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It's time again to start thinking which ant classes you're going to take this summer.

The American Museum of Natural History's Ants of the Southwest Class is being held August 12 through 21, 2018 at the Southwestern Research Station in Portal, Arizona.

Arizona is a fantastic place to study ants. We have honeypot ants, army ants, leafcutter ants, bigheaded ants, and harvester ants, to name just a few of the different kinds.

You might envision a bunch of inhospitable cacti, but that's actually not the case. First of all cacti have extrafloral nectaries, which make them attractive to ants. Plus, there's a diversity of plants in the area around Portal. It's an awesome area for anyone interested in biology to explore.

What does the course cover? Among other things, students will be given the opportunity to study behavior and communication in ants, learn how to keep ant colonies in the laboratory, make an ant reference collection, and learn some photography techniques.

Cost: Tuition is still $1206 (includes room and board).

If you are interested, you will need to fill out the application form at the course website by July 1, 2018. You will be notified if you are accepted, at which time you'll need to pay the fees.

Note:  We'll be posting information about another ant class, the California Academy of Sciences Ant Course, tomorrow.

A friend is building a new house and he wanted to know about the ant colonies he found in his yard.

Photograph by Bill Webster

These shiny black ants are Messor pergandei (also seen in the literature as Veromessor.) They are a type of harvester ant, which means they collect, process, and store seeds as their main food source (See previous post).

Nearby was another ant colony.

Photograph by Bill Webster

Although these ants look similar superficially to those above, on closer inspection their bodies are dark maroon-red rather than black, particularly in the mid section. They also have fine parallel grooves on their heads. Theses ants are harvesters known as Pogonomyrmex rugosus.

Although both these species harvest similar types of seeds, it is not uncommon to find them living near each other. Robert Johnson (1992) suggests that they may segregate over broad regions based on soil texture, but coexist together in regions of overlap.

Some of Bill's earlier photographs showed the ants had placed a ring of wood fragments from construction as a barrier around their colony. It would be interesting to see whether they were reacting to conspecific colonies or those of other species.

Wouldn't it be cool to have ant neighbors like these?

For more information:

Kwapich, C.L., Gadau, J. & Hölldobler, B. (2017) The ecological and genetic basis of annual worker production in the desert seed harvesting ant, Veromessor pergandei.
Behav Ecol Sociobiol 71: 110. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-017-2333-1 (link)

Johnson, R.A. (1992) Soil texture as an influence on the distribution of the desert seed-harvester ants Pogonomyrmex rugosus and Messor pergandei
Oecologia 89: 118. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00319023 (link)

Johnson, Robert A. 1991. Learning, Memory, and Foraging Efficiency in Two Species of Desert Seed-Harvester Ants. Ecology 72: 1408- 1419. (link)

Rissing, S.W. (1988) Dietary similarity and foraging range of two seed-harvester ants during resource fluctuations. Oecologia 75: 362. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00376938 (link)

Check out this new record, Stridulation Amplified: compositions with the stridulatory organ of Atta cephalotes by Kuai Shen.

These recordings are for sale and they would make a great present for an ant lover (hint, hint).  You'd better hurry, however,  because the run is limited to 100 vinyl records, signed by the artist.

Want to know more about ant stridulation? Check out our previous posts.

1. Ants:  No Longer the Silent Types

2. More links to ant stridulation

(Note: In case you are curious, I have no affiliation with Kuai Shen. I just think this is cool. Thanks to Andy for the heads up.)

We all know kids can be wild about ants, too. If that's the case, they might be interested in a new picture book I found at the library yesterday, Just Like Us! Ants by Bridget Heos and illustrated by David Clark.

 

The book is set up as a series of two-page spreads on different topics such as "Sister Cities" and "Bug Eat Bug Job." You might not be able to see from the image of the cover above, but each spread features a photograph or two of real ants (photographs by Alex Wild) surrounded by cartoons.

Although the cartoon illustrations may make it look like this isn't a serious book, don't be fooled. Serious facts and concepts are discussed, but in a lighthearted way that will attract the most reluctant of readers. Throughout the author compares what ants can do to what humans do, making them more relatable.

What I like is it is not simply a rehash of older books. The author reveals recent scientific discoveries, such as how bigheaded ant larvae process food for the colony or how fire ants build rafts to float on water. That's nice to see.

If you know a lot about ants, you might quibble about the wording here and there. For example, "all ants in the colony come from one mother" might make you pause if you know about polygyny. However, by and large it is a case of keeping things simple enough for children to grasp readily and it works overall.

Just Like Us! Ants gives an up close and personal look at how ants do things that are remarkably similar to the way humans do, and it is an accurate and informative introduction to the world of ants that is perfect for young readers. Check out a copy today.

Looking for more children's books about ants? See our growing list (organized by reading level and genre) at Science Books for Kids.

Age Range: 4 - 7 years
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (October 3, 2017)
ISBN-10: 054457043X
ISBN-13: 978-0544570436