Ant Fail at National Geographic

What happens when you take your web marketing budget and spend it all on high-tech 3D models instead of research? This, I guess:

Ten points to the first person who can name the ant genus abused as a physical model for this Frankenstein job.

And fifteen more points for the first person who can name how many millions of years separate real army ants from the modeled species.

***update- points go to Roberto & Ted – it’s a Tapinoma (or Technomyrmex) worker, separated from army ants by 100+ million years.

I know this Nat Geo fail must seem rather arcane to non-entomologists. Ants are ants, right?

Let me show you one of my favorite predators. Here’s a tiger:

What, this isn't a tiger? (via Carmoo3 @ photobucket)

You can’t just co-opt an herbivore’s body for predator duty by coloring it orange and hanging predatory jaws on its face. Dolichoderines are honeydew feeders. As ants go they are essentially herbivores, feeding on plant juices via aphid excrement, and they have a rounded abdomen well-suited for liquid storage.

It’s hard enough as it is to convey the importance of biodiversity to the uninitiated. When a major organization that promotes biodiversity comes out with a 100 million year error, they don’t make it any easier.

17 thoughts on “Ant Fail at National Geographic”

  1. I liked this line as well. They should have given me a shout to proof the piece.

    There are three genera of nomadic, swarming army ant species–Aenictinae and Dorylinae, which are found in the Eastern hemisphere, and the Western Hemisphere’s Ecitoninae, to which Eciton burchellii belongs.

  2. eh, as a entomo person, it’s annoying post hoc, knowing alex’s annoyance; but as a non-ant person, I wouldn’t have noticed it. i guess if it’s an info based site it;s ok….i mean they have videos of the actual animals, and awesome narration. dun dun dun, and lots of useful facts on that page. yes the interactive profile is silly, but it still seems useful. the data on the page outweighs the silly cartoon.

    1. I’d not have as much of a problem with it if they’d constructed some sort of generic ant form and tacked some army ant traits on it.

      But they very specifically built a Technomyrmex/Tapinoma, showing the unique diagnostic traits for those genera. These have a diametrically different structure to army ants.

      As to useful facts on the page, I suppose it’s good that some of them are correct. The authors apparently can’t tell the difference between a subfamily and a genus. The whole page leaves the impression of an underpaid communications intern on a deadline, rather than something assembled by a person who actually knows anything about the subject.

  3. as to conveying biodiversity, i think the videos/narration/actual images do more than cartoons designed to hililte points of interest…so they used a model ant, so what? for bees, for example, we make silly cartoons all the time, to convey patterns, but there are always morphological differences that are important, but don’t convey much info to the average person. so who gives a crud? not me.

  4. I love your helpful tiger illustration!

    National Geographic is usually pretty good with herp identifications, but a few months ago I did see a green frog identified as a wood frog on their site.

  5. Marc "Teleutotje" Van der Stappen

    Photo 19 was also wrong, also a leafcutter. And about those three genera, it should be “at least three subfamilies”… I’m surprised they make so much mistakes, expected better from them …

  6. I think it interesting that you seem to expect National Geographic to be accurate in their presentation of arthropods (or anything else). Like most of the media, and many of the large ‘scientific’ societies for that matter, they long ago lost any interest they may have had in sterile bourgeois facts. They have a message to get across and fact checking would be counterproductive, even reactionary. Don’t provoke them – they may decide that Taxonomy Fail is a form of denialism.

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