Several of you have contacted me about the guy selling fire ant aluminum nest casts:

 

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.

 

What do I think?

Well, I’m not that fussed. At least, not about the ants. I just don’t see the harm in a private citizen capitalizing on a pest insect in a way that promotes awareness of the insects. I also have a hard time getting worked up over the mass death of fire ants. They are imported fire ants. These are billion-dollar pests, and they are not nice players in our North American ecosystems.

If there’s a danger here, it’s a slippery slope for conservation rather than an immediate problem. If a market develops for these sorts of pieces that involves increasing numbers of entrepreneurs trampling public lands to cast native ants, killing large numbers of colonies,  starting fires, and leaving big pits, then we’ll have legitimate conservation concerns. But this activity by itself, the frying of suburban colonies that would likely be sprayed to death by homeowners anyway, doesn’t really bother me. Plus, broader dissemination of the ant casts may help people come to appreciate the little insects, and that helps all of us.

I can’t support Anthill Art itself, though. The scholar in me just can’t do it. The nest-casting techniques were painstakingly developed over many years not by this new guy, but by myrmecologist Walter Tschinkel (see pdf). Neither the artist’s website nor the media coverage mention Tschinkel’s work, so the whole endeavor comes across as derivative and more than a bit plagiarized.

Also, someone please shoot me. I just posted one of those animated GIFs that I hate.

**Update: Adrian Smith is leading a great discussion over on facebook