Morphological specializations of the digestive tract of Zacryptocerus rohweri (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Robin K. Roche, Diana E. Wheeler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Light, scanning, and transmission electron microscopy are used to examine the morphology and ultrastructure of the peculiar digestive tract of the turtle ant, Zacryptocerus rohweri. The proventriculus is heavily sclerotized and covered with clusters of small spines. Narrow spine-lined channels converging at the opening to the midgut act as a fine filter of food; particles >12.5 μm are unable to pass through the proventriculus. In the midgut, ultrastructural study reveals bacteria among the microvilli of midgut epithelial cells. The hindgut of Z. rohweri consists of an enlarged, dark-colored pouch filled with masses of bacteria of three major morphotypes. A thick layer of circular muscle and deep infoldings of the epithelium greatly increase surface area for absorption. Newly emerged individuals appear to acquire these microorganisms by soliciting material from the abdomen tip of other older workers in the colony. Whether or not the hindgut bacteria are true symbionts is unknown; their acquisition and presence suggest that they may supplement the ants' limited, liquid diet by supplying essential amine acids and other nutrients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-262
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Developmental Biology


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