Back from Uganda, Off to Florida

Although I wish I could regale you with spellbinding tales of courage, blood, and African ants, I’m on a tight turnaround as I prepare for the BugShot photo workshop in Florida next week. Thus, Myrmecos will remain slow until afterwards. For those of you attending the workshop, I am looking forward to meeting you soon!

In the meantime enjoy this perilampid wasp, surely among the most beautiful of insects.

A parasitic wasps alights on a tree branch in Kibale Forest, Uganda.

Ant Course in Uganda (and a blog break)

Tomorrow morning I and other ant researchers head to the famous annual Ant Course, held this year at the Makerere University Biological Field Station in Kibale, Uganda. It’s been a few years since my last participation at Ant Course. I’ve never been to that part of the world before, and I’m excited to see some old friends. Plus, the ant fauna looks…enticing. If all goes well I’ll finally get shots of the spectacular surface-raiding Dorylus driver ants.

Another tropical adventure, however, means I won’t be keeping up with the blogging. Myrmecos will be on vacation for the next couple weeks, but it’s all in the name of spicing this place up with crazy African insects when I return.

Happy August, everyone!

Meanwhile, out in blogland…

Eric Michael Johnson takes a look at the interminable kin vs. group selection debate and decides the argument is more ego and semantics than right vs. wrong:

So is that what this fight is really all about, the objection over a name change? On a superficial level, yes, but there are larger stakes involved. Consider the case of Pluto. When the International Astronomical Union demoted Pluto from it’s longheld status as a planet in 2006 it was met with outrage. Even something as simple as a name change must face the reality of textbooks that have to be rewritten, professional reputations that are invested in the status quo, funding opportunities that could be lost, as well as a theoretical shift that some scientists may be unwilling to make.

The bug blogosphere scores a welcome new addition with photographer Piotr Naskrecki’s Smaller Majority.

Alison at 6legs2many finds a hilarious Taxonomy Fail.

Macromite gets funky.

Bug Girl looks at the extended mating habits of stick insects.

Jerry Coyne ponders discoveries that might disprove the theory of evolution.

Morgan Jackson’s mantisfly needs a caption.


A couple announcements.

First, BugShot 2012 is sold out! We are thinking of opening a second event for later in the year, in a different location, as we were taken aback by just how popular the workshop seems to be. Stay tuned for details.

Second, I am giving two talks this week at the University of Central Florida:

April 3 – University of Central Florida

“How to Take Better  Insect Photographs”
4:30-5:30pm in BL 209

April 5 – University of Central Florida

“Using Photography and Social Media to Promote Biodiversity”
10:30-noon Student Union, Cape Florida, 316 ABCD

Hope to see some of you there!

Is blogging dead?

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:

Antweb’s Ant Blog

Of all the ant sites on the internet, few are as effective an outreach tool as’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 with your questions.

Google+ and Facebook react to the ant throwdown

A few days ago, as an experiment, I uploaded the following image to Google + and Facebook:

A battle between Rhytidoponera victoriae and Amblyopone ferruginea (Victoria, Australia)

I was interested to compare differences in community engagement across social media platforms. Why? I post my new photos to Google+ and don’t do much on Facebook (which I hate with a passion, for a variety of reasons), but if Google+ continues losing steam I might have to suck it up and go back. Hence, a test image.

The post went up on the evening of March 10th. Here’s what happened: pandamonium over on Google:

The Google community totally screwed the comparison by engaging too much with the image. The post got listed under “what’s hot” and next thing I know a bunch of random non-followers were plussing and commenting all over the place. That’s not what usually happens. As facebook doesn’t have an equivalent to a global “what’s hot” feed, this is not a fair test. In essence, the data point succumbed to random internet weather patterns.

I promised folks I’d report the results, though, and promises being what they are here’s a graph:

Google Wins

Media coverage versus author commentary

There’s a study out in Proceedings of the Royal Society on how leafcutter ant colony size might be constrained by logistics. If you’d like a summary, you could hit up the regular old science news outlets like Cosmos or ABC (Australia). These are pretty good, insofar as science media goes.

Or, you could hear directly from one of the study’s authors, Martin Burd, who blogs:

In a study of leaf-cutting ants in Central America, published today, Andrew Bruce and I discovered cleared trails become less effective at promoting the flow of resources as ant colonies grow larger. We biologists refer to such patterns as “allometric scaling” – the change in the function of an entity as it changes in size.

The world would be a better place if more scientists followed Burd’s lead and took the time to briefly explain- in simpler terms- why their research matters.

(source: Bruce, A. I., Burd, M. 2012. Allometric scaling of foraging rate with trail dimensions in leaf-cutting ants. Proc Roy Soc B 10.1098/rspb.2011.2583 )