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Lasius Parasite Introductions - How to Begin a Lasius Social Parasite Colony in North America

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     Welcome! This guide is intended to be updated as new information and techniques come in. Please keep this in mind when reading! 

 

     Lasius social parasites are some of the most commonly encountered ants in North America. This guide intends to compile the entire range of information that the community has discovered and proven in regard to their founding strategies.

     I have founded and kept Lasius social parasites for over 5 years, and so far I have achieved successful introductions with 6+ parasitic species. In total, I have done hundreds of introductions, if not close to a thousand. This guide is a compilation of information from dozens of studies and websites, as well as the shared knowledge of ant keepers and personal experience with the ants. 

 

     In order to start a colony of Lasius social parasites, you need host workers of a different species of Lasius. Lasius social parasite queens cannot raise brood on their own, and therefore, in the wild, infiltrate wild colonies to kill their queen and take over their workforce. Once established as the colony’s new queen, she lays her own eggs and the host workers take care of them. Slowly, the population is replaced with her own workers, and the colony will then mature to release more alates like her.

 

     The vast majority of Lasius are known to be afternoon/evening fliers, so keep in mind this is implied throughout this guide. Flight times in terms of time of year are given, but not time of day. 

 

     This guide is divided into six parts:

 

     Introduction: You are finishing this part right now!

 

     How To Gather Hosts: A short section on where to find hosts, and the best way to gather them.

 

     Three Main Introduction Methods: The three main introduction methods used for Lasius social parasites, and their distinctions. 

 

      About Your Queen: A list of all known North American Lasius parasites, their queen identification, distribution, flights, host species, and introduction methods. 

 

     What Next: What to do when you’ve achieved successful introductions.

 

     Definitions: Definitions found throughout the guide.

How to Gather Hosts

     Gathering hosts for your Lasius social parasite queen is what will provide the foundation of her future empire. The amount and quality of hosts will determine how successful she will be. 

 

     A Lasius social parasite queen in the wild could infiltrate colonies with worker counts in the high thousands. For this reason, in captivity, a host group such as 7 Lasius americanus workers and 2 cocoons will typically not suffice! The hobby has learned that the minimum number of hosts for a marginally successful colony is 30-50+ hosts (depending on species). More than 100 or far into the hundreds/thousands is best. 

 

     Considering hosts for a Lasius social parasite queen could be almost any Lasius species, we will generalize and first assume you are looking for workers of a fully claustral species of Lasius (See the About Your Queen section to discover your queen’s preferred host species) as this is most common. The best place to find hosts is typically under rocks or logs in forests and fields. Lasius americanus, which is a common host for species like Lasius aphidicola, Lasius claviger, and Lasius interjectus, are typically found in forests, common in and under logs. Lasius neoniger, on the other hand, prefers open areas. They are most easily found under rocks and debris in fields.

      It is recommended that you have an aspirator or vacuum to collect as many hosts as you can for your queen. If you have neither, have a tube ready as you search for hosts, and be quick to scoop large groups of workers or brood. Brushing workers into a tube or container with a paintbrush is also a good idea. When introducing your queen to hosts, the hosts must all be from the same colony. Therefore, you must only collect hosts from one colony, or if you do collect from multiple, keep the colonies separate during collection and introductions. 

 

     But parasitic Lasius workers can be used as hosts, too. These are typically found in the same areas as fully claustral host ants but will be entirely subterranean. They will often scatter much quicker than their fully claustral counterparts and rarely have brood at the surface. For this reason, you should be even more prepared when you are hoping to encounter them.

Three Main Introduction Methods

     The entire goal of a socially parasitic Lasius queen is to gain the scent of a targeted host colony. The means through which they achieve this may vary by species, and it is vital to understand, at least in part, how what we call ‘scent’ actually works.

 

     Colony scent is essentially a chemical makeup on the surface of an ant. It is created inside of a gland in the ant, and secreted to eventually end up on the surface of the ant’s exoskeleton. Cuticular hydrocarbons (the chemicals that make up an ant’s scent) are very complex, and there’s still much we’re trying to learn about their association with ants and how they’re used. It would take a very long time to go into detail about that here. To summarize: The host colony has a range of ‘scent’ that is accepted. All of the workers, queen, and brood somehow fall into this range. Your parasitic queen’s goal is to steal scent and mimic it, thereby being accepted by the workers of this colony so she can commandeer it as her own. Colony scent is transferred and maintained through antennation (worker interactions), trophallaxis (food transfer), and sometimes the environment.

     A common mistake that keepers make with parasitic Lasius is not having enough hosts to start a healthy colony. In most cases, you want to aim for 50-100+ workers to start a healthy colony. If you have more, such as 200, 500, or even 1000, that is better. In the wild, Lasius social parasites can infiltrate colonies that have thousands or tens of thousands of workers. Although we can start colonies with a much lower amount than this, we should aim to get as close to their natural conditions as we can. If you have much less than 50, you could introduce your queen to the workers and try to get host pupae to boost their ranks later on.

 

      Although some keepers give merit to ‘naturalistic’ introductions (involving outworlds or even soil-living hosts), those will not be covered in detail in this guide. Though this method may be entertaining and may give insight into how the queen could locate a colony in the wild, they generally have less success than traditional captive introductions. There isn’t much to explain on the topic. They may have a better chance of working with species that may swarm their hosts, such as Lasius murphyi or Lasius interjectus, but both of those species can do better in traditional captive environments.

 

      Importantly, this guide divides introductions into three stages: Hostility, Tolerance, and Acceptance. When your introduction begins, your queen will be considered hostile to the workers. As the introduction progresses, some workers will tolerate her (typically the small group you begin to introduce to her) but not care for her and perhaps become aggressive from time to time. This is tolerance. Acceptance is the end of the introduction when all workers in the colony now care for the queen. Host workers feeding the queen is a good sign that acceptance is approaching or has already occurred. 

