Enrolling in the School of Ants

After several days of November weather, Illinois has warmed to more seasonal temperatures. Perfect conditions to participate in the School of Ants!

The School of Ants kit includes red vials for collections from pavement, blue vials for collections from green spaces, a large vial for whatever else you'd like to send, and a data sheet with directions. Mingus the Cat sold separately.

The School of Ants is a Citizen-Science project run by ant expert (and my former labmate) Andrea Lucky. The goal is to collect information about the distribution of urban ants across North America on a broader scale than would be possible through the efforts of a few lone scientists.

The School mails a kit with two sets of baited vials, one for paved or stone microhabitats like sidewalks, and the other for green spaces like lawns. After the vials have set out for one hour, participants cap them and throw them in a freezer to kill the catch. After recording relevant data (like temperature and time of day), participants then mail the packets back to the School of Ants for identification and data processing.

I set up mine Saturday afternoon. It was really easy- I spent more time photographing the vials than I did placing and retrieving them.

A red-capped vial is opened and placed out on the red brick sidewalk. This vial ended up being the one that didn't actually collect any ants, even though I watched a Formica worker run over the top of it.
A blue vial is uncapped and placed in my lawn, where ironically it attracted pavement ants. Go figure.

If you’re unclear on the process, the School has created an adorable explanatory video:

I don’t think New Orleans jazz is necessary to attract ants, but you might want to play some just to be safe.

I’ve heard rumors that 10,000 kits have been mailed out so far. That’s a truly staggering number.


8 thoughts on “Enrolling in the School of Ants”

  1. A clever project, indeed, but I must ask…

    What does one earn upon graduation? And, is the school of ants intending to raise tuition to match the growing costs of nest maintenance and pecan sandies?

  2. Hopefully one of these days I’ll actually use the tubes they sent me. Hurricanes and flooding aren’t idea for ant collecting, and now the weather is barely above 60F here.

    I understand why they ask tubes to be placed in green and paved spaces, but why do they have to be 1′ apart form each other? It seems like they’d be able to cover more ground spreading them 3′ to 5′ apart.

    Last time I counted I was above 25 species in my yard so that orange tube will come in handy. Is it wise to put that many into one tube?

  3. I need to sign up for this. I am actually moderating a symposium on Citizen Science at this year’s entomology meeting in Reno, and it is a shame that we weren’t aware of this project at the time so we could invite Andrea to speak. It should still be pretty compelling though, we have a bunch of great projects represented, including BugGuide (several times), the Lost Ladybug project, and the Beespotter project. Are you planning to be in Reno, Alex?


  4. Hi Alex!
    Thanks for blogging about your collecting for the School of Ants. Glad to know the weather warmed up enough for you to have a successful baiting session in your yard. Maybe we’ll draw up ant-sized diplomas for ‘graduates’…
    It’s true that we have been happily deluged with interest in this project, and the team has been scurrying to get enough kits to all the would-be ant collectors out there. To make it easier for everyone interested to participate we recently developed a Make-Your-Own collecting kit for the project. It’s up on our web page as a PDF (http://www.schoolofants.org/participate) and is based on easy to find materials: index cards, cookies, zip-lock bags. Hopefully this will mean another 10,000 can participate before winter sets in! That’s when we’ll get down to the business of identifying and mapping all of the submissions that are rolling in.

    Mark, regarding ESA in Reno, I will be there, but speaking in a on Teaching and Education in Entomology: http://esa.confex.com/esa/2011/webprogram/Session16255.html . Looking forward to meeting you there!

  5. Very cool! I’ll be doing this when it stops raining. I volunteer at the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor, MI and this would be a cool thing for the kids to do.

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