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You can tell a lot about a society by what its members throw away.

Take these harvester ants, for example.

Your eye might be attracted by the flurry of activity around the nest entrance.

It does pay to look elsewhere, though.

Here's the trash heap. Looks like these ants have been gathering a lot of Isopods, otherwise known as rolypolies.

This midden was extensive, and strewn with Isopods.

As an entomologist, my eye was drawn to the beetle elytra (hard upper wings).

Here's another beetle.

The harvester ant mound was along a trail at Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, Arizona.

About 1/2 mile away, I spotted another mound of the same species.

This one seems to have more plant material, plus a bit of egg shell.

Still a lot of Isopods, although the exoskeletons are more broken up. There's an elytra of the same kind of beetle as was on the first harvester ant mound.

There's another elytra.

It felt good to get out and see some ants, although the time was much too brief. I would like to have looked around more thoroughly.

And, oh yes, there were a few flowers too.

Did you get to do any hiking this weekend?


Are any of you signed up for the 2011 Ant Course? It is going to be held at the American Museum of Natural History's Southwestern Research Station near Portal, Arizona this year, or at least it was supposed to be. You see, there is a big fire burning in southeastern Arizona right now. They had to evacuate the station over the weekend.

Here's a blurb from ABC15 News.

Makes me wonder if the ant course is going to be looking at the effects of forest fires on ants this year. I sure hope not.

Photograph from Public Domain Pictures by Kim Newberg

I often get questions about raising ants. How do you keep a colony disease-free and growing in an artificial nest?

One of the most common ways to keep ants is in a glass test tube nest. The advantages are that glass tubes are easy to clean, supply the proper moisture, convenient to transport and can grow in number as the colony grows.

1. Obtain a glass or plastic test tube. The size depends on what kind of ants you are keeping. You can find test tubes at most scientific supply stores.

2. Fill roughly 1/3 way with water. Use clean, good quality water.

3. Roll up a sterile ball of cotton and shove down to the top of the water surface. The idea is to keep the water from flowing out, but create a humid chamber for the ants by creating a tight plug of cotton. Push the cotton down with a clean probe or skewer. See that the moisture does not come past the top of the cotton plug. If it does, pull out the plug and try again with fresh cotton.

You can set the test tube in a plastic bin rimmed with fluon, a milky teflon-like substance that keeps ants from crawling away (see below). Or you can start out by plugging the tube with cotton to keep the ants inside.

Once the number of workers increases, you can add more test tubes.

For more information try:

How to Make An Ant Farm

Instructions For Building Artificial Ant Nests

How to Feed Queen Ants

Where to Get Fluon

AntsCanada Ants Store


"Look at that ant," she said.

It's not an ant, though.

Ants have six legs, not eight.

And ants sure don't have those iridescent chelicerae in front. Or the row of eyes right above the chelicerae.

It's a jumping spider, apparently Myrmarachne formicaria. Look how the spider even holds its palps under the chelicerae to help with the disguise.

This is one of four males found overwintering in an old toy bulldozer left in the woods of upstate New York. We brought the toy inside and a day or so later noticed these. Once they had warmed up, they were quite active and readily accepted small flies.

Myrmarachne formicaria is a ant-mimic jumping spider that was first found in the United States (in Ohio) in 2001. Obviously its range is spreading.

Have you ever been fooled momentarily by a spider that was an ant mimic? Have you ever seen one of these?


Richard A. Bradley, Bruce Cutler, Maggie Hodge. 2006. The first records of Myrmarachne formicaria (Aranae, Salticidae) in the Americas. Journal of Arachnology. 34(2):483-484.