     In species such as Lasius aphidicola or claviger, once you have an introduced queen, she is very unlikely to die. They are hardy ants. However, in some species, such as Lasius latipes or murphyi, each individual queen is more fragile. It is important to accept that not every queen will survive. In fact, the majority usually don’t. This is a function of nature that can only be curved in captivity, not completely prevented.

 

      It is notable that there are some small strategies or tips, which can be incorporated within the larger introduction methods to better your queens' chances of acceptance. They are listed below: 

 

  • Soil/debris: Though it is little understood, we know that part of colony scent can be determined by debris in the host colony’s vicinity. We can use this to our advantage! A bit of soil or debris from the host colony can be inserted into your queen’s setup to offer better chances of acceptance. 

  • Dead worker(s): This works better for species that do not prefer the Swarm Method. Dead workers can sometimes be chewed up or interacted with for scent by parasitic queens—especially Lasius aphidicola and claviger. 

  • Brood: Brood, although shown to have fewer hydrocarbons than adult workers (more diversity of hydrocarbons, though), may offer a strategy to introduce some host colony scent to your queen. On rare occasions, parasitic queens have cared for pupae (summer Lasius cf. aphidicola), but this is not at all normal, and your queen almost certainly will not. In Lasius subumbratus, queens are known to grab cocoons from potential host colonies and hide with them, as well as lurk in brood chambers of host colonies. It is possible that pupae are the main way to get scent for some species.

  • Food: An ant colony’s scent is at least partially determined by food/transfer of food (this is why you’ll know your queen is doing pretty well if she’s fed by workers). This means that feeding your queen the same food you feed the host workers could be beneficial to the queen, and that not feeding them the same food could be detrimental. Keep in mind, however, this is unproven.

  • Temperature: In some species, such as Lasius claviger, Lasius aphidicola, or Lasius minutus, the parasitic queens have flights in the fall and invade cold, sleepy colonies in early spring. In captivity, we can use this to our advantage. You can stick host groups into the fridge for a few minutes or hours and then dump your queen in with them. Allow them to wake up and notice her (they will likely begin to attack). Return them to the fridge every time they begin to pull on the limbs in significant numbers of the introduced queen and take them out maybe 20-30 minutes later. This can sometimes be repeated until acceptance miraculously occurs, but this is rare. It is better used in combination with the methods listed below. When you think your queen was accepted but a small minority of the workers are aggressive toward her, fridging them for a few hours (or if your queen is cold resistant, days) could calm the workers down. Do not fridge queens for too long, especially if they’re summer fliers!

Many of these practices are typically best put into order prior to the beginning of worker introductions.

Callow Method

     The Callow Method is often considered the easiest method for introducing workers to queens. This method will work for the majority of species, but you can run into problems when you have queens that need acceptance and care quickly, or when it is spring/fall and wild Lasius do not have brood. You must have a group of hosts that has adult workers and pupae. Pupae cannot hatch on their own. Make sure you have 50-100+ hosts or pupae ready per queen.

 

     It is recommended that you place your queen into a test tube with a normal-sized nesting space and that you have your host group in a separate test tube or nesting setup. Make sure the queen and initial callows socialize.

 

  1.   Once a worker has hatched from its pupa and is now a callow, remove it from the host group and place it with the queen in her tube. If she kills it, try again until she doesn’t. You can add multiple callows at a time.

  2.   Once a callow and the queen are at peace with one another, you can begin to add in pupae from the main host group. Try to avoid adding in adult workers, as they’re more likely to attack the queen.

  3.   Make sure any dead pupae are removed so that mold doesn’t overtake the brood pile. When there’s only one or two callows but dozens of pupae, they aren’t able to (or are too young to) care for all of them. For this reason, more callows is better. If necessary, only add in a few pupae until there’s 5-8+ workers. After this point, you may begin adding more pupae.

  4.   The pupae should slowly be cared for and opened by the callows once they mature, and those eclosed workers will then be loyal to your parasitic queen.

  5.   Make sure to feed the workers as soon as they are mature/capable, as they will then be able to feed the queen. Do not allow too much space or the queen and callow group may separate.

     

     However, sometimes we have worker groups with few pupae left, as they’ve all hatched and turned into mature workers. In this case, you may need to try to combine the entire worker group! This is where you can use both the callow method and the Worker Method together. The below process is basically the Worker Method with a starter callow in order to get your queen a jumpstart on scent.

 

  1.   Once a worker has hatched from its pupa and is now a callow, remove it from the host group and place it with the queen. If she kills it, try again until she doesn’t. You can add multiple callows at a time. 

  2.    Once a callow and the queen are at peace with one another, you can add in a worker from the host group.

  3.   If there is no aggression, wait a few hours and add another. If there is aggression, wait until the worker is either dead or tolerant of the queen, then, wait a few hours.

  4.   Continue to add workers, one by one, if they are accepting the queen. If there is aggression, such as crawling/biting on the queen, grabbing legs/antennae, or an alarmed response to contact with her, then wait. They will either become friends or she’ll kill the worker. Do not rush; this process may take days.

  5.   Continue to add workers over time until you’ve added multiple workers respectively and they show no initial aggression to the queen.

  6.   You can now add 2-3 workers at a time, if possible without individuals escaping. 

  7.   If your hosts and parasitic queen are beginning to seem like a makeshift colony, showing no aggression, you should feed them sugars.

  8.   Observe. If your queen is being fed, she is likely accepted or close. 

  9.   Continue to add workers if there is still little to no permanent aggression.

  10.   Once you have ¼-½ of the workers with the queen, newly introduced workers show her no aggression, and workers have fed the queen, and it has been multiple hours/days since the queen was fed, you can completely combine the host group with the queen group. Do not dump. Ensure the queen can easily move throughout both setups (the queen group test tube and the host test tube) once connected. Disturb them as little as possible initially. It is best to simply tape the test tubes together.

  11.   Sometimes, there is initial aggression. Do not try to shake the ants, or take the queen out. It is entirely up to her after you’ve combined the groups! Just leave them in the dark and check back hourly.

