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Found any good ant books lately?

Coming out in November (2012) is a new ant book from Yale University Press:  A Field Guide to the Ants of New England by Aaron M. Ellison, Nicholas J. Gotelli Ph.D., Elizabeth J. Farnsworth, and Gary D. Alpert Ph.D.

The first author, Aaron M. Ellison, is senior research fellow in ecology at Harvard University's Harvard Forest and also an adjunct research professor of biology and environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts.

Ellison talks about the "warm ants" project in this video. He also briefly discusses the importance of ants.

If you'd like to learn more, Yale Press has a summary of the book and Harvard Forest has an information page.

Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (November 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0300169302
ISBN-13: 978-0300169300

Coming out in paperback this month is Rick P Overson's May 2011 Arizona State University thesis, Causes and Consequences of Queen-Number Variation in the California Harvester Ant Pogonomyrmex californicus.

Paperback: 118 pages
Publisher: ProQuest, UMI Dissertation Publishing (July 17, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1249043700
ISBN-13: 978-1249043706

(Note:  if you would like a free .pdf copy, google the title for a link).

Wild Bees, Wasps and Ants and Other Stinging Insects by Edward Saunders is an older book that is now available for free on Kindle. It is also available in a variety of formats at Gutenberg.

Do you know of any new ant books coming out or have you found any good older books? I'd love to hear about them.

Have you ever lost your car in the mall parking lot? Our family avoids this problem by standing next to our parked car before we leave it and taking what we jokingly call "an orientation flight," named for the circling flight wasps take to assess local landmarks when they leave their nests (first described by Niko Tinbergen). We don't really fly, but we do turn around and note a prominent, stable landmarks in the area creating a visual map (although my husband inevitably laughs and says, "We're parked next to that blue car.")

After reading the new book, Nature's Compass: The Mystery of Animal Navigation (Science Essentials) by James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould, it becomes apparent that our way of navigating the parking lot is not that uncommon for humans. Our internal navigation capability is, however, fairly unsophisticated compared to the navigation systems many other animals use to achieve some pretty amazing feats. For example, the celebrity migrant monarch butterfly must fly a couple thousand miles to a mountain in Mexico without an electronic global positioning system. What it does use is an internal compass, clock and calendar to arrive at the right place at the right time.

In fact, a number of insects have sophisticated navigation systems, particularly those with nests that they need to return to with some accuracy, like the honey bees and ants. Researchers have shown that both honey bees and ants use the sun's position against an internal clock to help keep their bearings. In the absence of the sun, the insects can use patterns of polarized light. (Polarized light is the light that vibrates in a definite pattern in one direction, rather than in all directions.) Certain ants have also been shown to have a method of "step-counting," which allows them to assess distances based on stride length (more about that in an upcoming post). Finally, a number of insects, honey bees and monarch butterflies being prominent examples, use magnetic fields for navigating.

The authors review the scientific literature for vertebrates as well, from cahows that must navigate across vast expanses of water to a tiny island near Bermuda, to migrating sea turtles. The navigation abilities of homing pigeons are featured prominently, as well as some of the details of the controversies that arose around the study of vertebrate navigation. My favorite section is an examination of the possibility of magnetic map sense in humans, which clearly and humorously points out the difficulties of experimenting with human subjects.

After seven chapters about how animals navigate, the final chapter is a poignant look at why understanding how animals navigate is so critically important for conservation efforts. Well-intentioned efforts to reintroduce threatened and endangered migratory species have little likelihood of success if they do not take into account how the animals find their way.

James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould have written other popular science books that explore the potential cognitive abilities of animals, including The Animal Mind and Animal Architects. Nature's Compass expands this interest in a new direction (pun intended). If you are intrigued by animal behavior or need to brush up on your understanding of the field of animal navigation, this book will be a handy reference.

More books by the Goulds:

This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

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Are you going to be in Arizona on Saturday March 3, 2012? You might want to stop by a special event at Arizona State University.

What:  Film screening of Ants as Superpowers and book signing by Bert Hoelldobler

When:  Saturday March 3, 2012 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

Where:  Arizona State University

Life Science Center, A Wing  (LSA 191)

Info page at ASU

Photograph by Yrichon aka Malin Björnsdotter Åberg

from Wikimedia

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What is there to do when the ants are not very active outside? Read a book about ants, of course. I just finished Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens by Eric Grissell, which James Trager had mentioned a few weeks ago (Thank you, James!)

Grissell is an expert on wasps and he writes with a great deal of humor, so this is an interesting read. Although it is geared to the popular audience, and gardeners in general, there's plenty to please the entomologist as well. I definitely benefited from a brush up on the sawflies, which I hadn't spent much time on in awhile.

Starting out with an overview of the Order Hymenoptera, what groups make it up and what their economic impact is, Grissell then goes into detail about each group. He calls the sawflies "cows," the parasitoids "police," predatory wasps "wolves," bees are "pollinators, of course, and ants are "recyclers."

I found his take on the ants to be quite amusing. "The main trouble with ants is, well, basically they all look like ants..." (p. 237). This is from a man who studies parasitoids! Anyway, this may explain why Figure 131 on page 256 is labeled Formica. Just sayin'... (Actually those things often happen in the editorial process.)

Anyway, I did find this view insightful because I have made a New Year's resolution to figure out our local Pogonomyrmex, and I have to say right now I have a lot of photographs of reddish-orange ants that all look alike:  blurry. 🙂

Seriously though, Grissell laments that when gardeners talk of adding wildlife to the garden, they always concentrate on birds and butterflies. Perhaps this book will convince more people to tolerate, if not actively encourage, the bees, wasps and ants.

Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Timber Press (June 30, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0881929883
ISBN-13: 978-0881929881

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