Myrmicocrypta camargoi Sosa-Calvo & Schultz 2010
The world’s ant fauna continues to yield new treasures. Myrmicocrypta camargoi, described in a new paper by Jeffrey Sosa-Calvo & Ted Schultz, is the largest species in this fungus-growing genus.
source: Sosa-Calvo, J., Schultz, T.R. 2010. Three Remarkable New Fungus-Growing Ant Species of the Genus Myrmicocrypta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), with a Reassessment of the Characters That Define the Genus and Its Position within the Attini. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 103(2):181-195.
artwork by Vichai Malikul
Ok, so we all know this is a wasp. But what’s with the lumps near the tip of the abdomen?
Ten points for identifying the lump, and five points for anyone ambitious enough to put a name on the wasp, too.
At the time I photographed this little scene (at Bell Smith Springs, Illinois) I was myself unsure of the drama playing out on the oak gall. I sent pictures to wasp expert Hege Vårdal to see if my preliminary guess of a pair of gall parasites was worth anything. Her reply: Continue reading →
Bob Goldstein at UNC has been making some truly divine posters to advertise the talks of scientists visiting the Biology department. They are awesome.
Acyrthociphon pisum, the Pea Aphid
The genome sequence of the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum was published today in PLoS. Concurrently, a set of supporting papers has come out in Insect Molecular Biology. This genome is significant for a number of reasons- it’s the first Hemipteran genome to be sequenced, aphids have an unusual reproductive cycle, and this particular species is a serious agricultural pest.
I’ve not had time to fully digest the paper, but it seems the salient features of this genome are:
- extensive gene duplications
- a higher gene count than most other known genomes (including our own!), perhaps related to all the duplications
- a surprising loss of immune genes
source: The International Aphid Genomics Consortium 2010 Genome Sequence of the Pea Aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum. PLoS Biol 8(2): e1000313. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000313
A video from Cambridge University highlights an infectiously enthusiastic Chris Clemente as he figures out how ants stick to smooth surfaces:
Two things strike me about the video. First, they simplified the science for a lay audience without fundamentally changing it. That’s something of a rarity, as any scientist who has seen their work covered in the media can attest. Second, they did this while retaining a sense of humor and the strong sense of humanity in the scientific process.
Most scientists I know have a similarly intense fascination with their subjects- that’s a rich vein for promoters of science to tap. This obviously was an expensive piece. Professional grade equipment and skilled videographers, of course. But if these sorts of productions can affect the public perception of science, they may be an investment worth making.
Figure 1. Relationship between normalized metabolic rate and body mass for unitary organisms and whole colonies (from Hou et al 2010)
The notion that insect colonies and their constituent individuals are analogous to multicellular organisms and their constituent cells has been a controversial idea for decades. Is it useful, for example, to think of an ant colony as a single individual? Do superorganisms really exist as coherent entities? Or do insect colonies function more as aggregations of individuals?
Last week, PNAS published the first application of empirical methods to test the superorganism concept. This is a significant paper. The researchers, led by Chen Hou, asked whether the set of relationships between mass, energy, and reproduction that govern multicellular organisms show the same patterns when measured across whole insect colonies.
The answer, in most cases, was a resounding Yes: social insect colonies grow and breathe just like regular organisms.
source: Hou, C., Kaspari, M., Vander Zanden, H. B., Gillooly, J. F. 2010. Energetic basic of colonial living in social insects. PNAS early edition.
…are at it again:
What’s unfortunate about this title is that the judgement “primitive” has nothing to do with the research. It is unnecessary. The study is about how one species of ant uses ambient light levels to trigger foraging. It’s a nicely done bit of work. But whether or not these ants are “primitive” has zilch to do with the science.
Back in the day, western anthropologists would study Primitive Culture. Such terms are no longer used in that field, and for good reason. It’s not just that labeling other humans as “savages” and “primitives” is offensive. It’s that these laden terms carry more baggage than information. “Primitive” leads us to assume we know things about the subject that were not, in fact, ever quantitatively measured or tested. In doing so we unknowingly substitute prejudice for knowledge.
In this sense, many myrmecologists remain stuck in the Victorian mindset, viewing ant societies through a thick glass of presumption. “Primitive” serves no objective function here- all I learn from its inclusion in the title is that the authors don’t fully grasp the evolutionary process.
Do any of you know what this little animal might be? I honestly have no idea, and rather than look it up I thought I’d crowd-source it to you folks first.
It was lurking on the underside of a leaf at the Archbold Biological Station in Florida along the shores of a sinkhole lake. This was back in June. It’s about a centimeter long.
update: It’s a hover fly larva. Ted MacRae picked it- thanks!
Pogonomyrmex maricopa (at left) tussles with an Aphaenogaster albisetosa at the Aphaenogaster nest entrance.
While in Arizona, I chanced upon a set of ant fights that I’d observed several times previously. Single workers of the maricopa harvester ant Pogonomyrmex maricopa would approach a nest of their competitor, Aphaenogaster long-legged ants, and spend a few minutes drawing heat from the guards before wandering off.
Same thing, but different individuals (note differences in limb wounds from the previous photo)
The interaction is common enough that it really couldn’t be just a chance encounter. Are the Pogos doing this for a reason? Are they distracting the Aphaenogaster from foraging? And, are there any myrmecology students in Arizona who need a little research project? It’d be great to figure out the purpose of the fights.
Three on one. Do the Pogos subject themselves to this treatment as a decoy, to draw Aphaenogaster away from shared foraging territory?
photo details (all photos): Canon mp-e 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec, twin flash diffused through tracing paper