Worker Method

 

     The Worker Method is the best alternative for when you do not have callows, or if for some other reason, callows are not an option. Sometimes we are able to get very little pupae compared to workers, and this is detrimental to a queen’s chances. This method works for the majority of species, especially Chthonolasius. Ensure your queen is fed enough to go at least a few days/weeks without food (though some queens will not accept food, and in that case, wait, try again hours or days later. Make sure to clean out the sugars they reject). 

 

     Lasius parasite queens are generally pretty tough. They can take a few bites and formic acid sprays from their primary host species. They are, quite literally, built for this. You should still try to lower the danger to your queen, though. Oftentimes, if you drop a queen into an entire colony, she will just be pinned down and killed. Make sure you have 50-100+ hosts ready per queen.

 

     Though you can use different containers or nests, it is best to use a test tube with a small space. Step by step:

 

  1.   Remove a host from your host colony’s setup (hopefully you have 50-100+ host workers, as recommended) and place it into the small test tube setup that the parasitic queen is in. 

  2.   Observe, and wait 3-24 hours. If the queen and the worker are standing together, antennating one another, and show no aggression, then you can add another worker after some hours. If the queen kills the worker, you can add another worker. 

  3.   Note: Sometimes, workers of a parasitic species used as a host will feign tolerance until there are enough of them to attack the queen. Take introductions extra slow unless it is an especially time-sensitive species!

  4.   Continue to add workers, one by one, if they are accepting the queen. If there is aggression, such as crawling/biting on the queen, grabbing legs/antennae, or an alarmed response to contact with her, then wait. They will either become friends or she’ll kill the worker.

  5.   Continue to add workers over time until you’ve added multiple workers respectively and they show no initial aggression to the queen.

  6.   You can now add 2-3 workers at a time, if possible without individuals escaping. 

  7.   If your hosts and parasitic queen are beginning to form a makeshift colony, showing no aggression, you should feed them sugars.

  8.   Observe. If your queen is being fed, she is likely accepted or close. 

  9.   Once you have ¼-½ of the workers with the queen, newly introduced workers show her no aggression, and workers have fed the queen, and it has been multiple hours/days since the queen has been fed, you can completely combine the host group with the queen group. Do not dump. Ensure the queen can easily move around both setups. Disturb them as little as possible initially.

  10.   Sometimes, there is initial aggression. Do not try to shake the ants, or take the queen out. It is entirely up to her after you’ve combined the groups! Just leave them in the dark and check back hourly.

 

Swarm method

 

     The Swarm Method is the method with the highest mortality, and for that reason, it is only recommended for a few species. You are not meant to literally swarm your queen with workers, but it is a few steps up from the Worker Method. This method is not as favorable when the hosts are larger and more formidable.

 

      Species such as Lasius latipes and Lasius murphyi are two common advocates of the Swarm Method. Although it is possible to do both the Worker Method and the Callow Method with those two species, it seems to have a lesser chance of success because they need caring (acceptance) workers pretty quickly. The Callow Method CAN work if the queens last longer and the workers become caring quickly, which does happen. However, similar to the Worker Method, the Swarm Method is a great alternative to the Callow Method in times when pupae cannot be found, or aren’t being eclosed when the queens are caught.

 

     The Swarm Method, like the other methods, calls for a fair amount of workers in a host group (50-100+). It’s best if you have 100+, as more is always better with Lasius social parasites. In the wild, Lasius latipes and murphyi use their legs to burrow underneath soil and debris to shake off workers. For this reason, it is helpful to add a small amount of debris. They also tend to have terrible grip and sometimes get stuck to the cotton, especially when they’ve walked over liquid sugars. Be wary of this.

  1.   Remove 3 workers from the host group and place them into the queens test tube.

  2.   They will likely crawl all over the queen and try to attack her. She may kill some of them. If she kills them all, simply place 2-3 more in until some of them begin to tolerate her. If they don’t attack her, simply add 1 by 1 until they do.

  3.   Once she has some workers that have become tolerant of her, continue to add workers 1-2 at a time. They may still show aggression, but will likely calm down after a while.

  4.   Once there’s no aggression—no crawling on and biting the queen, and no grabbing her from the newly introduced workers—begin to feed the queen group. Make sure there is no leftover food, because queens and workers may get stuck in it. Do not allow the cotton to get sticky.

  5.   Continue to add 1-2 workers at a time until all of the workers are transferred to the queen group. However, if it is getting difficult to add some workers to the group without others escaping, continue to Step 6.

  6.   Continue to add workers until ¼ or ½ of the ants are in the queen group. If new workers don’t show aggression to the queen, and workers have fed her over 12-24 hours prior, then you can combine them with the rest of the group. Do not dump if you can help it. When you combine them, try not to agitate them much. Leave them in the dark and check hourly. 

To recap:

  Callow Method: Callow/pupae used to achieve acceptance.

 

  Worker Method: Workers slowly introduced (usually 1-by-1) to achieve acceptance.

 

  Swarm Method: Multiple (2-3 or more) workers are introduced simultaneously in groups to achieve acceptance. 

About Your Queen

     If you’re here and from eastern North America, the truth is that you are most likely to have one of these species: Lasius aphidicola, Lasius claviger, Lasius interjectus, or Lasius latipes. This is what 90% of people will have, so if you’re looking to identify your queen, compare those species before any others. There are groups on Facebook, Discord, Reddit, or just about any other social media platform that can help to identify your queens as well. 

 

     In North America, we have two parasitic Lasius subgenera (a taxon just below the genus, representing groups of species): Chthonolasius, and Acanthomyops. Acanthomyops is our endemic North American subgenus, while we share Chthonolasius with the Old World. Acanthomyops are typically very glossy and often have clubbed antennae, smaller eyes, and larger appendages. Chthonolasius tend to have normal appendage sizes and are often more pubescent (pubescence is tiny appressed hairs on the exoskeleton) than shiny. Their shininess may appear diluted. 

