Army Ant Guest Collection (AAGC) Database

Ant_guest_logoMarching ants

Link to Search Colony Database

Explanation of Colony Codes

The Colony Code tells users what kind of colony they are viewing and distinguishes army ant colonies from prey colonies and wasp nests.

E = Originally intended to describe “Eciton” colonies, these are army ant colonies first identified by Carl Rettemeyer over the course of his 50+ years of collecting in the Americas.

D = These army ant colonies were collected and tracked by the many collaborators Carl Rettenmeyer worked with over the decades.

F = Although they include species in the Formicidae, these colonies represent prey colonies tracked by Carl Rettenmeyer.

V = Originally intended to describe "Vespidae" nests, these include various families of wasps identified primarily as part of Rettenmeyer's graduate student Ruth Chadab’s doctoral dissertation [link?]

What is a Colony Notebook?

Much of the colony database was compiled from what we refer to as “colony notebooks” but are actually binders containing tables of data that include colony numbers, dates, field numbers, and very general locations.

Besides E-Colony and V-Colony notebooks, V-colony data was also pulled from tables in Ruth Chadab’s dissertation, and other copies of field notes from other collaborators.

We don’t know exactly how the colony notebook data were compiled. As new information about colonies is discovered on slide labels and from other sources, colony records have been updated accordingly.

About Locality Names

Some colony locality data were compiled from historical specimen labels; some names are no longer in use and collections staff has made their best effort to interpret and standardize historic location names. All names that appear in drop down lists for locality fields are the current preferred names. Original country names and locality information has been retained in the “Detailed Locality” field in the Colony and Specimen databases.

Colony Search Tips

Link to Search Specimen Database

Types of Specimens

There are three types of specimen records in the AAGC: Army Ant, Guest and Other.

  • Army Ant specimens include individual and lots of specimens containing only army ants. Some army ant samples have been sorted by Rettenmeyer et al, but it is assumed that any army ant sample in the collection may contain guests.
  • Guest specimens are samples associated with army ants (e.g., symbionts, parasites or parasitoids, prey, commensals, or "guests of guests"). Guest specimens may include examples of their army ant host (see “Mixed Lots” in the Search Tips section).
  • Other specimens include any samples not associated with army ants, or those samples that were collected ad hoc.

About Specimen Names & Data

Most information in the database has been transcribed verbatim from labels, unless otherwise indicated. When information has been interpreted or corrected (e.g., de-coded abbreviations, historical or municipal locality names, etc), the original text is retained and corrected text is enclosed in brackets. When data is difficult or impossible to interpret, it is documented in quotation marks to the extent possible.

When taxonomic information includes question marks, abbreviations or has been crossed out, only those taxonomic levels that can be determined have been entered in the taxon name fields. The questionable, partial or original ID names are entered in the appropriate note field (Colony Notes for Colony ID information, and Army Ant or Guest ID Notes for Specimen ID information).

Specimen Search Tips

Link to Search Field Card Database

What is a Field Card?

Most specimens and collection events represented in the AAGC are described on over 9,500 index cards, known as field cards. These were recorded in the field or transcribed from audiotapes that were recorded in the field. Over time, Rettenmeyer updated these notes with revised taxonomic identifications and numbers of specimens sorted from samples. The Carl Rettenmeyer Papers, held in the UConn Library Archives and Special Collections, contain transcripts of some of these audiotapes and other notes regarding field collections.

Some cards represent multiple field observations/specimen collections (i.e., the same card has multiple specimens or observations recorded on it) and so the same card may be linked to more than one field card record.

All cards have been digitized and all original field cards are retained in the collection.

What do These Numbers Mean?

Each field card may contain many different numbers. The two most obvious are the field numbers and the page numbers.

  • Field numbers are primarily recorded on the left side of the card and are associated with an observation or specimen sample.
  • Page numbers are always in the top right corner and are used to keep the cards in order.

When viewing records with multiple cards, you can keep the cards in order by referring to these page numbers in the top right corner.

NOTE: Square borders around a field number in the top left corner of a field card appears to indicate that the recorded data does not directly relate to that field number, sample number, or collecting event. When a card could not be unambiguously assigned to a specific Field No. ID, it has been linked to the number noted in the square border to maintain Rettenmeyer’s original order. This ensures that notes about all colonies observed are locatable in the database.

NOTE: See the “What do all these Codes Mean?” section for more information on AAGC codes.

Explanation of Researcher Codes

Carl Rettenmeyer worked with a number of researchers over his 50+ years of fieldwork. These researchers assigned field numbers to the specimens they collected for Carl and kept detailed field notes. Their field cards are now held in the BRC with the specimens they describe, have been digitized and added to the database.

Field numbers assigned by other collectors have been given Researcher Codes, to distinguish notes and numbers recorded by Carl from those recorded by others.

