Ants at California Academy of Sciences

Ant-related Citizen Science Project

If you live in the San Francisco area and are interested in citizen science, you might want to check into the California Academy of Science’s Bay Area Ant Survey.

First you need to request an ant collecting kit from the Naturalist Center (see information at the link above). Then collect ants. When you are done, send your ant-filled vial and data sheet back to the Naturalist Center. Results will be uploaded to AntWeb and your contribution will become part of the scientific record. Cool!

If you are a teacher in the Bay area, and you would like your class to participate, ant collecting kits are available.

Leafcutter Ant Exhibit

Have you seen the leafcutter ant exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park? It is in the 4-story rainforest.


The food is added in a clear plastic container.


The ants then trail back a fake vine back to the nest display area.


Leafcutter ants are cool to watch no matter what the circumstances.


Don’t expect to get spectatcular photographs, however, because flash photography is prohibited.

These ant made the news recently when they managed to escape from their enclosure. Best-Laid Plans Fail to Trap Ants at Academy of Sciences by Jim Carlton gives the details. I’m not surprised, ants are very good at finding their way out of artificial nests. 🙂

I am always surprised, however, at what the fungus garden looks like. I guess I expect a fungus garden to look, well, moldy. Instead it looks like fresh, white cotton batting.

Here’s some pics from a different leafcutter ant exhibit:


In this case the yellow is corn meal they are using as substrate for the fungus.


Do you know if anyone has ever tried tasting it? Aren’t leafcutter ants amazing?



This is a filaree plant (Genus Erodium). We have a great crop in our yard this year.


It is sometimes called heron’s bill or stork’s bill because of its oddly shaped fruit.


The seed pods twist as they mature.

Apparently, the seeds are a source of food for harvester ants. We’ll see what the fire ants do.

See for example (you’ll need to scroll down):  5. Harvester Ants (Messor) & Filaree (Erodium cicutarium)

Harvester Ant Mounds II

While observing the Messor Pogonomyrmex rugosus nest last week, I noticed one ant working on a seedling that was in a patch of other small plants to one side of the mound. (These are mostly Pectocarya – combseed).


The worker ant seemed to be using its mandibles on the base of the plant.


Of course, Messor worker ants clear plants from the area around the mound.


It makes sense to prevent plants from shading the mound too much. Ants are known to regulate the temperature within the nest via mound architecture.


Wish I had more time to spend observing this activity.

Do you have any ideas what this ant is doing?