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New TED Talk by Deborah Gordon

Have you seen ant researcher Deborah Gordon’s newest TED talk?

She mentions the Ants in Space project, as well as results from her 28 years studying a group of harvester ants in the Southwest.

Dr. Gordon proposes some interesting connections between what we can learn from ants and other fields of research. What do you think?

Solenopsis xyloni Stores Spurge Seeds

Last week I flipped over a rock about six inches square and found this:

xyloni-seed-storage

Okay, it doesn’t look like much until you zoom in closer.

solenopsis-seeds-dvap

The grayish-mound is a solid mat of oval, wrinkly seeds. Apparently they had been gathered and stored by the Southern fire ants (Solenopsis xyloni) you see running around. The ants were in full defensive mode.

The seeds were both on the ground and on the underside of the rock, so there was quite a mass of them.

 

seeds-in-cache

 

Seeing the seeds reminded me of an earlier time (above photograph) I had found a similar cache of seeds under a rock . At the time I didn’t know what plant they were from, but now I have figured it out.

These seeds are from a type of ground spurge, Chamaesyce prostrata. Another common name is sandmat. (See post about Southern fire ants and sandmat).

The University of Arizona has an illustration of the plant in their older weed manual under the name Groundfig Spurge, Euphorbia prostrata. See the seed labeled “d” in the illustration?

A quick search of the internet revealed the UC IPM website states “Weed seeds, particularly spurge, may attract the ants away from the bait…” This statement is referring to Southern fire ants in almond groves.

Seems like there might be something worth investigating going on here.

Have you ever seen Southern fire ants with seed caches? What kinds of seeds did you find in them?

More about Ants in Space (video)

In this video NASA associate International Space Station program scientist,Tara Ruttley, tells Josh Bylerly, also of NASA, about the Ants in Space experiment.

See more at Space.com and our previous post about the project.

Educational Project: Ants in Space 2014

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?