Acanthomyops:

Lasius arizonicus

Lasius bureni

Lasius californicus

Lasius claviger 

Lasius colei 

Lasius coloradensis 

Lasius creightoni 

Lasius interjectus 

Lasius latipes 

Lasius murphyi 

Lasius occidentalis 

Lasius plumopilosus 

Lasius pogonogynus 

Lasius pubescens 

Lasius subglaber

 

Chthonolasius:

Lasius aphidicola

Lasius atopus (?, not included)

Lasius humilis

Lasius minutus

Lasius nevadensis

Lasius speculiventris

Lasius subumbratus

Lasius vestitus

Lasius aphidicola

Identification

     Lasius aphidicola queens are medium-sized, dark gray ants that sometimes have yellow on their thoraxes. They are 6-7mm and can be easily confused with Lasius claviger. Lasius claviger have wider heads and are shinier all across their body, whereas Lasius aphidicola has more pubescence to dilute their shininess. Lasius aphidicola can be distinguished from Lasius speculiventris because Lasius speculiventris typically has a shinier gaster almost devoid of pubescence.

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius aphidicola is found throughout the majority of the US, with the exception of Texas and Oklahoma. They are rarely in the Pacific states. They are found in every southern province of Canada, but more commonly in the east. 

 

     Lasius aphidicola tends to fly in the fall months, beginning in August (in low numbers) and continuing through November, or December in rare cases. There is a noticeable population of Lasius aphidicola that has mid-season flights, typically around the end of June or beginning of July, sometimes flying in the morning. Lasius aphidicola is relatively understudied compared to its European counterpart, Lasius umbratus, so it is possible this is a different species. Lasius aphidicola queens which fly in the summer have previously been confused with Lasius speculiventris. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     Lasius aphidicola uses a variety of hosts. They will use Lasius americanus, Lasius neoniger, Lasius minutus, Lasius nearcticus, Lasius brevicornis, and perhaps some related species more common in the western US (such as Lasius pallitarsis). 

 

     The Callow Method works best, as for most parasites, but the Worker Method is commonly used with much success as well. Lasius aphidicola could be considered a ‘starter’ Lasius social parasite. It is suggested to feed them before introductions (feed the host group the same food!). Queens can be found under debris and wandering in the spring, having overwintered on their own. Queens introduced to hosts in the fall will still need to overwinter prior to beginning their colony.

Lasius arizonicus

Identification

     Lasius arizonicus is similar to Lasius interjectus but typically cannot be confused with it because of its distribution. In the rare case where their range overlaps with interjectus, it can be noted that L. arizonicus is typically deeper, darker red than Lasius interjectus.

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius arizonicus is exclusively found in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Chihuahua. This species is typically a mountain specialist.

 

     In Arizona, their flights seem to occur in June and July as the first rains of the summer hit. It is reasonable to assume this is similar in other areas where this species is found. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     Lasius arizonicus is said to use Lasius sitiens as a host species. It is unclear if there are any other hosts, but that one is known and could be its primary. It is likely best to use the Callow Method or Worker Method with this species.

Lasius bureni

Identification

     Lasius bureni is very similar to claviger and subglaber and can only be told apart with microscopic images. It is also said to be similar to Lasius pubescens, but bureni appears to be larger and has a different gaster pubescence.

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Endemic to Wisconsin, only having been found in the northern aspen/pine forests of Wisconsin. This species was collected only once in 1942, with modern collection attempts in the type location only reaping specimens of Lasius claviger. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     We cannot know exactly what the host species is for Lasius bureni. However, we do know that Lasius pallitarsis and Lasius americanus are common in their known habitat, and this could mean they’re a potential host. Lasius bureni likely uses the Callow Method or Worker Method best. 

Lasius californicus

Identification

     Lasius californicus queens are similar to interjectus or claviger. They are orangish-red, ~6mm, and somewhat shiny. They can be distinguished from claviger and interjectus, though, by distribution, as they are not found in the areas that Lasius californicus inhabit. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

    Lasius californicus are found mostly in southern California and Baja California, as well as Nevada. There is a questionable population in Hidalgo, MX. 

 

     Their nuptial flights appear to occur within the wide range of June - September, likely triggered by rain.

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     The exact host species for Lasius californicus is unknown, but there appears to have been some kind of success using a Lasius americanus-esque species in the past (perhaps ponderosae). Callow Method was used in this case and appeared to be successful initially. Worker Method would likely also work. 

Lasius claviger

Identification

     Lasius claviger is a brownish or reddish Acanthomyops that is pretty distinct from most other species. In the east, it can only be confused with Lasius subglaber, which is a taxonomic mess currently. Lasius claviger will tend to have hair on the entirety of its face, while subglaber lacks hair on the majority of its face. Lasius claviger is most commonly found and confused with Lasius aphidicola, from which it can be distinguished by its shininess and difference in head shape. Lasius aphidicola is more pubescent and has a different head/mandible build. Note that the Lasius claviger of parts of the east coast and southeast are different variants, and often smaller.

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius claviger is found throughout the majority of eastern North America, and is one of the most commonly found ants there. Lasius claviger occupies a variety of habitats, including fields, forests, and marshes. 

 

     Their flights typically begin in August in small numbers but can continue through November and are usually largest in late September or October. They can be found commonly under debris in early spring.

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     Lasius claviger can use a variety of host species, including themselves. Lasius americanus, Lasius neoniger, and Lasius claviger have been used to host these queens. The best method, by far, appears to be the Callow Method, but in times when callows are not available, the Worker Method works just fine with these ants (though they are prone to killing at first). The fridge is especially useful for these queens, as they seem to be the most specialized to invading in early spring. Rarely are there queens remaining past April. Queens introduced to hosts in the fall will still need to overwinter prior to beginning their colony.

Lasius colei

Identification

     Lasius colei does not have known queens, but based on pupae size and unassociated queen collections in Arizona, it is possible that Lasius colei has rather small queens. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius colei are found in New Mexico and Arizona. They are found exclusively on or around mountains, and their nuptial flight date is unknown, but possibly has taken place from May to July.

