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Guess what came in the mail this week - my copy of 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.

Pardon while I gush about this book. If you are interested in ants, this book is a must have, pretty much no matter where you reside. People from outside of New England are likely to find at least a few ants in the book that also occur in their area. In the endpapers are drawings of the ant body parts that are univerally used to identify ants. The book also covers general information about collecting and has a chapter on " Ant Basics:  Evolution, Ecology and Behavior."

In addition to drawings and photographs of the ants themselves, the authors have included maps and photographs of the habitat where the ants are found. These are also helpful for narrowing down possibilities for identification.

I was pleased to see that the authors have come up with common names for every species of ant they list. Let's face it, although common names can add confusion when there are multiple animals called the same common name, or when an organism has a dozen common names, it is much easier to converse with the interested layperson or children if you have a common name to use. Most of the common names in the guide are based on the scientific name. That said, a couple of the names are a bit of a stretch. "The Somewhat Hairy Fuzzy Ant" does not just roll off the tongue.

Speaking of names, I learned a new word looking through the extensive bibliography - "fewmet." I will be looking up the reference, but will continue to use the entomologist's standby, "frass," instead.

A Field Guide to the Ants of New England is dedicated "To everyone who wants to learn more about the ants who share our planet." I think the authors have met their goal.

Have you gotten your copy yet? What do you think?

NEAnts website

(Affiliate link)

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