The following researchers’ field cards have been digitized and added to the database:

CWR = Carl W. Rettenmeyer
LM = Lois Morales
MER = Marian E. Rettenmeyer
RC = Ruth Chadab

Field Card Search Tips

Link to Search Kodachrome Database

Carl Rettenmeyer’s Photography

Over the course of his career Carl Rettenmeyer took thousands of 35mm slide photographs—in addition to hundreds of hours of documentary video footage that would become two documentaries about the biology of army ants and their guests.

The Kodachrome database contains over 6,000 digitized versions of Rettenmeyer’s slide photographs. All slide label metadata has been transcribed but some records do not have images linked, as the collection contains many apparently “duplicate” images. All physical slides are retained in the BRC.

Kodachrome Search Tips

About the AAGC Database

The Carl & Marian Rettenemeyer Army Ant Guest Collection (AAGC) database is comprised of four interconnected modules, providing access to Specimen and Colony data as well as supplemental materials in the Field Card and Kodachrome collections.

Links connecting related data among the four modules expand the collection's value as an important source of novel species for taxonomists to describe. The database also serves as an unparalleled and irreplaceable multidimensional resource for ecologists and evolutionary biologists interested in understanding fundamental questions in coevolution, and an inspiration for those interested in learning more about field work and the complex system of army ants and their "guests".

Where Do the Data Come From?


Data represents 10,000 jars and vials of fluid-preserved specimens, over 17,400 specimens of army ants and/or guests mounted on pins, and 5,505 microscope slides (a large proportion with multiple guest specimens). The jars, many of which contain bulk samples, are estimated to house approximately 2 million army ant specimens, many still with guests attached. The vials contain approximately 100,000 individual guest and ant specimens.

Limited taxonomic work to date indicates the collection includes over 150 genera of more than 130 families of guests, with an emphasis on mites, from colonies representing over 20 genera of army ants. These numbers are expected to increase considerably now that the collection is fully accessible to taxonomists.

The collections are primarily from Kansas, Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador. These collections, including both army ant and wasp colonies, are documented in more than 5,000 Kodachrome slides and over 9,000 field cards.

Internal & Collection Resources

Carl Rettenmeyer donated more than just his specimens: field notes, colony notebooks, boxes of field cards documenting specimen collections and slide numbers, reprints, and thousands of photographic slides are also held in the BRC and have contributed to the accumulated data in the database.

What do all these Codes Mean?

Why are there so many different numbers and codes in the AAGC?

The AAGC database contains a wide variety of specimen types and materials, and thus some acronyms have been created and added by collections staff to disambiguate numbers assigned by Carl Rettenmeyer.

For example, to distinguish the four-digit numbers assigned to microscope slides from the four-digit field or colony numbers (and from four-digit slide numbers assigned by other collaborators) we have added “S-CWR” to slide numbers on slides labeled by Rettenmeyer. Field numbers assigned by other collectors or collaborators have been assigned Researcher Codes when no code was originally given (e.g., “LM” for Lois Morales).

Below is a quick rundown of the numbers you will encounter in the AAGC:

  • Colony Codes distinguish colonies collected by Carl Rettenemeyer ("E" colonies) from those collected for him by collaborators ("D" colonies). Prey colonies ("F" colonies) and wasp colonies ("V" colonies) also have different codes.
  • Field Numbers were assigned to samples and observations by Carl Rettenmeyer, and his collaborators, when they were collected in the field. These numbers are documented on field cards and cross referenced in colony notebooks and on specimen labels.
  • Researcher Codes were created by collections staff to distinguish field numbers created by Carl Rettenmeyer from those of other collaborators whose notes are in the collection. They are comprised of two or three of the researchers initials and combined with the field number to create a unique Field No. ID.
  • AAGC and KOD numbers were assigned by collections staff when the collection was digitized. These allow for tracking and organization of the specimens physically within the collection and online in the database.
  • CWR Photograph Nos. are found on most photographic slides in the Kodachrome collection. These numbers are sometimes noted on field cards but have not been systematically cross-referenced.
  • Slide Nos. are found on many microscope slides in the Specimen collection. Collections staff have added “S-CWR” to Rettenmeyer’s slide numbers (e.g., S-CWR-4728) to distinguish them from “CWR” Field No. IDs (e.g., CWR-. Many slides mounted and donated by other collaborators also reference a slide number with a code for the researcher who donated it (e.g., “RJE-1442”).

Notes About AAGC Data

Controlled Vocabularies and Thesauri

Country and other locality names have been standardized to conform to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency GeoNames list, in consultation with the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names® Online, for entry in the database.

Localities & Coordinates

Most coordinates and elevations were recorded for general regions, not necessarily for the exact location where the specimens were collected. The same coordinates or elevations may have been used for a number of collecting spots over specific areas.

Outside Resources

Identifications, taxonomic names and authorities have been determined using the following sources:

Creative Commons

All content in the database is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Creative Commons license

CreativeCommons Attribution NonCommercial International License

Please cite the database as:

UConn Biodiversity Research Collections. 2020. Carl W. & Marian E. Rettenmeyer Army Ant Guest Collection (AAGC). World Wide Web electronic publication. Accessed Month XX, 202X.