Masoncus-season #2 begins

About a year ago I blogged about how I had started collecting a species of linyphiid spider with Formica ants that nest in my front yard. I left the post open ended, hoping that someone would have an idea of what the spider species might have been. I was picking up multiple life stages, both sexes and had accumulated over 40 specimens over the course of the field season. Given these statistics, it was hard for me to believe that these spiders were accidentally occurring with ants and became convinced these spiders were myrmecophilous.

A mature female Masoncus sp. wanders among its hosts.

At the time little did I know that I was to receive an email informing me that the spider may belong to the genus Masoncus and was directed to the research of Paula Cushing. She worked with a, at the time, new species of Masoncus that occurred with Pogonomyrmex in southeastern USA. Observations revealed that these spiders follow host trail pheromones to accompany host nest site switches. I contacted Paula and we believe that the species in my yard might be a new species, which had also been collected recently in Wisconsin.

Masoncus sp.

A mature female Masoncus sp.

Masoncus sp.

A mature female Masoncus sp.

Several of us are now working together to further understand the biology of Masoncus in relation to its hosts. As a part of this objective, we are currently accumulating material for gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to compare guest and host cuticular hydrocarbon profiles (CHC). These spiders wander the nests freely, undetected, and may be acquiring CHCs from their hosts either passively or actively, essentially camouflaging themselves among the ants. On the flip side, these spiders may just “have no smell.” These are both commonly employed strategies to infiltrate ant colonies among arthropods. Either way, the GC-MS should tell us more.

2 responses to “Masoncus-season #2 begins

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  2. Pingback: Expiscor (12 April 2013) | Arthropod Ecology

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