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     We unfortunately know nothing about the host species or introduction methods of Lasius colei. If Lasius colei is, as suggested by myrmecologists, similar to L. californicus, then it would also have small queens. This means that any introduction attempts with them would likely do best with the Callow Method or Worker Method under close supervision. 

Lasius coloradensis

Identification

     Lasius coloradensis queens are very similar to Lasius claviger, and can be told apart by range, shape, and color. Lasius coloradensis does not go any further east than the Dakotas (Manitoba, for Canadians) and claviger rarely goes further west than Minnesota or Oklahoma (western Ontario). Lasius coloradensis is also typically jet black, with a thinner thorax/head than claviger.

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius coloradensis is found in the majority of the mountain states and southwestern Canada. These ants can be found in prairies, forests, and barrens. They are the typical common Lasius social parasite of the mountain states and northern plains. 

 

     They appear to fly in late summer like many Lasius, with flights taking place in late August or September. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     Lasius coloradensis has not yet been kept or introduced to hosts, but based on their distribution, it is likely Lasius neoniger, pallitarsis, or americanus (or similar species). 

 

     The Callow Method or Worker Method probably works best for this species, similar to their eastern counterparts. 

Lasius creightoni

Identification

     Lasius creightoni have very distinct queens. They are a small, brownish yellow Acanthomyops with silverish hairs. They won’t really be confused with any other Acanthomyops, but may be discerned from small Chthonolasius by the wide antennal clubs (a trademark Acanthomyops morphological trait). 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius creightoni has so far only been found in Colorado and Utah. The reason for this specific distribution is yet to be explained, but there is a possibility of significant range extensions in the future. 

 

     Nuptial flights appear to take place sometime in July and August based on alate collections, but the exact nuptial flight date has yet to be documented.

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     The host species of Lasius creightoni is not yet known. If you have one of these queens, ask yourself these two questions to dial in on a host: 

 

  1. Did I find any fully claustral (non-parasitic) Lasius colonies in the area where I found my queen?

  2. What kind of Lasius would I expect to find in this habitat, or maybe the habitat nearby?

 

     Keep in mind some species use other parasitic species as a primary host. This is rare, but with very rare, restricted species like this, it is definitely a possibility (see Lasius plumopilosus, for example). Callow Method or Worker Method probably works best.

Lasius humilis

Identification

     Lasius humilis may be the smallest Chthonolasius in North America. Queens measure between 3-4mm and are a yellowish color, unlike most other small Chthonolasius. They can additionally be told apart from other small Chthonolasius by their long scapes. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     They are found primarily in the southwestern US, with a known population in Mexico. The furthest north they reach is Wyoming. They appear to be from the tops of mountains in areas with forests and meadows, found most commonly under stones. 

 

     Lasius humilis flights are known to occur in July and August in New Mexico. In the northern part of their range, it could be later. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

 

     Lasius humilis has never been kept in captivity and therefore, we do not have any information on their known host or introduction methods. This means you could be the first! In order to figure out what Lasius humilis uses as a host, ask yourself these 2 questions: 

 

  1. Did I find any fully claustral (non-parasitic) Lasius colonies in the area where I found my queen?

  2. What kind of Lasius would I expect to find in this habitat, or maybe the habitat nearby?

 

     Keep in mind that some species of Lasius infiltrate other species that are also parasites. This is rare but can occur. If you decide to try introductions with a species like that as your host, go slow and be very careful. Smaller queens are especially vulnerable to attacks by workers, and this is the smallest they get. Callow Method or a careful Worker Method is important.

Lasius interjectus

Identification

     Lasius interjectus are orange, normal sized Lasius queens which are easiest to confuse with Lasius subumbratus or claviger. Lasius claviger is typically much darker, have more clubbed antennae, and has a differently shaped head, while Lasius subumbratus are typically thinner and hairier than interjectus. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius interjectus are found in parts of eastern Canada, and most of the US excluding some Pacific states. They will nest in a variety of environments, from fields to forests. 

 

     Their nuptial flights are pretty strange. While it is mostly agreed that the brunt of their flights occur in spring (May) or mid-summer (June/July), there is a strange, widespread population of them that fly at the end of the year, in September/October. It has been theorized that the interjectus flying at the end of the year do this in hopes of infiltrating Lasius claviger nests, but this has not been confirmed. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     There are multiple viable host species for Lasius interjectus. Their primary host appears to be Lasius americanus, but they exhibit the ability to use Lasius neoniger, Lasius claviger, and even Lasius interjectus as well. Introducing this species to Lasius claviger seems to be much easier than the others. 

 

     Lasius interjectus may have two forms, one flying in spring or mid summer, and the other flying in the fall. Speculatively, it is believed that the fall-flying Lasius interjectus are hyperparasitic, parasitizing claviger (mixed colonies have been found), and perhaps latipes (queens have been seen attempting to enter colonies). The summer-flying interjectus appears to primarily stick with Lasius americanus, since claviger colonies are not accessible from the surface at this time.

 

     The best methods for Lasius interjectus are Callow Method and Worker Method. Worker Method seems to be best for Lasius claviger, while Callow Method works best for the other two, but both can be used in any case. 

Lasius latipes

Identification

     Lasius latipes is one of the most recognizable species of Lasius in the world. Lasius latipes are large, orange, and have huge legs used to burrow in the mounds of their preferred host species. They cannot be easily confused with any other species. Lasius pogonogynus has matted hair on its face, while Lasius murphyi has matted hair all over its body. Lasius latipes does not have matted hair, though is still very hairy. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     They are found throughout southern Canada, all of the western states, as well as all of the midwest and northeast. They are not found in the majority of the southeast. Reports from Alaska are doubtful. 

 

     Their flights are typically in August and September in the east, timed perfectly to match flights with their host, Lasius neoniger. They are found almost exclusively in these open environments (fields or open forests). In the west, their flight range is wider. They will fly from mid-summer to fall, depending on elevation and latitude. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     Lasius latipes parasitizes Lasius neoniger primarily. There have been small amounts of success with Lasius americanus in captivity, and western Lasius latipes seem to widen their scope to similar species, such as Lasius pallitarsis or crypticus. 

