I’d been sitting on the above photo for a while, because the insect in it was winged; I seriously thought it was a wasp, but couldn’t find an exact match for species no matter how hard I tried. There was always something just not quite right.
A couple days later, I was looking up some other insects in my backyard which were not winged, and eventually bugguide.net (thank you bugguide.net) revealed the secret: this is an ant, the graceful twig ant, to be exact, Pseudomyrmex gracilis, and the winged and wingless insects I saw are members of the same species! The winged one on my husband’s car taillight was almost certainly a male; the wingless ones in the backyard were solitary females, out hunting.
Also known as the elongated twig ant, Mexican twig ant, oak ant, or tree ant, P. gracilis is primarily arborial. The long, slender bit between its thorax and abdomen (the “postpetiole”) was giving me fits because it makes the insect look a lot like a wasp (reminding us all that wasps and ants are in the same order — Hymenoptera).
Like wasps, graceful twig ants are predators, eating live insects and fungus spores, and tending aphids for honeydew, and they also have a “well-developed sting”, which might be compared to that of the fire ant. They are more docile than fire ants, but will swarm and sting intruders if their nest is threatened.
Alas, this is another species introduced to Florida; it’s native to Mexico (and possibly parts of South America), where it lives in a wide variety of habitats, both rural and urban (“undisturbed” and “disturbed”, as described by the entomologists) and occupies a variety of host trees. Colonies are typically relatively small, with one queen.