Azteca forelii nests in large trees. They construct interconnected carton galleries that can reach throughout the branches and bole of a tree. Galleries may extend into cavities within the wood on the tree and also into the ground at the base of the tree. The nests are easily overlooked as they appear superficially similar to nasutiform termites nests.
Longino (2007) - The bristly mandibles ally this species with Azteca brevis and Azteca nigricans. Queens of A. forelii are much larger than either A. brevis or A. nigricans. Workers of A. forelii are superficially similar to workers of Azteca alfari, but can be differentiated by the setae and dull surface sculpture of the mandibles.
Workers of this infrequently collected species can be recognized by 1) densely punctate/striate mandibles which are opaque nearly to the masticatory margin, and 2) reduced pilosity on the appendages.
Keys including this Species
Mexico to Ecuador and west to the Santa Marta region of Colombia.
Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists
Distribution based on AntMaps
Distribution based on AntWeb specimens
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Longino (2007) - Azteca forelii favors tropical dry forest or seasonal wet forest. In Costa Rica it occurs at low density throughout the Pacific slope but is not known from the wet Atlantic slope. It needs large trees in which to nest, and thus mature forests are favored, but large trees along roadsides or pasture edges will suffice.
This species has been collected from ramifying systems of carton galleries on the surfaces of trees. Forel (1899) reported Azteca forelii var. xysticola with carton galleries on granitic rocks or on tree trunks. The galleries were reported to be indistinguishable from those of Crematogaster stollii. He later described var. raptrix and concluded that the Azteca had actually invaded and taken over the carton galleries of a Crematogaster stollii nest (Forel 1912).
I have observed colonies of this species three times. One was in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica, in a canopy Ficus (Moraceae). Fresh carton galleries occurred on nearly every branch and multiple galleries extended down the bole. Another was at Ciudad Neily, also in Costa Rica's southern Pacific lowlands. A similar set of galleries covered the branches of a canopy Sapium (Euphorbiaceae). In this case I discovered that the carton galleries covered the entrances to numerous small cavities in the live branch tips. These cavities were filled with ant brood and coccoid Hemiptera, and occasionally there were alate queens. A third colony was near Santa Marta, Colombia, in Tayrona National Park. A system of carton galleries covered a small roadside Inga (Mimosaceae) tree. A part of the colony occupied the dead core of a live branch. In each case, a few galleries extended all the way down the trunk and into the soil at the base of the tree. No foragers were ever observed outside of the galleries unless the galleries were broken open. Although I found the occasional hemipteran under the surface galleries, I never found ant brood there. All brood and the vast majority of the hemipterans occur in plant cavities to which the galleries lead.
These ants can be difficult to locate in a tropical forest because workers are never exposed on the surface and the galleries are superficially similar to those of the ubiquitous nasutiform termites. However, on close inspection the carton is quite different from termite carton. It is a light-colored coarse thatch instead of the dark mud-like material of termite galleries. The thatch-like galleries are unique in the genus and do not resemble the more papery carton typical of other Azteca (e.g. Azteca aurita and Azteca chartifex groups) or the very friable carton of ant garden species. What is remarkable, and this was also observed by Forel, is how similar the carton material and gallery systems are to those of Crematogaster stollii. Crematogaster stollii is broadly sympatric with A. forelii, occurring in about the same densities in the same kinds of habitats. Forel thought that A. forelii might usurp C. stollii nests, and there is also the possibility that C. stollii usurps A. forelii nests, but I have seen no evidence of this. In all the colonies I have seen of both A. forelii and C. stollii, the extensive system of carton galleries was fully occupied and there were areas of fresh carton construction.
Queens were unknown prior to this study. The Ciudad Neily collection is the only one for which workers and queens were associated. A few alate queens have been collected at scattered localities, all of them from blacklights.
The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's New General Catalogue, a catalogue of the world's ants.