 

     Lasius latipes primarily uses the Swarm Method. In the wild, their large legs are used to scoop dirt out of the hills of Lasius neoniger to shake off worker attacks. Their bulky build is designed to withstand attacks from workers until they’ve simply stolen the workers’ scent (or killed the queen, in the wild).

Lasius minutus

Identification

     Lasius minutus, as the name implies, has very small queens. The queens are, quite literally, similar to a full-sized Lasius worker. The queens of Lasius minutus are very hairy, and can’t really be confused with anything else in eastern North America.

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius minutus are said to be found throughout most of western North America, and most of the midwest and northeast. However, the western populations are not studied or not very well known. They are common almost exclusively in areas such as swamps, bogs, moist forests, and marshes. They will occasionally be found outside of these areas, but typically not far. 

 

     Their flights occur with the rest of the Lasius, typically in August and September. Queens will overwinter and can be found under logs and rocks in areas around marshes and bogs.

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     Lasius minutus has had successful introductions and, very rarely, has had successful colonies in captivity. It is unknown what their primary host is, but we know that it could be Lasius americanus, because there have been multiple successful introductions with them. There has been some success using Lasius aphidicola as hosts as well. The best method for these is the Callow Method, but due to their flight times, it can be hard to get enough pupae to start a healthy colony. Therefore, the Worker Method has also worked. 

Lasius murphyi

Identification

     Lasius murphyi is perhaps one of the most distinct Lasius in terms of queen morphology. Lasius murphyi queens are known for their ‘mustaches’. Some believe this to be ugly, others love it. If you’ve been lucky enough to find this semi-rare species, you’ll be able to recognize her by her matted hairs on the thorax and face. Similar species, such as Lasius latipes, lack this. They can be distinguished from Lasius pogonogynus because Lasius murphyi has more matted hair, and Lasius pogonogynous has matted hair primarily on its face, instead of the thorax. Lasius pogonogynus has hairs that are more wispy. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius murphyi has a similar distribution pattern to that of Lasius subumbratus. It is rather common in the mountain states and central southern Canada, but then appears common in some parts of the northeast. This species is mostly an open-area ant, found in fields or lawns in residential areas, cities, and natural areas. Lasius murphyi prefers sandy soils, especially sandy prairies.

 

     This species is unique in the sense that their flights are typically mid-summer or late-summer in eastern North America. In the west, they are known to fly whenever there is rain during the summertime but likely fly later on in the year at higher elevations. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     The host species for Lasius murphyi is typically exclusively Lasius neoniger, but they are opportunistic and may use americanus or pallitarsis. 

 

     Lasius murphyi is one of the few species that may prefer the Swarm Method. In the wild, they dive into colonies of Lasius and make a mad dash for the host queen. 

Lasius nevadensis

Identification

     Lasius nevadensis is a small (5mm) Chthonolasius queen similar to Lasius minutus or or vestitus at a glance. Lasius nevadensis has shorter and less dense hair on both the gaster and thorax compared with vestitus and minutus. Lasius nevadensis also may be a tad bit larger than both of the similar species. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius nevadensis is currently only known from sparse collections in Nevada and Utah. In the future, it is suspected that they may be found in more areas, but this has not yet occurred. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     This species does not have any known hosts and has never been successfully kept yet. If you have a queen, you could be the first! It is likely they use a non-parasitic species that are common in their area, which could be something like Lasius americanus, ponderosae, neoniger, pallitarsis, etc. To get a better idea of what their host might be, recall where you found them and ask these 2 questions: 

 

  1. Did I find any fully claustral (non-parasitic) Lasius colonies in the area where I found my queen?

  2. What kind of Lasius would I expect to find in this habitat, or maybe the habitat nearby?

 

     This species is uncommon and has not been introduced. For this reason, we do not know their preferred method, but Callow Method and Worker Method are both safe bets.

Lasius occidentalis

Identification

     Lasius occidentalis have small, orangish-yellow queens. They are most similar to Lasius mexicanus, but ranges rarely overlap (maybe in New Mexico). This is one of the only species to have a fully emarginate head, meaning it has a notch on top instead of being more flat.

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius occidentalis is found throughout the mountain states, Washington, parts of the midwest, and some parts of southwestern Canada. They’re found in dry or sandy areas. Lasius occidentalis fly during the rainy season in the southwest, and late summer/fall in the more northern areas (August/September). 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     We do not yet know what species Lasius occidentalis uses for hosts. Judging by its wide range of habitats (from dry rocky areas to forested areas) this species could probably use typical host Lasius, such as americanus, neoniger, or similar species. Smaller queens are typically more fragile, so it is recommended to do Callow Method, but if you cannot do that, Worker Method will likely work too.

Lasius plumopilosus

Identification

     Lasius plumopilosus is a very small, distinct species. Their queens are around 4-5mm and covered in plumose, feather-like hairs. If you get a decent camera with lighting, you should be able to identify them!

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius plumopilosus is known from 5 states with a wide range: Iowa, New York, North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota. They are often found in different habitats, even around residential areas. L. plumopilosus flies in the late summer, August/September, and are typically not found in high numbers. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     This species is suspected to parasitize the common parasite Lasius claviger. We’re unsure if they exclusively use claviger as their primary host, but myrmecologists seem to suggest it. 

 

     This species has only been found on very few occasions. So far, nobody has ever introduced them to workers and gotten a successful colony. With species like these that have smaller queens, it is usually best to do careful introductions. This species likely does best with the Callow Method or Worker Method

Lasius pogonogynus

Identification

     Lasius pogonogynus is a complicated taxon. Their queens are most similar to Lasius latipes and murphyi, appearing as an intermediate between them. This is so apparent that some myrmecologists have been convinced it is simply a hybrid between the two, which seems to be the most logical answer considering the range, and that workers cannot be separated from latipes. For now, however, there remains to be nothing concrete proving this, so Lasius pogonogynus is considered a full species.

