Nature In Your Backyard: The Illusive Ant of Winter

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.

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I challenge you all to turn over a few logs this winter and play a game of “Where’s Stenamma?”.

lauren_nicholsLauren 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.

By |2016-11-22T13:47:10+00:00February 3rd, 2014|

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  1. Micki February 3, 2014 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    Can you tell me what is the range of this ant? I live in SW Colorado (the San Juan mountains), and also north central Arizona (the Bradshaw mountains.)

    Thank you


    • Holly
      Holly February 3, 2014 at 4:56 pm - Reply

      Hi Killoran! Great question! I asked Lauren and she had this to say about the distribution of Stenamma impar: This particular species is believed to have a distribution from Massachusetts to Georgia, west to North Dakota, Illinois and Missouri. Within the genus Stenamma, however, there are species that have distributions across the United States. In Colorado, you might find Stenamma occidentale, wheras in Arizona, you might find either Stenamma occidentale or S. huachucanum. Hope this helps answer your question!

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