Honeypot Ants Hanging in the Nest. Photo by Greg Hume.

                   Myrmecocystus mexicanus, Honey Pot Ants, can be found in the South Western part of the United States and Mexico. Their range extends from Central Mexico to as far North as Colorado and Utah. M. mexicanus are found in the warm dry region made up of the Sonoran desert as well as in the transition zones surrounding it (AntWeb, 2013).

The Sonoran Desert is the largest desert in North America. (Kennedy, 2007). I covers land area in North Western Mexico and the South Western United States. Temperatures in the Sonoran vary greatly depending on the time of day, season and location. The average is around 65 F (18C) but temperatures can drop below freezing and exceed 120 F (49C) (Kennedy, 2007). Average rain fall is anywhere from 5 to 12 inches per year (Kennedy, 2007). There is a rainy season in both the summer and winter. The Sonoran is home to the largest variety of plants and animals of any desert in the world (Kennedy, 2007). Some of these animals include: mule deer, coyote and of course M. mexicanus (honeypot ant) (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum 2013). Some plants include: the Yucca elata and the Ephedra viridis The Sonoran Desert is also home to several million people with some of the bigger cities being Baja California, Phoenix and Tucson Arizona.

M. mexicanus nests are often composed of sandstone and/or quartz gravel, although some are situated in finer sand. They often vary from reddish brown to whitish in color depending on the soils used. Nest often contain brown pine needles, dried leaf fragments as well as small twigs in their composition (Conway, 1983). The entrances to nest have a crater which is composed of the coarsest particles of gravel, many of which originate from the excavation of the nest. Many nest craters are symmetrical, a larger percent of craters however are considered asymmetrical, most of the asymmetrical nest craters, however, only deviate by a few millimeters (Conway, 1983).  Some nests have double entrances, at some point one of the entrances is closed leaving only one entrance. Nest entrances can be plugged or closed at any time during the year, however they are most often closed during the cold months. Entrances may also be plugged during the summer as a response to heavy rain. The size of the entrance also changes through the year. The diameter changes in response to nuptial activities. Another possible reason the diameter of the entrance may change is in response to temperature and levels of moisture (Conway, 1983).

 Honeypot Ant Nest Entrance

A nest entrance of M. mexicanus. Photo by Alex Wild.

The entrance to the nest is a nearly vertical entrance shaft. Off of this there is a subsurface labyrinth which consists of horizontal passages and small chambers. In the lower part of the nest there is a system of gallery and rooms (Conway, 1983) in which the queen and the repletes are protected. The chambers in the nest are all arranged asymmetrically (Conway, 1983). Very few ants were unearthed in the upper portion of the nest, where as many were found in the lower portion. The lower portion is suited for protections and most likely provides a more constant temperature and humidity for retreat in the extreme warm and cool months (Conway, 1983). The depths of M. mexicanus nests were found to range from around 96cm to 2m (Conway, 1983).

               Mymecocus mexicanus leaving the nest

Honeypot Ants Leaving the Nest. Photo by Alex Wild.              

For more infromation on the Sonoran Desert and the animals and plants that reside there visit Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum.

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