 

     It can be separated from Lasius latipes, which it appears most similar to, by the matted face hair that seems to be poorly combed. Lasius latipes lacks this, and Lasius murphyi has much more, with matted hair on its thorax that pogonogynus lacks. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius pogonogynus has been found in Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, and New Mexico. They appear to fly in the summer months(June-August), likely anytime there is rain in the southwestern states, and later on in the year in the more northern locations. Found on and around mountains

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     There are no documented host introductions of Lasius pogonogynus, but it is likely safe to assume that they have similar hosts to Lasius latipes and murphyi. Lasius pogonogynus likely invades colonies of Lasius pallitarsis and neoniger. They likely do well with the same introduction method, the Swarm Method.

Lasius pubescens

Identification

     Lasius pubescens queens are greyish-brown, small (4-5mm), and similar to Lasius plumopilosus. They differ from Lasius plumopilosus by the size and frequency of hairs. L. plumopilosus is almost completely covered in hairs on its thorax and gaster, and plumose hairs. The hairs of L. plumopilosus are larger at the end, almost feather-like. Lasius pubescens has much less consistent hair, and it is mostly normal, straight erect hair. Lasius pubescens also has larger eyes than Lasius plumopilosus.

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius pubescens is a very rarely collected ant. Today, it is only known from 5 scattered states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Tennessee, New York, and Maine. The reason for this is unknown. Lasius pubescens has been found in a variety of habitats, ranging from open woods to dry, rocky bluffs. 

 

     We aren’t entirely sure when L. pubescens has its nuptial flights, but it is suspected to be sometime between July and September. Alates were found in the nest in early August in Minnesota.

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     The host of Lasius pubescens is unknown. It is suggested by William F. Buren (who described the species) that the species is a parasite of Lasius americanus ‘types’ but there is no evidence for this. To try to figure out the host of your queen, ask yourself these questions:

 

  1. Did I find any fully claustral (non-parasitic) Lasius colonies in the area where I found my queen?

  2. What kind of Lasius would I expect to find in this habitat, or maybe the habitat nearby?

     The answers to those two questions could tell you which species you need to provide your queen. Remember that some Lasius do parasitize other parasitic species, either opportunistically or as a primary host (rarer), so keep an open mind.

 

     Because this is such a rarely collected species, we don’t know how to introduce them to hosts. Smaller queens tend to be more vulnerable to attacks by worker ants, so it is probably best to try the Callow Method or Worker Method carefully. 

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Lasius speculiventris

Identification

     Lasius speculiventris is closely related to the much more common Lasius aphidicola. Queens can be easily distinguished from Lasius aphidicola by the signature shiny second gaster tergite, devoid of pubescence, and sometimes by an entirely shiny gaster with little pubescence. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius speculiventris are typically found in areas with lots of moisture, such as bogs and moist forests, but they’ve uncommonly been found in areas that are drier. They are found throughout the midwestern and northeastern states and may be sparsely distributed throughout parts of eastern Canada.

 

     Flights typically occur in similar time frames as other Lasius, around August-September. Queens regularly overwinter in chambers beneath logs, rocks, or any other debris in contact with the earth. 
 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     There is little concrete myrmecological information on Lasius speculiventris, but it has been reported to parasitize Lasius minutus, a respective parasitic species occupying a similar habitat as them. It is suspected that this is only one of its possible hosts, however, because hobbyists have had success with Lasius americanus as well. There has been tolerance with L. neoniger. The Callow Method and Worker Method work best for this species. 

Lasius subglaber

Identification

     Lasius subglaber is a taxonomically confusing species. Placed somewhere adjacent to claviger. From what we know now, Lasius subglaber tends to have a face devoid of long erect hair, while claviger has hairs on the majority of its face in side view.

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius subglaber is found from the Dakotas all the way to the Carolinas in the US, and most eastern provinces in Canada.

 

     We are unsure when Lasius subglaber flies exactly, but it is likely at a similar time with other Lasius, from August to October being likely. These queens have been known to overwinter on their own, similar to claviger. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     It is unknown what Lasius subglaber uses as a host. The most likely candidates are Lasius americanus or similar species, but the possibility of hyperparasitism shouldn’t be excluded. Callow Method or Worker Method are probably good bets.

Lasius subumbratus

Identification

     Lasius subumbratus is an orangish-brown species found throughout the western states and north-eastern states. It may be confused with Lasius interjectus, but Lasius subumbratus queens tend to be skinnier and have distinctly long hairs, especially widespread on the gaster, along with a generally more matte and pubescent appearance. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     In the west, where it is found most commonly, it is primarily a mountain ant. In the east, it is mostly confined to colder, sub-boreal areas where its preferred host, Lasius pallitarsis, may also be found. Lasius subumbratus appears to fly in the mid-late summer months, typically ranging from early July to late August. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     Lasius subumbratus is known to invade colonies of Lasius pallitarsis and deploy a variety of strategies to gain the host colony’s scent. They will hide in brood piles, hide in debris, grab pupae, or even grab workers. Wheeler noted that Lasius subumbratus appears to be conciliatory towards their hosts - usually being rebuffed at first. For this reason, it seems best to use the Worker Method and/or the Callow Method. The Swarm Method shouldn’t be ruled out, but it is notable that pallitarsis workers are typically larger, so it may be a riskier method to use. In a 1917 paper, it is speculated based on wild observations that Lasius subumbratus needs host brood in order to get accepted. They have even been known to pick up and move pupae, which could also suggest that they can open them, so if possible, incorporate brood in your introduction.

Lasius vestitus

Identification

     Lasius vestitus is a small/medium-sized, brown Lasius queen. It closely resembles Lasius aphidicola, but may be smaller. It is distinguished easily from Lasius aphidicola by its long hairs covering almost all of its body. Lasius aphidicola has very short hairs. It also may resemble Lasius subumbratus, especially in its hairs. However, Lasius vestitus has gaster hairs that stand tall, while Lasius subumbratus has hairs that are more pushed down (appressed), and are likely darker. Lasius humilis and nevadensis are similar, but vestitus has more and longer gaster hairs than both. Lasius humilis is also typically brighter yellowish.

