only one destroying two of our camping chairs. I grant this to his fidgety nature. He was most enthused about one army ant associate and he always sang loudly: Vatesus vatesus....
Field assistant II
Griffin Burke, MSc
Griffin was a student at Bard College when he joined us for field work. When chasing army ants, you walk and walk for hours without having any success. Griffin took this opportunity to discuss politics and he gave me quite a lot of US history lessons - thanks for this experience. He also participated in one of the longest collection events - an army ant emigrations going on from 8pm to 7am. This was tough, but it was rewarded. There is nothing nicer than being in the rainforest during sunrise when animals start their concert.
Field assistant III
Bryan Ospina Jara, BSc
Bryan is a Colombian student who is interested in ant-myrmecophile interactions. Among others, he is working with Attaphila - beautiful cockroaches that parasitize colonies of leaf-cutting ants. Bryan contacted me because of his interests in myrmecophiles and finally we met when Bryan helped us to collect myrmecophiles during a field trip to Costa Rica in 2017. When the first heavy rain appeared and we got wet like hell, we - three German guys - were quite jealous because of Bryan´s amazing rain coat.
Army ant diet
Philipp Hönle, MSc
Phil is an ant enthusiat and avid natural photographer. He joined us during a field trip in 2017 where he collected myrmecophiles and army ant prey - the latter to determine diet specialization in army ants for his master thesis (published Mol Ecol). He is now a PhD candidate of the econetlab in Darmstadt. If you have any question about ants, Phil is the guy to ask. Don't miss to check out his forum about ants showing beautiful pictures and videos (some of them shown on this page too).
Chemical ecology of army ants
Adrian Brückner, PhD
I met a few people in science that are just outstanding, and Adrian is certainly among them. Adrian was a PhD candidate in Darmstadt when I started to work here and quickly I realized that I can learn a lot from him, and I still do. He is willing to share his knowledege whenever he can, which means he talks a lot ... so sometimes you need to stop him (brother in heart with Sebastian). Luckily, he is also an amazing cook and a very pleasant person, so good combinations. He joined our project during the 2017 field trip and participated in several projects related to mites and chemical ecology. He is now working in Joe Parker's lab at Caltech. The photo shows him with his favorite toy - the GCMS.
Scientific advizer - taxonomy
Shuhei Yamamoto, PhD
Shuhei is a very nice person. I met him in Copenhagen at the International Conference of Staphylinidae, where I presented my goal to revize the genus Vatesus. I am no trained taxonomist, so I am in the process of learning taxonomy, e.g. genitalia dissections, from scratch. Shuhei is extremely supportative and helps and advizes me whenever I have questions. So without doubt, the revision of Vatesus is greatly influenced by his advice.
Chemical integration of ant guests
Jana Wieschollek, BSc
Jana did her bachelor thesis about the chemical integration of Eciton guests in the lab. She showed that most guests, including Vatesus beetles, mimic the CHC profile of host ants. Ants recognize their nestmates primarily via their cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profiles. Many ant guests mimic these cues, thus avoiding rejection from the nest.
Species boundaries in Eciton dulcium
Ani Paul, bachelor candidate
Using the classical animal DNA barcode COI, we detected two distinct genetic clusters witin a single army ant species, i.e. Eciton dulcium. Ani analyzed several nuclear genes as well as the external morphology of Eciton dulcium workers from Costa Rica to figure out whether the distinct COI clusters represent distinct species. The mitochondrial gene COI can give misleading signals (e.g., von Beeren et al. 2015) and therefore we screened additional characters. In short, E. duclium at La Selva appears to be one species.
Army ant refuse deposits - nursery for myrmecophiles?
Stephan Kleinfelder, bachelor candidate
Stephan is interested in all kind of critters. He was doing his bachelor thesis about army ant refuse sites - habitat to many arthropods. Next to their nesting site, army ants dump their leftovers, which are food to a great diversity of beetles and flies. Immature stages are common in refuse sites and we use DNA barcoding to match adult and immature stages. This might uncover information about myrmecophile life history - a black box for most species.
Gut barcoding of myrmecophiles
Annette Kang, external student from Drexel University
Annette came over to our lab from Drexel University (Steinbright Career Development Center) and successfully applied for a RISE DAAD stipend. She is generally interested in entomology and tried to develop a protocol for barcoding the gut content of army ant myrmecophiles. For this, she successfully developed blocking primers for Vatesus (locus COI) to lower the amplification of host DNA in a gut sample during a PCR. We are still in the process of optimizing the protocol - with uncertain outcomes. Cross fingers. Thanks for the amazing food - especially the kimchi - which we ate during the 2-0 loss of Germany against South Korea in the World Cup. She was very considerate towards us and cheered in silence.
Last but not least I would like to thank the ecological network group in Darmstadt headed by Nico Blüthgen (left image), a group consisting of very talented and motivated people . The working atmosphere is fantastic and I am lucky to be a part of this group. Besides Nico, I would like to pick out Michael Heethoff and Sebastian Schmelzle here. They created the wonderful 3-D models of Vatesus you can find on this page.