When most other ants go underground for the winter to wait for warmer months, Stenamma impar emerges to lurk throughout the forest. Stenamma is the second most abundant ant in the Duke Forest during the winter months, and yet, it’s nearly impossible to find. Not to be confused with the gregarious and conspicuous Winter Ant (Prenolepis imparis) which also come out in the winter, Stenamma are small, forage mostly at night, and are fantastic at playing dead. Searching for Stenamma is like an impossible edition of “Where’s Waldo?”: it feels as though every fleck of dirt was intentionally and infuriatingly placed there to mislead you. But you know it is there.
I found this worker doing a fantastic impersonation of a grain of sand. I wouldn’t have seen her at all if her antennae hadn’t twitched. Even after I saw the movement, it took me a few minutes of scanning a 2-inch patch of ground until I found her again.
I challenge you all to turn over a few logs this winter and play a game of “Where’s Stenamma?”.
Lauren Nichols is a research assistant and lab manager for the Dunn Lab at NC State. When she’s not in the field studying how climate change affects Eastern deciduous forests, you can find Lauren peering into a microscope identifying the myriads of ants submitted by School of Ants participants.