A common and abundant species in some parts of its range, and the most common member of the genus in New Mexico. Nests are usually found in the soil with the entrance surrounded by a circle of pebbles with a diameter of about 50 cms. Even nests under stones usually have the entrance surrounded by pebbles. Most nests are found in rocky soil, although they may nest in sandy soils, even dunes. Individual foragers are usually found during early morning and late afternoon or evening, and occasionally during the night. Foraging occurs throughout the day during the cool part of the year or even on cloudy days during the summer. These ants are omnivorous. Prey usually consists of dead or dying insects, parts of plants and seeds. This species is very aggressive, but cannot sting; the bite is very fastidious when large numbers are attacking.
- 1 Identification
- 2 Distribution
- 3 Biology
- 4 Castes
- 5 Nomenclature
- 6 References
- 7 References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics
This ant is easily distinguished, as it is a large, elongate species with long legs and two well-developed spines on the propodeum. The metanotal suture is poorly marked on the dorsum of the mesosoma. Its elongate head usually distinguishes it from the closely related Novomessor albisetosus, although the two species can be difficult to separate. It can be easily separated from the similar Mexican species, Novomessor ensifer, by the lack of the constricted neck.
Keys including this Species
Distribution based on Regional Taxon Lists
Distribution based on AntMaps
Distribution based on AntWeb specimens
Check data from AntWeb
Known from habitats including Creosotebush scrub, the most arid of habitats, fluff grass, open areas with annuals, usually at elevations below 1500 m.
Nests are usually found in the soil with the entrance surrounded by a circle of pebbles. Even nests under stones usually have the entrance surrounded by pebbles. Most nests are found in rocky soil, although they may nest in sandy soils, even dunes. Individual foragers are usually found during early morning and late afternoon or evening, and occasionally during the night. Foraging occurs throughout the day during the cool part of the year or even on cloudy days during the summer. These ants are omnivorous. Prey usually consists of dead or dying insects, parts of plants and seeds. This species is very aggressive but cannot sting. (Mackay and Mackay 2002)
Wheeler and Wheeler (1986) summarized previous published accounts about the biology of these ants:
"In the dry deserts of western Texas, I have seen ... cockerelli bring its larvae and pupae out onto the large crater of the nest about 9 P.M. and carry them leisurely to and fro" (W.M. Wheeler, 1910:69). He also (1910:178) saw straggling workers "returning from all directions to their nests just as the cold December twilight was setting in. Each worker bore in her slender jaws a fellow worker that she had picked up while on her way home.
"It is unlikely that anyone who has seen the nests of these insects could have failed to be impressed with their extraordinary coarseness of construction. There is not a single feature of the nest which does not appear abnormally large in view of the size of the insects themselves. The irregular central opening of the nest may be three or four inches across. Through this one looks down into a steeply descending, roughly constructed tunnel which more nearly resembles a rat's burrow than the entrance to an ant's nest. Around the central opening the insects ordinarily build a disc of very coarse gravel mixed with excavated soil. This disc may be six feet in diameter.... Toward the center of the disc there is often a thicker pile of soil and gravel which has been formed into a rude crater" (Wheeler and Creighton, 1934:346-347).
"There is little structural modification and practically no trophic adaptation which would mark them as well developed xerophiles" (Wheeler and Creighton, 1934:344).
"During the summer months the foraging activities of these insects begin late in the afternoon and continue through the night hours.... As a rule by the middle of the morning the workers have returned to the nest where they remain during the midday hours. When foraging the workers do not form files. Each stalks slowly about in a deliberate manner, which gives it a ludicrous air of bland solemnity. It may be doubted if these insects are capable of quick movement since, even when disturbed, their best efforts at speed are neither rapid nor sustained. The workers show no particular preference for seeds since, in addition to these, they gather small bits of plant tissue, pieces of fruit, and the disarticulated parts of insects. The latter are probably secured from insects which are dead or in a moribund condition since the slow movements ... would scarcely permit successful predatism. Little if any of the various substances brought into the nest are stored there" (Wheeler and Creighton, 1934:346-347).
