Ants

E. O. Wilson on NOVA

I’ve just received the following notice about an upcoming NOVA show on the life of biologist/myrmecologist E. O. Wilson:

NOVA is excited to partner with organizations that share our passion for scientific discovery as we spread the word about upcoming shows. On Tuesday, May 20, we invite you to join us for a look at the life and work of renowned Harvard entomologist and conservationist E.O. Wilson. From his groundbreaking discoveries about ant culture to his controversial take on the biological basis for human behavior, NOVA presents a sweeping chronicle of Wilson’s extraordinary career. In six decades exploring treasure-troves of biodiversity across the globe, Wilson has discovered more than 300 new species and emerged as an outspoken environmental advocate, fighting to preserve the astonishing diversity of our planet for the next generation of naturalists.

“Lord of the Ants” will premiere Tuesday, May 20 at 8 pm ET/PT on most PBS stations. To check your local listings, please visit: PBS – Nova schedule

You can also learn more about Wilson’s career–and get a close-up look at some of the planet’s wildest ant varieties– here.

We hope you will help us get the word out about “Lord of the Ants” by passing the attached e-card on to friends and colleagues who might want to tune in. Thank you!

Best wishes, NOVA

photo source

Megalomyrmex symmetochus: social parasite

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We often think of ants as paragons of hard work, but a surprising number of species get by through mooching off the labor of others. Trachymyrmex fungus growers, the larger spiny ants pictured above, do things the old-fashioned way. They dig their own nests, send workers out to gather food, and meticulously cultivate the fungus garden that serves as the primary food source for the colony.

Then, along comes the slim, sneaky Megalomyrmex symmetochus. These little parasites hollow out a cozy little nest within the Trachymyrmex garden and spend their time leisurely consuming the brood of their oblivious hosts. An easy life, for an ant.

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photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon 20D
f/13, 1/250 sec, ISO 100
flash diffused through tracing paper
levels adjusted in Photoshop
(Thanks to Rachelle Adams for letting me photograph her lab colonies)

 

Qu’est-ce que c’est?

Zut alors! This blog seems to have developed a following of Frenchmen. The shame of it is, I studied French for 5 years in High School and don’t remember a word of it.

The French ant-enthusiast forum Acideformik looks like a fine place to hang out on the intra-webs. Most online myrmecology forums are populated by 12 year-olds relating their experiences fighting red and black ants, or trying to trade in their allowance to import a colony of exotic bulldog ants (to kick the butts of both red and black ants, I gather). However, the French are over there having book discussions and contemplating the finer points of petiolar morphology. I’m jealous.

New Species: Mystrium maren

 

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Mystrium maren Bihn & Verhaagh 2007

Discoveries of new species on our little-known planet continue apace. The two known specimens of the impressively toothy Mystrium maren were collected in 2001 in Indonesia, and Jochen Bihn and Manfred Verhaagh just published a paper in Zootaxa describing this ant and another new species, M.leonie.

Source: J. H. Bihn & M. Verhaagh, 2007. A review of the genus Mystrium (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in the Indo-Australian region. Zootaxa 1642: 1-12.

 

*update* Lead author Jochen Bihn writes about the paper on Trophallaxis Blog.

Microscopes

PZ Myers gives an excellent holiday gift suggestion for aspiring scientists: a microscope.

To fully appreciate the small animals around us, they must be visualized on their own scale. For the uninitiated, the first glance of live insects through a microscope can be shocking. My favorite description comes from myrmecologist Deby Cassill, recalling her introduction to fire ants: (more…)

New photos on myrmecos.net

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If I had to pick a favorite myrmicine ant, I’d go with the heavily armored Neotropical genus Cephalotes. These arboreal ants are typically thought of as rainforest canopy dwellers, but we have a desert species here in Arizona, Cephalotes rohweri, that is the northernmost species in an otherwise tropical genus. They nest in abandoned beetle burrows in the dead wood of living Palo Verde trees.

 

Earlier this month, myrmecologist Scott Powell was in town to scope out a potential research project on our local populations. Scott has been studying how the nesting ecology of these ants drives the evolution of the highly-specialized soldier caste, focusing on populations in Brazil, but is looking to expand his project to include other species. By the looks of it, C. rohweri will make a fine experimental system. Scott was kind enough to let me photograph a few of the colonies he brought into the lab for some preliminary studies, and this morning I uploaded a few of them to the galleries at myrmecos.net:

 

http://www.myrmecos.net/new.html

 

Incidentally, it turns out that the best way to bait Cephalotes is to urinate on a tree. I’m not making this up. There’s something about urine that attracts the workers.