Ant Research

Did you hear that the Cygnus re-supply mission to the International Space Station launched by Orbital Sciences recently contained some unusual passengers, namely ants?

Ants in space? What is that about?

It turns out that students are invited to take part in a scientific investigation to compare how ants forage for food in microgravity versus how they forage here on Earth, all without ever having to leave the classroom.

How?

1. Eight habitats have been sent to the International Space Station, each containing approximately 100 worker pavement ants. Videos will be taken of the worker ants in foraging in their habitats and then archived on BioEd Online, one of the partners in the program (others include BioServe and Dr. Deborah Gordon of Stanford University, sponsored by NASA’s National Lab Education Office as well as the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.)

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 3.59.47 PM

(Screenshot from video Ants Loaded in Habitat)

As you can see the habitat doesn't contain the blue gel like the previous ants in space experiment.

2. The participating students will build their own foam and clear plastic ant habitats (patterns and instructions at BioEd Online's Ants in Space page). Then they will find some pavement ants to fill the habitat with and watch the ants' foraging behavior here on Earth.

Sounds interesting, but I do have a few comments.

1. I could not find a description of what pavement ants are and where they can be found on the BioEd Online website. Hopefully that information is in the Teacher's Guide, which is "coming soon." In the mean time, students can find out more about the pavement ant, Tetramorium caespitum, at School of Ants.

Tetramorium_caespitum_casent0005827_profile_1

(Photograph by April Nobile / © AntWeb.orgCC-BY-SA-3.0)

2. Hopefully the teachers guide will also make it very clear that the foam and plastic "habitat" is simply a viewing arena. Ant should not be left in that sort of "habitat" for any length of time. Ants are very good at chewing or finding their way out of enclosures. Unless of course you want your classroom to become a "school of ants" in more than one sense.

Interested in finding out more? The BioEd Online website is the place to go.

What do your think? Are you going to take part?

Want to learn more about ants? A lot more? Check out Ant Course 2014!

The next ant course is going to be held July 21-31, 2014 in Borneo's Maliau Basin, which is located on Sabah.

Yes, this would be a tough place to visit. (Cool invertebrate footage starts about 2:23).

 

What kinds of ants might you encounter? Brian L. Fisher has complied a key entitled The Ants of Borneo, which is available on Blurb. (See the free preview, available full screen).

Ants-of-Borneo

 

He covers 96 genera, from Aenictus to Tetraponera. Can you say biodiversity?

Ready to go?

Although the course is open to everyone, priority will be given to students. Check the Ant Course website for details.

Deadline:  April 1, 2014

Be sure to let me know if you take the course.

 

2 Comments

Just got a note from Nick Bos, a post doc at the University of Helsinki. He's started a new blog called AntyScience.

Some of his papers:

Bos, N., Lefevre, T., Jensen, A. B. and D’ettorre, P. Sick ants become unsociable. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. Volume 25, Issue 2, pages 342–351, February 2012.

Bos, Nick; Grinsted, Lena; Holman, Luke (2011). Wax On, Wax Off: Nest Soil Facilitates Indirect Transfer of Recognition Cues between Ant Nestmates. Plos One. Volume: 6 Issue: 4. Published: April 29, 2011.

Plus, he is featuring photographs by Alex Wild.

I'm sure he would appreciate a quick word of welcome.

woodant-M

(Photograph by Alex Wild)

Looking for that special gift for someone who is crazy about ants? Why not send them to the Ant Course 2013?

This year the ant course is going to be held August 4-15, 2013 at the Villa Carmen Biological Station, Manu Biosphere Reserve in Peru.

(Rainforest View by George GrimmHowell from Public Domain Pictures)

Rainforest! According to the website, there are a variety of habitats including old growth rainforest!

What kinds of ants might you encounter?

and many, many more.

Ready to go?

Although the course is open to everyone, priority will be given to students. Check Ant Course 2013 for details.

Deadline:  April 1, 2013

Edit: Alex Wild now has an online identification guide to some common ants you will encounter.