Nevada, Wheeler and Wheeler (1986) - We have 10 records from 7 localities. All are in the Hot Desert in the southern tip of the state. Nest entrances huge and irregular, 12-50 mm across and surrounded by a disc or low crater or half-crater of gravel about 60 cm in diameter (see Fig. 22). Workers bit but did not sting. R.C. Bechtel collected nymphs of Arenivaga sp. (Orthoptera: Polyphagidae) at Searchlight (Clark Co.) in a nest.
Ted Pavlic reports that he finds the Texas blind snake, Leptotyphlops dulcis, while evacuating Novomessor cockerelli nests in Arizona. Although the Novomessor are pretty good at defending and evicting some pretty terrible invaders, like giant centipedes, and although they evacuate when other blind predators, like Neivamyrmex, invade, they don't seem to mind the blind snakes at all. Another colleague says she has seen them in Pogonomyrmex nests as well.
Life History Traits
- Queen number: monogynous (Frumhoff & Ward, 1992)
- Queen type: winged (Frumhoff & Ward, 1992) (queenless worker reproduction)
- Mean colony size: 350 (Holldobler et al., 1978; Beckers et al., 1989)
- Foraging behaviour: mass recruiter (Holldobler et al., 1978; Beckers et al., 1989)
The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's Online Catalogue of the Ants of the World.
- cockerelli. Aphaenogaster (Ischnomyrmex) cockerelli André, 1893b: 150 (w.) MEXICO. Wheeler, W.M. & Creighton, 1934: 350 (q.m.); Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1960b: 10 (l.). Combination in Stenamma (Ischnomyrmex): Forel, 1901c: 128; in Novomessor: Emery, 1915d: 73; in Aphaenogaster: Brown, 1974b: 47; in Novomessor: Demarco & Cognato, 2015: 5. Senior synonym of sonorae: Wheeler, W.M. & Creighton, 1934: 352. See also: Wheeler, G.C. & Wheeler, J. 1972b: 239; Hölldobler, Stanton & Engel, 1976: 32; Hölldobler, Stanton & Markl, 1978: 163; Smith, D.R. 1979: 1360; Bolton, 1982: 340.
- sonorae. Aphaenogaster sonorae Pergande, 1893: 34 (w.) MEXICO. Combination in Novomessor: Emery, 1915d: 73. Junior synonym of cockerelli: Wheeler, W.M. & Creighton, 1934: 352.
Unless otherwise noted the text for the remainder of this section is reported from the publication that includes the original description.
- André, E. 1893b. Description de quatre espèces nouvelles de fourmis d'Amérique. Rev. Entomol. (Caen) 12: 148-152. (page 150, worker described)
- Beckers R., Goss, S., Deneubourg, J.L., Pasteels, J.M. 1989. Colony size, communication and ant foraging Strategy. Psyche 96: 239-256 (doi:10.1155/1989/94279).
- Bolton, B. 1982. Afrotropical species of the myrmecine ant genera Cardiocondyla, Leptothorax, Melissotarsus, Messor and Cataulacus (Formicidae). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History). Entomology, 46: 307-370.
- Boulay, R., Hefetz, A., Soroker, V., Lenoir, A. 2000. Camponotus fellah colony integration: worker individuality necessitates frequent hydrocarbon exchanges. Animal Behaviour 59, 1127–1133 (doi:10.1006/ANBE.2000.1408).
- Brown, W. L., Jr. 1974b. Novomessor manni a synonym of Aphaenogaster ensifera (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Entomol. News 85: 45-47 (page 47, Combination in Aphaenogaster)
- Demarco, B.B. & Cognato, A.I. 2015. Phylogenetic analysis of Aphaenogaster supports the resurrection of Novomessor (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 1–10 (doi:10.1093/aesa/sau013).
