A video arrived in my inbox this morning that absolutely made my week. Jennie Russ and Ryan Buck from Evergreen State College have adapted the LLAMA project into an animated short:

What’s going on?

Myrmecology took a technological leap in the 1990s. A protocol for standardized mass collecting of soil & leaf litter arthropods was refined from a technique called winkler sifting. A square meter of forest floor is chopped and sifted into mesh bags, and these are hung over a bag of alcohol to catch arthropods as they fall from the sample. It’s almost like magic. Strange creatures emerge from what seemed like featureless muck, and in astounding numbers.

Not only did the technique produce vast piles of specimens from a previously underexplored habitat (yielding a plethora of new species), it also introduced a singular methodology that could be replicated all over the world. With a standard sampling scheme, scientists could more directly compare the biological diversity of forests.  This new trick fueled the growth of ant macroecology, the study of global patterns of ant diversity, and scientists could really sink their teeth into the question of why some places have more species than others.

Brian Fisher’s Antweb grew out of a winkler-sifting project in Madagascar. Similar projects were launched in Paraguay, Fiji, and elsewhere. Project LLAMA– featured in the film above- surveys the litter arthropods of Central America.

What a charming video. I imagine it will become required viewing for anyone learning the ropes of tropical biodiversity.

Birth of an Ant

A charming video of adult Lasius niger helping a young worker out of her cocoon:

The really big ant is the queen- the young ant’s mother. Queen ants are typically useless for most tasks other than egg-laying, so her participation in the eclosion is remarkable.

(video by YouTube contributor xGozzax)

Friday Beetle Blogging: Army Ant Associates

See the little rove beetle? (Jatun Sacha, Ecuador)

Last year army ant guru Carl Rettenmeyer posthumously published a paper documenting the tremendous diversity of animals associated with Eciton burchellii. Over 500, in fact. Eciton burchellii has a larger known entourage than any other species of animal.

Although Eciton‘s associates are the best documented, all army ant species have them. Ant colonies represent a tremendous concentration of resources, and animals that have figured out how to subvert the ants’ communication systems gain access to rich stores of food.

This week’s Friday beetle features a few of the coleopterous army ant associates I encountered on my recent trip to Ecuador. I haven’t yet had the time to identify them beyond family (they’re all Staphylinidiae), but feel free to share your knowledge in the comments.

A rove beetle with Labidus praedator.
The same species (at right) sneaks onto the prey of the ants to steal a meal.
A different species of rove beetle running in a Labidus column.

Finally, let’s play Spot-That-Beetle:

Did you see it?