A handy chart of search activity on “blogs” and “social media”:
via Google Trends
At first glance, Google Trends appear to indicate blogging is on the way out. Ye olde webbe logge is so 2004, after all.
But I don’t think a wholesale abandonment of blogging is underway. Instead, prior to 2008 people used blogging software as a crude social network. Once facebook arrived with a better product for that sort of thing some demographics no longer blogged, leaving the blogosphere to people whose activities were a better match to the tools.
In any case, Facebook’s dominance is now absolute:
Stigmatomma oregonensis workers do to a centipede what Yoshimura & Fisher did to Amblyopone: subdue it before chopping it into pieces. Ouch!
This post is a heads-up to those of you who pay attention to taxonomy: the dracula ant genus Amblyopone isn’t what it used to be.
A paper out today in PLoS ONE by Masashi Yoshimura and Brian Fisher has taken the genus and cleaved it in three. Species are now divided between a much smaller Amblyoponeand two resurrected older genera, Stigmatomma and Xymmer. Yoshimura and Fisher’s action should not surprise anyone who follows ant evolution research, as Amblyopone has long been suspected as being an arbitrary assemblage of unrelated forms. Consider this figure from the 2006 Ant Tree of Life paper:
Molecular data suggest paraphyly of Amblyopone. Adapted from Figure 1 in Brady et al (2006).
In keeping with recent trends in myrmecology, Yoshimura & Fisher’s work is based on the morphology of male ants. The new scheme reflects a more sophisticated understanding of male form in this group, and it is certainly pleasing to have their findings correspond with earlier suggestions from genetic data.
For those of us in North America, the practical consequence of this paper is that our common dracula ant Amblyopone pallipes reverts to the older name Stigmatomma pallipes. Our more senior myrmecologists will likely adapt to the change like a comfortable pair of old shoes. I, on the other hand, will be spending the rest of the afternoon writing out “Stigmatomma pallipes” until it sinks in.
In the course of assembling an insect genetics lecture for the “Insects & People” class I needed, but could not find, a graph showing the number of insect genomes sequenced by year. So I made one myself:
Data are adapted from Wikipedia. The 2007 spike is a spate of Drosophila genomes intended for comparison with the genetics model workhorse D. melanogaster, while the 2011 peak is due, in part, to all the new ant genomes.
I do apologize for the extra slow blogging of late. I’ve been positively slammed.
*update: and this will look positively pathetic once the i5K genomes start rolling in.
Rob Dunn’s lab is looking for new postdocs to work in science outreach initiatives, including the School of Ants project:
The camel crickets in our basement are jumping. Ants are busy foraging in our backyard. Both the birds and carpenter bees are furiously building nests in and around our house.
Spring has ARRIVED.
As the wild life around us starts cranking with the onset of spring, so too is research in the Dunn Lab.
And we’re looking for a couple new post-docs to join our crack team of scientists, communicators, and citizen scientists.
One post doc position will work on research questions related to the ecology and evolution of the species that live in us, on us, and around us in our daily lives. Right now work in the lab includes research on insects and microbes, but there’s great opportunity to build upon current approaches and taxa and to harness the power of our citizen science network to ask big questions.
The other post-doc will work on the ecology and evolution of ants in cities, backyards, and houses. We’re looking for someone to take advantage of the data and specimens being compiled from sites across North America and Europe through the School of Ants project.
In short, we’re looking for two awesome scientists who want to study the species we see everyday but about which we know relatively little, whether those species live in Raleigh, Manhattan or somewhere else in the world.
Think about it as research you can do from your backyard… or even your bedroom.
Did we mention how now’s an EXCITING time to join our team? We’ve got a bunch of new colleagues at the Nature Research Center at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, including Julie Horvath and Michelle Trautwein, as well as a project cranking with NC State colleagues on the ecology of herbivores in urban environments. There’s lots of opportunities for collaboration.
Here’s the post-doc position descriptions and instructions for applying:
A Paropsisterna sp. eucalyptus leaf beetle larva everts its hindgut to expose its volatile defensive chemicals.
Among the more conspicuous insects we encountered during our Australian travels were Paropsisterna eucalyptus leaf beetles. Most trees I looked at in southern Australia hosted clusters of pudgy yellow larvae hanging around in plain view, munching on the aromatic leaves in happy abandon.
The beetles have good reason to be seen: they are toxic. Unusually among insects, this beetle’s arsenal includes hydrogen cyanide. By advertising this fact to would-be predators, they avoid becoming a bird’s lunch.
An aggregation of Paropsisterna sp. eucalyptus leaf beetle larvae.
Of all the ant sites on the internet, few are as effective an outreach tool as AntWeb.org’s excellent Ant Blog. Reader questions about everything from ant-rearing tips to identifications to pest control are farmed out to the appropriate experts. Responses are characteristically authoritative and good-natured. Consider the Ant Blog’s answer to the above question about patio ants:
…many ants regularly relocate their nests on their own, and it turns out that this behavior has been previously studied in Formica subsericea (Smallwood 1982 – full citation below). According to Smallwood (1982), Formica subsericea change nest sites about every 90 days. So if you wait long enough, they may leave on their own, though they could be replaced by yet another colony. Hoelldobler and Wilson have a section on ant nest relocation on page 171 of their 1990 book, “The Ants”. They discuss a number of factors that are known to motivate some ants to relocate their nests including mechanical nest disturbance, flooding, competition, and predation. I doubt you want to prey on these ants but, given enough disturbance, they may choose to leave on their own. Digging up your old patio may be all the motivation the ants need to leave.
Ant Blog is a valuable service, performed entirely for free. Contact email@example.com with your questions.
Zatania albimaculata, from Cuba. Zatania is a modest assemblage of 5 living and one fossil species found in Central America and the Caribbean. (image: Antweb.org)
I’ve been remiss in not mentioning the latest addition to the world list of ant genera: Zatania LaPolla, Kallal & Brady 2011. This perky little formicine is not new in the sense that the insects have just been discovered. Rather, it is new in that the previous inclusion of its species in an existing genus, Prenolepis, made increasingly little sense under the weight of phylogenetic evidence showing the two groups to be distant relatives (LaPolla et al 2010). In a new paper, John LaPolla, Robert Lallal, and Seán Brady create Zatania to hold the errant species. Both genera share a similar constriction of the mesosoma (visible above just aft of the fore coxa), but evidence from DNA sequence and males suggests this trait may be convergent.
Indeed, one of the discussion points from LaPolla et al’s paper- and one I fully support- is that myrmecologists should move away from the exclusively worker-based taxonomies traditional to the discipline. Worker ants are great, of course. They are the most commonly collected caste, and often the most practical to use for identification. But they aren’t perfect. Workers are a colony’s primary interface with the world, and their morphology is liable to track ecology and behavior in ways that create confusing morphological convergences. Males, gynes, and genetics can help clarify which traits are convergent, and which reflect ancestral states, leading to a more stable taxonomy and a more mature understanding of the biology of the ants.