- Emery, C. 1915k. Definizione del genere Aphaenogaster e partizione di esso in sottogeneri. Parapheidole e Novomessor nn. gg. Rend. Sess. R. Accad. Sci. Ist. Bologna Cl. Sci. Fis. (n.s.) 19: 67-75 (page 73, Combination in Novomessor)
- Forel, A. 1901d. I. Fourmis mexicaines récoltées par M. le professeur W.-M. Wheeler. II. A propos de la classification des fourmis. Ann. Soc. Entomol. Belg. 45: 123-141 (page 128, Combination in Stenamma (Ischnomyrmex))
- Gordon, D.M. 1988. Nest-plugging: interference competition in desert harvester ants (Novomessor cockerelli and Pogonomyrmex barbatus). Oecologia 75: 114-118 (doi:10.1007/BF00378823).
- Hölldobler, B.; Stanton, R. C.; Engel, H. 1976. A new exocrine gland in Novomessor (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and its possible significance as a taxonomic character. Psyche (Camb.) 83: 32-41.
- Hölldobler, B.; Stanton, R. C.; Markl, H. 1978. Recruitment and food-retrieving behavior in Novomessor (Formicidae, Hymenoptera). I. Chemical signals. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 4: 163-181.
- Mackay, W. P. and E. Mackay. 2002. The ants of New Mexico (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, NY.
- Smith A.A., Hoelldobler B. and Liebig J. 2008. Hydrocarbon signals explain the pattern of worker and egg policing in the ant Aphaenogaster cockerelli. J. Chem. Ecol. 34: 1275-1282
- Smith A.A., Hoelldobler B. and Liebig J. 2009. Cuticular hydrocarbons reliably identify cheaters and allow enforcement of altruism in a social insect. Curr. Biol. 19: 78-81 (Cuticular Hydrocarbons)
- Smith, D. R. 1979. Superfamily Formicoidea. Pp. 1323-1467 in: Krombein, K. V., Hurd, P. D., Smith, D. R., Burks, B. D. (eds.) Catalog of Hymenoptera in America north of Mexico. Volume 2. Apocrita (Aculeata). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Pr.
- Wheeler, G. C. and J. Wheeler. 1986. The ants of Nevada. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles.
- Wheeler, G. C.; Wheeler, J. 1960b. Supplementary studies on the larvae of the Myrmicinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Proc. Entomol. Soc. Wash. 62: 1-32 (page 10, larva described)
- Wheeler, G. C.; Wheeler, J. 1972b. Ant larvae of the subfamily Myrmicinae: second supplement on the tribes Myrmicini and Pheidolini. J. Ga. Entomol. Soc. 7: 233-246.
- Wheeler, W. M.; Creighton, W. S. 1934. A study of the ant genera Novomessor and Veromessor. Proc. Am. Acad. Arts Sci. 69: 341-387 (page 350, queen, male described, page 352, Senior synonym of sonorae)
References based on Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics
- Alatorre-Bracamontes, C.E. and M Vasquez-Bolanos. 2010. Lista comentada de las hormigas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) del norte de México. Dugesiana 17(1):9-36
- Bestelmeyer B. T., and J. A. Wiens. 2001. Local and regional-scale responses of ant diversity to a semiarid biome transition. Ecography 24: 381-392.
- Cover S. P., and R. A. Johnson. 20011. Checklist of Arizona Ants. Downloaded on January 7th at http://www.asu.edu/clas/sirgtools/AZants-2011%20updatev2.pdf
- Creighton W. S. 1955. Studies on the distribution of the genus Novomessor (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Psyche (Cambridge) 62: 89-97.
- Dattilo W. et al. 2019. MEXICO ANTS: incidence and abundance along the Nearctic-Neotropical interface. Ecology https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.2944
- Fernandes, P.R. XXXX. Los hormigas del suelo en Mexico: Diversidad, distribucion e importancia (Hymenoptera: Formicidae).
