Homology Weekly: Tentorial Pits

The anterior tentorial pits (arrows) in a <i>Tetraponera aethiops</i> worker (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

The anterior tentorial pits (arrows) in a Tetraponera aethiops worker (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

The head of an ant in frontal view has a couple of holes usually located in the area between the mouth and the place where the antennae are inserted. These holes look intriguing from the outside– Are they part of a sensing organ? Do they secrete a special chemical signal or defense substance through them? Are they use for breeding? The answer is more mundane than that. As I mentioned in an earlier post, most of what one sees in the outer surface of the arthropod’s exoskeleton does not have an external function, but is rather a symptom of the inside working in these wonderful machines. These particular holes mark the places where the cuticle invaginates to form the internal skeleton of the insect cranium known as the tentorium. The external holes produced by these invaginations are thus termed the tentorial pits.

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Homology Weekly: Petiole, Postpetiole and “Tubulation”

The isolated second abdominal segment constitute the characteristic petiole (blue) in ants. <i>Pachycondyla stigma</i> worker (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

An isolated second abdominal segment constitutes the characteristic petiole (blue) in ants. Pachycondyla stigma worker (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

The easiest way to know you are looking at an ant is to pay attention to its waist: if it consists of one or two nicely isolated segments you can be sure you made a positive identification. The basal condition for the family, common to all ants, is to have the second abdominal segment in the shape of a node or scale and distinctly isolated from the rest of the abdomen to form a petiole (remember that the first abdominal segment is coupled to the thorax as the propodeum). The functional advantage of such novel architecture seems to be an enhanced articulation between body segments, and thus greater mobility¬†for a posterior part of the body that bears the ant’s weapons in the form of a sting or other specialized chemical producing¬† organs like the acidopore.1
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  1. This post is dedicated to my long time friend and colleague Francisco Vergara-Silva

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And as we discussed last semester, the Army Ants will leave nothing but your bones.
- Tom Waits