Anika Hazra Interviews Myrmecologists on Collective Intelligence

In a recent episode of the (wonderfully named) Science for the People podcast, University of Illinois – Chicago PhD student Anika Hazra interviewed myrmecologists Stephen Pratt and Simon Garnier. You may remember Hazra, also a myrmecologist, from her great antforgraphic on ant colony optimization! Now check out her engaging and informative interview of Pratt and Garnier, on ant intelligence, here.

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BREAKING: Daily Ant Launches GoFundMe Campaign: “AntSongs”

The Daily Ant is thrilled to report that we have launched a historic GoFundMe campaign: “AntSongs: A Daily Ant Experience“.

Bring such remarkable tunes as Tom Waits’ “Army Ants”, Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes”, and Calle 13’s “El Hormiguero” to life! The Daily Ant will partner with Jordan Blanchard, a singer-songwriter from Michigan, to produce interpretive covers of these underappreciated classics.

If you would like to support this formicid-forward campaign, donate today!

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T.V. Tuesday: The Kardashiants

We start this post with an unusual sentence: A recent headline in New York Daily News caught our attention. What was the headline?

“Fire ants could be used to help Kim Kardashian”

It turns out that a component of the chemicals released in a fire ant sting also may alleviate some symptoms of an auto-immune disease called psoriasis. And Kim Kardashian has psoriasis. Thus, fire ants could be used to help Kim Kardashian.

But our story does not end with this New York Daily News article. Investigative reporting by The Daily Ant has revealed that the Kardashian family is remarkably antlightened. There are at least two other occasions of Kardashians dabbling in the world of Formicidae. Consider this scientific inquiry by both Kourtney and Khloé Kardashian:

Or, dwell on this myrmecological musing by Kanye West, husband of Kim Kardashian, during a lecture at Oxford University (video here):

People say it takes a village to raise a child. People ask me how my daughter is doing. She’s only doing good if your daughter’s doing good. We’re all one family. We have the ability to approach our race like ants, or we have the ability to approach our race like crabs.

Thus, The Daily Ant is surprised to report that Keeping Up with the Kardashians by association, is one of the most ant-friendly shows currently on television.

UPDATE (09/13/2017): Public Relations Consultant Natalia Piland suggests that The Daily Ant ought to answer Kourtney’s and Khloé’s noble inquiry. The answer is: Yes, basically. In ants, as in other insects, it’s called an aedeagus.

Editorial: Message on Houston’s Fire Ants

Here at The Daily Ant, we know that so much of the mainstream media enjoys focusing on (allegedly) negative ant characteristics. Our online newspaper actively works to counteract this insidious bias. However, there are a few truly bad actors within the formicid family that deserve genuine condemnation. Fire ants are one of these few bad actors.

Amid the historic and devastating flooding disaster underway in Houston, Texas, many fear for their lives. It is thus understandable that the average citizen is subsequently terrified when, while on a boat in their neighborhood-turned-lake, they encounter this:

Although these are ants, and although a floating raft of ants is objectively amazing in addition to being genuinely terrifying, we strongly condemn any fire ant that attacks a human during these trying times. We also recommend that whether you are a human or a non-invasive ant, you avoid these floating rafts to the best of your ability! And, in solidarity with our vertebrate sisters and brothers, we urge you to donate to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

 

Note: We thank several of our readers – Rose, Nathan, Ted, and Jason – for reaching out to us about these ant rafts!

Antfographic: Ant Colony Optimization

Ant Colony Optimization is an excellent example of ant biology directly improving human affairs (in this case, planning delivery routes and other uses). Thus, we were excited to learn that University of Illinois at Chicago graduate student Anika Hazra created an interesting antfographic that introduces the Ant Colony Optimization algorithm and explains its utility! Hazra reached out to us with her premier ant content, and we’re thankful she did:

Antfographic.jpg

On Importants

Are ants really that important? Clearly, readers of The Daily Ant ought to be settled on this question. But for the unantlightened, what strong evidence exists in the scientific literature to support the unique importance of ants in, say, tropical ecosystems? A skeptic could make the argument that such a view is only tentatively supported by qualitative assessments, back-of-the-envelope calculations, and inferences from rigorous but highly localized ecological tests. That is, until now!

Enter our team of Hymenopteran heroes: Hannah Griffiths, Louise Ashton, Alice Walker, Fevziye Hasan, Theodore Evans, Paul Eggleton, and Catherine Parr.

An antrepid crew! Alice Walker image unavailable.

The fellowship of the wingless researchers set out to quantify the relative role of foraging worker ants on resource removal across a large ecological area, explicitly comparing the impact of the ant community to other invertebrates as well as vertebrates. Working in a tropical rainforest in Malaysia, this band of biologists set up different types of plots – one set excluded ants using an ant-targeting bait-based chemical treatment, another set excluded vertebrates, and the third set excluded both ants and vertebrates. Then, they placed a variety of baits in each plot, and assessed resource removal rate. Thus, the relative role of ants, non-ant invertebrates, and vertebrates could each be assessed, and the hypothesis of ant dominance tested. [Note: The authors explain that bearded pigs destroyed many of their bait stations, which were removed from analyses, but that “the likelihood of a station being attacked by pigs was not significantly affected by plot treatment, cage treatment or bait type.” Per usual, vertebrates try to meddle in the affairs of inverts, but to no avail!]

What did the group of gregarious myrmecologists discover? Well, as reported in the Journal of Animal Ecology, they found ants to be of remarkable, irreplaceable importance. Specifically, ants contributed to no less than 52% of total bait removal, a percentage that the authors note is surely an underestimate, given that it was only possible to remove about 90% of ants in the ant removal treatment plot. Furthermore, this foraging impact was not compensated for when ants were excluded – that is, non-ant invertebrates were not up to the task of matching the rate of resource removal in absantia.

SeedHarvester
An ant doing her best to remove a resource. Photo: Alex Wild

Although such an exciting documentation of ant dominance relative to other organisms was unnecessary for those who are already formicid-forward in their thinking, this rigorous work by Hannah Griffiths and colleagues provides a novel type of results that support the view, often held with certainty, that ants are the most functionally important group of macroscopic organisms in the tropics – and, indeed, the world!

Ant Poop

Christian Alexander Stidsen Pinkalski and colleagues have a paper about ant poop forthcoming in the Journal of Ecology. Unfortunately, the full article is apparently not yet available online. But if the abstract is to be believed, the researchers confined weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) to the canopy above coffee plants, and fed the ants a diet labelled with a particular version of nitrogen, 15N. This labelling approach allowed the researchers to differentiate between nitrogen derived from ants and that originating from other sources. Then, they tested the nitrogen profile of the coffee plants, and found that 15N uptake and overall nitrogen uptake was higher in the coffee plants below these canopy ants. This strongly suggests that nitrogen derived from ant poop is an important source of nitrogen in plant communities, and thus may be an under-appreciated component of the nutrient cycle. Well, shit!

Oecophylla
An ant with important poop. Photo: Alex Wild

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