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Found throughout the Pacific Coast states and occasionally further east, in states such as New Mexico and Idaho. Also found in British Columbia. Alates appear to fly late in the year in Oregon, on one occasion being found in the snow. It is unlikely, however, that this snowy flight was purposeful or a common occurrence. They likely fly in the weeks prior to this November collection. There is also a queen from late June found in Nevada. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

     There are no known successful colonies or introductions of Lasius vestitus… yet! If you are the lucky finder of one of these queens, you could be the first. As with many of these rarely found western Chthonolasius, you may need to do some potential host investigation on your own. Ask these questions: 

 

  1. Did I find any fully claustral (non-parasitic) Lasius colonies in the area where I found my queen?

  2. What kind of Lasius would I expect to find in this habitat, or maybe the habitat nearby?

 

     The answers to those two questions could tell you which species you need to provide your queen. Remember that some Lasius do parasitize other parasitic species, either opportunistically or as a primary host (rarer), so keep an open mind.

 

      Until discovered otherwise, it is likely best to assume introductions of this species may be done in a similar manner to those of more common Chthonolasius, such as Lasius aphidicola, with the Worker Method or Callow Method.

Hybrid Queens

 

     Unfortunately, it does get more complicated. Lasius social parasites, especially Acanthomyops, tend to hybridize. Not all hybrids will be covered here, because the majority are known from 1-2 collections long ago and nothing else. 

 

Lasius latipes x claviger

Identification

     Some could describe a latipes x claviger queen (from here on out referred to as clavipes) as a larger claviger queen, more stocky in build. As you would expect, it is basically an intermediate of the two species. clavipes queens will often have a darker red or brown coloration and visibly be shinier than latipes. Regular claviger is often somewhat smaller with thinner and darker legs. clavipes will have a bit more erect hair than claviger, but moderately less than latipes. 

 

     There has been at least one instance of a clavipes-esque queen that is much more orange and latipes-like in build, but not full latipes. We are unsure if this is an example of double hybridization or simply different genetic combinations between claviger and latipes. 

 

Distribution and Nuptial Flights

     Lasius clavipes has been found in the Midwest and Northeast in the US, and Ontario in Canada. They can be found in basically any habitat in which the two species are in close proximity. 

 

     clavipes flies most commonly in August and September, which is around the same time that most latipes fly. 

 

Host Species and Introduction Methods

Lasius clavipes can use Lasius americanus and Lasius neoniger as hosts, although there are no cases of clavipes getting workers in captivity. There has been short term success with Lasius pubescens and claviger workers as hosts. 

 

The Swarm Method and Worker Method both seem to work well for this species, but it’s recommended that you don’t use the Swarm Method with larger hosts, such as claviger workers. Lasius clavipes queens are often able to live longer without hosts than latipes. 

What Next?

     So, you’ve got your Lasius social parasite accepted by some host workers, and you’re looking forward to a large, thriving colony. You’re in luck! Lasius social parasite queens are specialized to lay eggs to match the size of the colony they have inherited. If you’ve given your queen 50-100 workers, or even more, it is likely that with adequate feeding, you could get hundreds of biological ‘bio’ workers in her first batch. 

 

     However, there might be a catch. For example, any queen that you may have caught in August or September (in a temperate area) might need to diapause prior to laying eggs, especially species used to overwintering before finding hosts (Lasius aphidicola or claviger). Feed your host colony lots of sugars before diapause and slowly cool them down to diapause temperatures. Once they’ve diapaused for around 3 months, you can remove them and begin to grow them like a normal ant colony. If you found your queen in the spring, disregard diapause until the next winter comes. If you aren’t sure if she should diapause, ask other antkeepers, or give her a few weeks and see if she lays eggs.

 

      Eventually, if you feed a LOT of sugars and some starting protein, your queen will lay eggs (probably lots). Once they hatch, they will be very hungry. Almost any protein will work for Lasius social parasites, such as crickets and mealworms, but nothing compares to fruit flies. Fruit flies are amazing food for the hungry larvae, and seem to be preferred by any species. Always try to feed them until they will not take any more food (avoid mold; clean their outworld/tube).

 

     In the wild, Lasius social parasites tend to aphids and mealybugs underground for their entire food source. There are a few things to break down surrounding feeding. First, you must make sure to provide constant sugars! Lasius social parasites (Acanthomyops especially) are so specialized that they cannot go as long as regular Lasius without sugars. It is recommended to always be able to see the sugars in your biological workers’ gasters or to simply feed them sugars until they do not accept.

 

     A number of large, successful captive colonies have died in diapause. Lack of sugar is considered the cause of these deaths. Lasius social parasites from temperate or mountainous areas may be especially hardened to the cold and can be active in their tunnels at temperatures close to freezing. Their metabolism will still be active in diapause, even if greatly slowed. To prevent starvation in diapause, diapause the ants at a temperature of 37-40 degrees Fahrenheit for 2-3 weeks at a time. In between these times, take the ants out for a few hours and allow them the opportunity to feast on liquid sugars. A few hours after they’ve finished eating, you can put them back into diapause for 2-3 more weeks. 

 

     So, get out there and catch some new Lasius social parasite queens, introduce them to some hosts, and start the colony of your dreams! If you learn something in the process that is currently unknown on this guide, please share your information so it can be filled in.

Definitions

Acanthomyops: The subgenus of Lasius endemic to North America

 

Brood: Eggs, larvae, or pupae.

 

Callow: A worker that has just been taken out of its cocoon/pupae. It is often lighter in color.

 

Chthonolasius: The subgenus of Lasius found in North America and the Old World.

 

Diapause: Hibernation for ants.

 

Host workers: The workers that your parasitic queen will use to get her colony started, typically of a different species of Lasius.

Pubescence: These can be referred to as very short, fine hairs, usually appressed against the exoskeleton.

 

Hyperparasitism: The instance of a parasitic species parasitizing another parasitic species.

Written by Anthony Prothero, Founder

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