- forelii. Azteca forelii Emery, 1893b: 137, pl. 2, figs. 50, 51 (s.w.) COSTA RICA. Senior synonym of championi, eiseni, raptrix, ursina, xysticola: Longino, 2007: 32.
- eiseni. Azteca eiseni Pergande, 1896: 868 (s.w.) MEXICO. Subspecies of forelii: Forel, 1899c: 111. Junior synonym of forelii: Longino, 2007: 32.
- championi. Azteca foreli r. championi Forel, 1899c: 112 (w.) COLOMBIA. See also: Forel, 1912h: 50. Junior synonym of forelii: Longino, 2007: 32.
- ursina. Azteca foreli r. ursina Forel, 1899c: 112 (s.w.m.) TRINIDAD. Junior synonym of forelii: Longino, 2007: 32.
- xysticola. Azteca foreli var. xysticola Forel, 1899c: 111 (w.) COLOMBIA. Junior synonym of forelii: Longino, 2007: 32.
- raptrix. Azteca foreli var. raptrix Forel, 1912h: 50 (w.) COLOMBIA. Junior synonym of forelii: Longino, 2007: 32.
Unless otherwise noted the text for the remainder of this section is reported from the publication that includes the original description.
Longino (2007) - (n=9): HLA 1.46 (0.90–1.74), HW 1.38 (0.94–1.69), SL 0.80 (0.61–0.92), CI 95 (94–104), SI 58 (53–68).
Palpal formula 5,3; middle and hind tibia with prominent pectinate apical spur; dorsal surface of mandible with abundant small piligerous puncta, setae in puncta conspicuous, erect, mandible appearing bristly, surface between puncta microareolate, dull; medial and lateral clypeal lobes at about same level; head subquadrate with weakly convex sides, moderately excavate posterior margin; in lateral profile pronotum shallowly convex, mesonotum strongly convex and forming separate convexity that strongly protrudes above level of pronotum; scape with sparse, inconspicuous erect setae, length of setae about one half maximum width of scape; hind tibia lacking erect setae; side of head with 1–2 short erect setae near mandibular insertion, absent elsewhere; posterior margin of head with sparse erect setae; pronotum, mesonotum, and propodeum with abundant erect setae; color red brown.
Longino (2007) - (n=5): HLA 1.94 (1.86–1.98), HW 1.59(1.55–1.70), SL 0.96 (0.89–0.98), CI 85 (79–87), SI 49 (48–50).
Palpal formula 5,3; middle and hind tibia with prominent pectinate apical spur; dorsal surface of mandible coarsely punctate, puncta bearing stiff erect setae, mandible appearing bristly; medial and lateral clypeal lobes at about same level; head subrectangular, posterior margin moderately excised medially; petiolar node short, triangular; posteroventral petiolar lobe strongly convex from front to back, laterally compressed and tectiform; scape with sparse and inconspicuous erect setae, about as long as one third maximum width of scape; hind tibia devoid of erect setae or with at most 1 or 2, side of head with 0–5 very short, inconspicuous subdecumbent to suberect setae, posterior margin of head with sparse, long, erect setae; pronotum with posterior row of erect setae; mesoscutum, scutellum and propodeum with moderately abundant erect setae; petiolar node in profile with rim of whitish erect pubescence, no erect setae projecting above apex, posteroventral lobe with abundant setae; gastral terga with sparse erect setae; general body color dark brown, the following lighter yellow brown: thin strip of anterior clypeus and area near mandibular insertions, thin anterior and posterior bands on gastral terga, gastral sterna.
Syntype worker(s): Costa Rica, western slope, Bagaces (Alfaro) Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Genoa (examined).
- Emery, C. 1893l. Studio monografico sul genere Azteca Forel. Mem. R. Accad. Sci. Ist. Bologna (5)3:119-152 (page 137, pl. 2, figs. 50, 51 soldier, worker described)
- Longino, J.T. 2007. A taxonomic review of the genus Azteca in Costa Rica and a global revision of the aurita group. Zootaxa. 1491:1-63. PDF