- Johnson R. A., and C. S. Moreau. 2016. A new ant genus from southern Argentina and southern Chile, Patagonomyrmex (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Zootaxa 4139: 1-31.
- Johnson R. Personnal Database. Accessed on February 5th 2014 at http://www.asu.edu/clas/sirgtools/resources.htm
- Johnson, R.A. 2000. Reproductive biology of the seed-harvester ants Messor julianus (Pergande) and Messor pergandei (Mayr) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Baja California, Mexico. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 9(2):377-384.
- La Rivers I. 1968. A first listing of the ants of Nevada. Biological Society of Nevada, Occasional Papers 17: 1-12.
- MacGown J. A., T. L. Schiefer, and M. G. Branstetter. 2015. First record of the genus Leptanilloides (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Dorylinae) from the United States. Zootaxa 4006 (2): 392–400.
- Mackay W. P., and E. E. Mackay. 2002. The ants of New Mexico (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 400 pp.
- Mackay, W.P. and E. Mackay. XXXX. The Ants of New Mexico
- McDonald D. L., D. R. Hoffpauir, and J. L. Cook. 2016. Survey yields seven new Texas county records and documents further spread of Red Imported Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren. Southwestern Entomologist, 41(4): 913-920.
- Michigan State University, The Albert J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection. Accessed on January 7th 2014 at http://www.arc.ent.msu.edu:8080/collection/index.jsp
- Miguelena J. G., and P. B. Baker. 2019. Effects of urbanization on the diversity, abundance, and composition of ant assemblages in an arid city. Environmental Entomology doi: 10.1093/ee/nvz069.
- Moody J. V., and O. F. Francke. 1982. The Ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) of Western Texas Part 1: Subfamily Myrmicinae. Graduate Studies Texas Tech University 27: 80 pp.
- Nash M. S., W. G. Whitford, J. Van Zee, and K. M. Havstad. 2000. Ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) responses to environmental stressors in the Northern Chihuahuan Desert. Environ. Entomol, 29(2): 200-206.
- Nielsen, M.G. 1986. Respiratory rates of ants from different climatic areas. Journal of Insect Physiology 32(2): 125-131
- O'Keefe S. T., J. L. Cook, T. Dudek, D. F. Wunneburger, M. D. Guzman, R. N. Coulson, and S. B. Vinson. 2000. The Distribution of Texas Ants. The Southwestern Entomologist 22: 1-92.
- Sanders, N.J. and D.M. Gordon. 2002. Resources and the flexible allocation of work in the desert ant, Aphaenogaster cockerelli. Insectes Sociaux 49:371-379
- Smith M. R. 1936. A list of the ants of Texas. Journal of the New York Entomological Society 44: 155-170.
- Van Pelt, A. 1983. Ants of the Chisos Mountains, Texas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) . Southwestern Naturalist 28:137-142.
- Vasquez Bolanos M., and J. Escoto Rocha. 2018. Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of Aguascalientes. Investigacion y Ciencia 24(68): 36-40.
- Vásquez-Bolaños M. 2011. Lista de especies de hormigas (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) para México. Dugesiana 18: 95-133
- Wheeler G. C., and J. Wheeler. 1986. The ants of Nevada. Los Angeles: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, vii + 138 pp.
- Wheeler W. M., and W. S. Creighton. 1934. A study of the ant genera Novomessor and Veromessor. Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 69: 341-387.
- Whitford W. G. 1978. Structure and seasonal activity of Chihuahua desert ant communities. Insectes Sociaux 25(1): 79-88.
- Whitford W.G., Zee J.V., Nash M.S., Smith W.E. and Herrick J.E. 1999. Ants as Indicators of Exposure to Environmental Stressors in North American Desert Grasslands. Environmental Monitoring and Assesment. 54: