Saturday, December 23, 2006


So, I have actually been working lately, just not writing in my blog about it much. Mostly I have been revising a paper about the subterranean ant probe, and spending a lot of time trying to understand statistics. So I have been reading a lot about species accumulation curves, analyses of similarity (ANOSIM -- provides a way to test statistically whether there is a significant difference between two or more groups of sampling units), similarity indices, estimated similarity indices, etc. etc. Here are a few tips I have learned: If you want to do ANOSIM, and have no money to buy the PRIMER software package, try the PAST software package, which is free, and easy to understand. If you want to do estimated similarity, and you have incidence (as opposed to abundance) data, the EstimateS software package is really confusing. Instead, I suggest using the SPADE software package, which can be found at Anne Chao's website. EstimateS is still the best way to produce accumulation curves.

Here are some sites I found helpful in figuring this stuff out:

An Annotated Bibliography of Similarity Indices in Ecology
Try this forum discussion for ideas about which analyses to use in which situations:
Software links:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Temple Grandin video on Google

Okay, this has nothing to do with ants but I read Temple Grandin's book Animals in Translation a few months ago and was blown away by it. Temple Grandin is an author and animal science expert who is also autistic and her book describes the relationship she sees between how animals think and react to the world as similar to how people with autism think and react to the world. Absolutely fascinating reading. Today I found out (via BoingBoing) that the full length BBC documentary about her is available free on Google video. Go watch it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Insect Lab artwork

Okay, no ants, but this is pretty sweet. Cybernetic insect art. Real insects, real little gears, real art. Link to Mike Libby's Insect Lab

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates project at Towson

If there are any undergraduates out there reading my blog, John LaPolla at Towson University has a Research Experience for Undergraduate program opportunity available. Looks like a great opportunity.

The REU program in Molecular Ecology brings 6 highly qualified undergraduate students to Towson University in alternate years to engage in state-of-the art research integrating the fields of ecology and molecular biology. Successful applicants will work in one of three lab groups, consisting of students with interest in ecology, molecular biology/genetics, or both, and a pair of faculty mentors. Each group will use molecular approaches to address ecological questions pertaining to the biology of plants and animals. Students will live in Towson University residence halls and receive financial support in the form of a stipend, funds for housing, a basic meal plan and travel. The program is 10 weeks long with the option for a second summer of support. Students will participate in a class designed to prepare them for the Graduate Records Examination (GRE). In addition, all participants are expected to publish the results of their studies. Students with limited opportunities at their home institution or from groups under-represented in science are especially encouraged to apply. More information is available by contacting Don C. Forester at

There are three projects available, one of them on ants:

(1) DNA Barcoding and the Future of Life on Earth: A Case Study of Pheidole Ants John S. LaPolla, Ph.D. and Colleen S. Sinclair, Ph.D.

(2) Dissection of a symbiosis: Understanding carbon flow through wood-eating
fishes Jay A. Nelson, Ph.D. and Joy E.M. Watts, Ph.D.

(3) Do Peccaries Structure the genetic Diversity of Frogs in the Amazon?
Harald Beck, Ph.D and Gail Gasparich, Ph.D.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Problems with ANOSIM

What I have been doing of late is trying to work on a revision of a paper I wrote on the subterranean probe. One of the reviewers suggested I use a program called ANOSIM, which is an analysis of similarity which gives you a significance value. Money is always a problem in our lab and apparently the best place to get this program is through a very expensive software package called PRIMER, but we eventually found a free package called PAST that includes it. Great. The thing about ANOSIM is that you can choose which distance measure you want to use -- Bray-Curtis, Jaccard's, Raup-Crick, etc. etc. But we are having trouble finding any sort of discussion about how you choose the distance measure. The one thing we were able to find says that Bray-Curtis should be used for abundance data, not presence-absence data (which is what we have). Bray-Curtis seems to be the default, and most of the published papers we have been able to find use it (including some with presence-absence data), but none of them seem to include an explanation of why they chose it. And the distance measures which appear to be more appropriate for presence-absence data seem to give wildly different results. So we're kind of at a loss. Does anybody out there understand this stuff?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ants of India Book

Just found this fantastic looking book on the ants of India:

On A Trail With Ants
A Handbook of the Ants of Peninsular India
Ajay Narendra and Sunil Kumar

A primer to the life of ants, introducing the reader to the ants of Peninsular India. The book sets a trend in ant studies by enabling the reader to observe and identify ants at home and elsewhere, in a non-intrusive manner. It is suitable for a varied audience, from students, entomologists, naturalists to photographers. Included in the book are more than 150 colour photographs, almost all photographed in the wild for the first time. A5 size paperback; 208 Pages; 188 Figures.

The blog Ant Visions has some beautiful example pages you can check out here.

For copies contact:

Trap-Jawed Ant Video

I saw this study about trap jaw ants when it first came out a few months ago. Frankly, I didn't pay too much attention other than to skim it. I mean, I already knew these guys had wicked awesome jaws. BUT I HAD NO IDEA THERE WAS VIDEO. Holy crap, this video is so fantastic. I really really wish I knew how to edit online videos. I would park a couple of school buses between those ants just hanging out and then add a flaming ring of death that the Odontomachus can hurl itself through on his way to breaking the world ant-jumping record. Or something like that. And the first video with the vertical jump clearly needs The Blue Danube waltz playing in the background. Possibly with multiple copies of the ant slowly spinning and floating by ala the end credits of Wallace and Gromit's The Curse of the Were-Rabbit movie with the floating bunnies. If someone ever does this, please let me know. Or tell me how I can do this.

Monday, November 20, 2006

creative commons license

Rod Page recently left a comment on my blog entry about copyrighting my ant images. I thought I would highlight it here as there is some great information in it that I think others would be interested in:

Rod Page said...

Two thoughts on copyrighting images. The first is why choose copyright © as opposed to a Creative Common (cc) license? With a cc license you get to specify what I can and can't do with the image, without me having to ask you. By sticking "© K. T. Ryder Wilkie 2005" on an image (e.g., your gorgeous picture of Acanthoponera peruviana), I then have to contact you to ask your permission. For one or two images, that's OK I guess, but what it I want to use lots of images? What if you are on holiday?

The second comment is that I can read "© K. T. Ryder Wilkie 2005" but computers can't (at least, not easily). There other other ways to tag images that computers can read this information. Examples include EXIF tags (as used by Antweb, as mentioned on my iSpecies blog) which get embedded in the image file itself (also XMP information added by Photoshop, or Flickr tags (for example, this image of Strumigenys precava). My point is that if people are going to make use of your work on a large scale, using Creative Common licenses and embedding that information electronically in the image in the form of metadata will make your hard work even more useful.

If sharing information on biodiversity is going to take off, then we need to start thinking about how to share, and how to make our information accessible to computers, not just people.

I hadn't really known about this option before, but it seems like a great idea. I will definitely look into it as soon as I get a free moment. Any day now, I'm sure.

Ant identification, comparison microscopes, and digital microscopes

Every time I sit down and try to identify ants, I have the same thought -- if only I could look at a whole bunch of ants at the same time. This seems like such a simple idea. Especially if you have no key and are trying to organize your ants into morphospecies. My identification process often goes something like this:

Okay, the hair on the head seems to be important, so I'll look at that. This ant has really long hair all over the place, we'll put you in group A. This ant also has really long hair all over the place. Great. Group A. This ant has really long hair all over the place, too, but it looks different somehow. Why? Is the color darker? I can't remember what the color of the first two ants were. I'd better go back and check. Okay the first ant's facial hair is kind of a yellow color. The second ant's facial hair is also kind of yellow, but only when you look at it at a certain angle. Maybe I should go back and check that first one again. What color was the third ant's hair? Aaahhh! I wonder if I've gotten any new email in the past ten minutes?

It is a constant exercise in going back and forth, looking at one ant, looking at another ant, going back and looking at the first ant, then looking at the second ant, then the third ant, then back to the first ant, etc. etc. I've seen ant folks put two ants together on a little square of foam and look at them together that way, but I find this difficult and inefficient.

By chance the other day I came across a comparison microscope. I had no idea these things even existed. Basically it is two microscopes connected together with a single set of eyepieces, so that you can (for instance) put an ant under one microscope, put another ant under the second microscope, and then look at both of them together in the same field of view at the same time. Brilliant. Of course I don't think anyone actually uses these things for entomology. They seem to be popular for use in forensics studies. But my question is, why not? How nice would it be to be able to do that? Very nice, is the answer. Of course they are not cheap and I can't afford one, but maybe there are those of you out there who could. Or who are already using this technology. If so, let me know. I would really like to know.

More recently I have been thinking about video microscopes, digital camera attachments, etc. There is great potential there for similar usefulness. Pop each of your (insert generic genus of terribleness) specimens onto the microscope, snap a few images of head, dorsal and side (for instance), and then line up your photos on the monitor and look at them all a once. Group the photos visually into morphospecies. You could quickly see differences that might take you awhile to figure out one by one. Some sort of mechanism to quickly click and drag images from group to group (or make a new group), change views, take notes, etc. would be nice. Obviously you would still have to go back and check stuff under the microscope but I am sure this would be much faster and less frustrating. Are people doing this? I don't really know of any software programs that might facilitate this, but it seems like it would be fairly easy. I don't actually have a way to look at images from my microscope on the computer at the moment, but I am looking into it. There are a lot of options out there, mostly too expensive for me at the moment, and it is all very confusing. Does anyone have any suggestions? I actually just bought a Digital Blue QX5 Computer Microscope, but it has not arrived yet. I'm sure the images won't be super awesome but for $70 bucks it seemed worth the chance that it might be useful. I've read a lot about this microscope online and how even professional researchers are using it (it is marketed as a toy), but I haven't seen anyone actually using it for identifying. Anyone?

When I think about it, it seems crazy to me that myrmecologists are basically using the same technology that Darwin used to identify ants. Am I the only person who thinks this?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Geeky Ant Christmas Cards

By the way, there is one more day left on the 25% off greeting cards and Christmas ornaments sale at The Gigantiops Destructor Store. If you're a super ant geek and really want your Christmas cards to get noticed, they even come with silly greetings inside like Have a Myrmy Christmas! and From Our Colony to Yours. I've already got mine.

Male ants update

So I have been going through all of my male ant specimens and trying to identify them, at least to genus. I have been surprisingly successful. I was able to print out a copy of the 1943 Smith paper on North American male ants. This obviously has a lot of drawbacks, just due to its age. Many genera had not been described yet and some of those that had now go by different names. Plus it is only North American ants, which is also not too helpful. I also ordered a copy of the Japanese male ant paper by Yoshimura and Onoyama (2002). This hasn't yet arrived but I was also pointed to an online key of Japanese male ants, which I have been using. Obviously, Japanese ants are not exactly the same thing as ants from the rainforests of South America, so that is definitely a problem. And the website has some basic problems with broken links and very few actual pictures of male ants.

Despite all of these issues, I have found both of these resources to be very useful. By using a combination of these two resources, combined with my own general knowledge of neotropical ants, I have been able to identify a surprisingly large number of specimens to genus. I am beginning to see patterns in how they look and starting to recognize specific genera without the key. I really want to put up some sort of a key to my male ants but I need pictures first, which is a whole different problem I am still working on. Right now, though, I would like to make the following recommendations to anyone working on a similar issue:

Go to the Taxonomic Keys page of the Japanese Ant Image Database. Many of the links in the online key dead end but you can always go to this page and find the appropriate link. Start with the male key to subfamilies and use it a couple of times on some specimens. Then do the same specimens with the Smith key (but first go through the keys and replace the outdated genera names with their current names -- this will make things much less confusing. You can go to the Hymenoptera Name Server to get current names). Between the two keys, you can get a fairly good idea of how to identify male ants to subfamily. Once you've done that, try the genus keys. It won't be easy of course, since the fauna are so different (and paltry compared to Ecuador!), but I have found myself amazingly pleased with my progress. You know you're on the right track when you start to recognize the worker in the ant with a little Aha! Of course that's what you are!

Paratrechina and Discothyrea revisions

I recently learned that John S. LaPolla of Towson University is working on a world revision of Paratrechina. I sent him an email and he said he would love to take a look at my Paratrechina specimens, although right now he is in the midst of finishing up the Malagasy Paratrechina. Awesome. Also, he is working with Jeffery Sosa-Calvo at the University of Maryland on a world revision of the genus Discothyrea. So I am going to send my Discos, too. Yay. I love Discothyrea, by the way. They're so cute. I have heard that they were named because their antennal clubs are so round and bulbous that they resemble disco balls, but it turns out to have been described by Roger in 1863, so that seems unlikely.

Anyway, if anyone else out there has Paratrechina and/or Discothyrea specimens, they might want to take a look at them. And if anyone else is working on any revisions and would like to get specimens, I would be happy to put an announcement up here.

Ant Types in German Collections

This week, I received an email from Christiana Klingenberg about the launch of the new FoCol website, which aims to have all taxonomic information on German ant types (about 3000 entries of some 1500 type taxa and more then 17.000 photos) available online by the end of 2007 (the page says 2006 at one point but I think it is a typo as 2007 is stated everywhere else). Right now there are lists of specimens and information about the project in general. I think if you actually want to see images right now, you need to contact Christiana. Anyway, looks like it will be a great resource. Check it out here.

Update: Whoops! I misspelled the project name. It is FoCol, not FoCal.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ant Death Spiral

This is one of my favorite things about ants -- the ant death spiral. Actually, it's a circular mill, first described in army ants by Schneirla (1944). A circle of army ants, each one following the ant in front, becomes locked into a circular mill. They will continue to circle each other until they all die. How crazy is that? Sometimes they escape, though. Beebe (1921) described a circular mill he witnessed in Guyana. It measured 1200 feet in circumference and had a 2.5 hour circuit time per ant. The mill persisted for two days, "with ever increasing numbers of dead bodies littering the route as exhaustion took its toll, but eventually a few workers straggled from the trail thus breaking the cycle, and the raid marched off into the forest."

Folks interested in things like self-organization, emergant properties, complex systems, etc. etc. like to point to this as a cautionary tale. I even found a reference to a group programming robots to interact like ants that accidentally produced this behavior in their robots. Apparently you can also reproduce this behavior in the lab by placing a glass jar into the surface. The ants will eventually circle the jar and continue to do so even after the jar has been removed. I assume just army ants. Wow, I wish we had an army ant colony in the lab.

Anyway, in tribute to this fabulously bizarre phenomenon, I made some Ant Death Spiral
T-shirts. Check them out!

Other references:

Monday, November 13, 2006

Identifying male ants III

Another resource is the Japanese ant image website, which has a male ant key to the Japanese subfamilies. I will give it a try and see if it is helpful. Also, see the comment by Alex (I assume Wild) under Identifying male ants II. He has some hints on Linepithema males. He also suggests that the best course of action is simply to look at a lot of males in the genera and species that I have already identified and just try to get the general feeling for what the males look like. That seems like a great idea but I have so many friggin' genera and species that I find the prospect a little overwhelming.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Identifying male ants II

So I got an email from Christiana Klingenberg yesterday pointing me to another key to male ants:

Yoshimura, M. & Onoyama, K. 2002. Male-based keys to the subfamilies and genera of japanese ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Entomological Science, 5 (4): 421-443.

I don't have access to this article but have ordered it from my school library and will let you all know if it is useful or not.

She also mentions that:
"A few years ago Bodo Hasso Dietz and I had the same problem with males of Basicerotini and Attini. Checking out male and female wings we saw that both are very similar. So maybe comparing the wings of males with "identified winged females" could help. But this works only up the genus level, not for species."

Thanks for the tips! Anyone else?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Identifying male ants

So... I have all these reproductives. Hundreds. A lot of them I have been able to pull out and identify to genus because they look so much like the workers. Crematogaster queens, for instance, all have that very obvious gaster attachment. Easy. A lot of Wasmannia queens have that same scrobe/frontal lobe configuration that just says Wasmannia to me. Attine queens seem to all have that Attine look to them. I still have a lot left, though. Mostly from the canopy. And then there are the males. Boy, I really hate males. As far as I can tell, they look nothing like the workers at all. I can't even put them reliably into subfamilies because things like petiole number or antennal segment number can be different. Yesterday I posted to The Ant Farm's and Myrmecology's Message Board asking if anyone had any suggestions on how to ID male ants. Surprisingly, someone actually did. I was pointed to a 1943 paper by Marion R. Smith. There is a link to it on antbase. org. It is only for male ants of the United States, and it was written quite awhile ago, but it's the first thing I've seen that even attempted to do this, so I am overjoyed. I will let everyone know how it goes. In the meantime, if anyone else has any hints or suggestions, I would be happy to post them here.

Gordon Snelling writes that army ant males are very easy to identify as they have "very elongate and hairy gasters. All other male ants have gasters which are distinctly smaller than thorax and head, in the case of AAs, gaster is usually much larger or at least equal. Additionally they have very large mandibles compared to other male ants and are very distinctive as a result." The picture below links to his army ant website.

Update: see post Identifying male ants II

Army Ants

So... I received a very nice offer from Gordon Snelling to look at my army ants. At first I thought I didn't need this as I had already identified all of my army ants, but upon further consideration decided to take him up on his offer. There were a few I was iffy on. So off they go. I'll keep everyone updated.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Insect Photos

Found this link today on BoingBoing to a fantastic gallery of macro insect photos. No ants, but still worth checking out.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Gigantiops Destructor Jack O' Lantern

Amy's lovely pumpkin carving -- Gigantiops destructor. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Updated Ant Quiz

Along with my misspelling of a major ant subfamily, I also apparently had some errors in my online ant quiz. When I went through to correct them I decided to add a few more questions and include the genera in the message you get when you choose correctly. If anyone else notices any problems, please let me know!

How to spell Myrmicinae

So I got an email the other day from James Trager pointing out that I had misspelled Myrmicinae all over my webpage. Yikes! He's right. I've been spelling it Myrmecinae and it is supposed to be Myrmicinae. From his email:

"There are two related but different roots from Greek that have entered the language of ant taxonomy, namely "myrm-" "myrmec-". The name Myrmica and its derivative Myrmicinae, rather confusingly, are based on the first root plus the suffix "-ic", so people make the error in spelling the subfamily Myrmicinae quite often."

I did a quick search on google and found out that it is really true. There were over 1100 pages that used the wrong spelling, including Wikipedia and several articles published on scientific journal webpages (although I don't know if they were duplicated in print versions). Anyway, I think I have now changed everything on my research webpage to the correct spelling. Thanks James!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

More Wasmannia

After going over all my Wasmannia again, I have come to the following conclusions:

  • All the specimens I originally labeled as sigmoidea are actually cf lutzi.
  • All the specimens I originally labeled as lutzi are actually rochai.
  • And all the queens I originally labeled as auropunctata are cf lutzi. These queens are all quite large with head width around 1.1 mm and thorax length around 1.75 mm.
  • Interestingly, all the rochai specimens were collected from the canopy and all of the cf lutzi specimens were collected from the ground except for 2 of the queens.
So now my Wasmannia species list is: auropunctata, iheringi, cf. lutzi, rochai, and scrobifera.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wasmannia Update

Sent my Wasmannia off to Jack Longino and he has already identified them. Yay for Jack! So sure was I about my identifications, that I only sent a few specimens for verification. The one I was mostly concerned with was the sigmoidea, rightly as it turns out. I sent what I thought were four sigmoidea specimens and they all turned out to be lutzi. And the one I thought was lutzi was rochai. I also sent a queen which I thought was auropunctata but which he said was actually lutzi. So I clearly have some issues with lutzi, although to be fair he said that:

"...the stuff I labeled lutzi could be called cf. lutzi. I've only seen one collection of lutzi, the types from Sao Paulo. So I don't know what variation is like. But your specimens are almost exactly in between lutzi and auropunctata. The workers are nearly identical to auropunctata except with petiole shape of lutzi. The queen is bigger than auropunctata, but the shape of the head and frontal carinae are like auropunctata instead of lutzi. I bet it is an undescribed species."

And as I recall my issue with (what I thought was) sigmoidea was that they seemed a lot like auropunctata except for that petiole, so actually that seems like a reasonable mistake for me to have made. The critical couplet is the one which involves the antennal scrobes being narrow or broad. If this key ever gets published, I would caution folks to be especially careful on that couplet.

The auropunctata (workers), iheringi, and scrobifera were all correct and pretty easy to ID. I'm guessing that all my sigmoidea are all cf. lutzi, but I will have to look at them all again before saying that. And I will definitely have to recheck my lutzi, rochai, and the queens of auropunctata.

On the subject of the queens, Jack has this to say:

"That “lutzi” queen is kind of intermediate between the type of lutzi and queens of auropunctata, so it will be interesting to see if you can sort queens into two piles, lutzi vs auropunctata. They may be really hard to tell apart. The queen you sent looks just like an auropunctata queen, just bigger than any I have seen. So they may just sort out by size, or there may not be any differences!"

So, that is what I will be doing next.

Oil spill in Tiputini River

Apparently there has been an oil spill on the Rio Tiputini. I am unclear where exactly this is in relation to the station, but it is certainly bad news for the wildlife and ecology of the area. Link to original post (In Spanish): Orellana: derrame de petroleo en el rio Tiputini por parte de Petroecuador.

ebay item of the week: baltic amber Islamic prayer beads with real ants inside

'nuff said

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The complete work of Charles Darwin online

Get your Charles Darwin fix here. "This site currently contains more than 50,000 searchable text pages and 40,000 images of both publications and handwritten manuscripts. There is also the most comprehensive Darwin bibliography ever published and the largest manuscript catalogue ever assembled. More than 150 ancillary texts are also included, ranging from secondary reference works to contemporary reviews, obituaries, published descriptions of Darwin's Beagle specimens and important related works for understanding Darwin's context."

I browsed around the site a bit and found this 1987 article entitled Darwin's insects: Charles Darwin's entomological notes, with an introduction and comments by Kenneth G. V. Smith.

In it, I found this letter from Darwin to J.S. Henslow written almost 170 years ago to the day:

. . . I have scarcely met anyone who seems to wish to possess any of my specimens. . . . I see it is quite unreasonable to hope for a minute, that any man will undertake the examination of a whole order.—It is clear the collectors so much outnumber the real naturalists, that the latter have no time to spare.—I do not even find that the collections care for receiving the unnamed specimens.—The Zoological Museum [of the Zoological Society] is nearly full & upward of a thousand specimens remain unmounted. I daresay the British Museum would receive them but I cannot feel, from all that I hear, any great respect even for the present state of that establishment.

I'm not sure if it is gratifying or depressing that so little has changed since then.

The complete Works of Charles Darwin Online: Link
The Correspondence of Charles Darwin: Link
The Darwin Digital Library of Evolution: Link

Thursday, October 19, 2006

New tree of life for the kingdom Fungi

The October 19th edition of Nature includes an impressive article titled "Reconstructing the early evoluition of Fungi using a six-gene phyogeny." I don't know much about fungus or frankly about reconstructing phylogenies, but I was impressed with this paper for the massive number of authors who apparently came together to create this new phylogeny. From the News and Views commentary on the article:

"The cooperation among researchers that has resulted in the new paper is almost as impressive as the product itself. Systematics can be a fairly balkanized field, with specialists defending their turf or their analytical methods against perceived competitors. However, cooperation has always been common among fungal researchers because the field is woefully underpopulated. The James group included both traditional, morphologically based systematists, who contributed a wealth of knowledge on the organisms, and molecular systematists, who supplied the methodological and analytical techniques. Even Ralph Emerson, who died in 1979, made a notable posthumous contribution: it was his culture of Rozella, isolated in 1947, that made the sequence acquisition for this critical branch possible. This fusion of talents was essential to ensure that the broadest possible sample of fungi was selected, and that the data were collected and analysed rigorously. The results represent a proud moment for the field, and will be in the textbooks for some time to come." -- Tom Burns

It would be nice if ant folks could do the same. I count 71 authors on this paper. A quick search on web of science for articles with the words "ant" and "phylogeny" came up with 132 papers. The maximum author count was 10.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Progress Report

  • Sent Wasmannia and Crematogaster (Yay!!) to John Longino.
  • updated my webpage with new Pheidole species and pictures.
  • Received a determination on my Amblyopone that I sent to Brian Fisher. From his email: "I finally had a chance to compare your Amblyopone specimen ... with the types of A. cleae and A. armigera. What I have concluded is that A. cleae is a junior synonym of A. armigera. Your specimen is smaller than the cleae colonies collected in Bahia Brazil, and more in line with the size of A. armigera but in terms of sculpture, there are similarities with cleae. So I would use Amblyopone cf. cleae for now as the name for the specimen you have." Updated my database and webpage with new ID.
  • Submitted a new version of my probe paper to a journal. Yay for me! My fingers are crossed as we speak.
  • And I made this groovy wallpaper with ants and microscopes:

  • Next up: Azteca

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Battle against giant ants

From the British Library's Images Online database:

"Abu'l-Mihjan leading his army to fight the giant ants. A miniature painting from a seventeenth century manuscript of Khavarnama, a poem on the legendary warlike deeds of 'Ali."

Freakin' awesome.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pheidole update

A quick update to the Pheidole entry I posted a few days ago. P. sagax is on my list and P. laidlowi is not. Also P. sp. nr. nesiota is also on my list. The new (and hopefully final) list:

  • ademonia
  • allarmata
  • amazonica
  • astur
  • biconstricta
  • cephalica
  • cramptoni
  • deima
  • fimbriata
  • floricola
  • fracticeps
  • gilva
  • horribilis
  • lemnisca
  • metana
  • midas
  • nitella
  • peruviana
  • pholeops
  • pubiventris
  • sabella
  • sagax (updated 10/16/06)
  • sarpedon
  • scalaris
  • scolioceps
  • sp. nr. nesiota
  • tristicula
  • xanthogaster
  • ALM006
  • ALM013
  • ALM022
  • ALM023
  • ALM025
  • ALM026
  • ALM028
  • ALM031
  • ALM032
  • ALM033
  • ALM034
In addition, the following species have also been found at Tiputini by Amy Mertl:

  • Pheidole ademonia
  • Pheidole araneoides
  • Pheidole cursor
  • Pheidole embolopyx
  • Pheidole exigua
  • Pheidole fissiceps
  • Pheidole fullerae
  • Pheidole gagates
  • Pheidole haskinsorum
  • Pheidole huacana
  • Pheidole laidlowi
  • Pheidole lupus
  • Pheidole micridis
  • Pheidole sospes
  • Pheidole sp. nr. embolopyx
  • Pheidole sp. nr. huacana
  • Pheidole sp. nr. sensitiva
  • Pheidole sp. nr. susannae
  • Pheidole tobini
  • Pheidole triplex
  • Pheidole ALM001
  • Pheidole ALM002
  • Pheidole ALM009
  • Pheidole ALM011
  • Pheidole ALM014
  • Pheidole ALM015
  • Pheidole ALM017
  • Pheidole ALM019
  • Pheidole ALM020
  • Pheidole ALM029
  • Pheidole ALM030

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

City of Insects -- Wageningen, Netherlands

Just a quick shout out to the city of Wageningen, Netherlands, which apparently transformed itself into the City of Insects this year. From the Wageningen Electronic Student Plaza (WESP):

"The Laboratory of Entomology of Wageningen University has won the Academic Year Prize in a competition between the Dutch universities. This Prize was awarded on the basis of the research quality and the plan to convey this to the general public. The Wageningen team’s plan that was honored with the Academic Year Prize 2005/2006 was to transform Wageningen into the City of Insects.

Life on earth is dominated by insects: 80% of all animal species walk on six legs and the biomass of ants alone equals the biomass of humans. Insects are essential components of ecosystems and knowledge of insects is exploited in hospitals (maggot therapy to heal wounds), in criminal investigations (to help solve murder cases), in crop protection (to combat insect pests), in pollination, in nutrition (insects are a delicacy to 80% of the world’s population), in robotics (small brains allow fantastic performance) etc. Moreover, insects feature in art (e.g. Van Gogh, Dali and many others), in movies, in novels etc.

During the festival Wageningen – City of Insects ( there will be more than 50 activities, many of them in Dutch, some in English and others without any language."

Looks like a good time.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Progress Report

Progress Report:

Amy Mertl finished looking at the rest of my Pheidole. I have therefore updated my Pheidole webpages and species lists. The current (possibly final) species list for the Pheidole of Tiputini (from my survey): ademonia, allarmata, amazonica, astur, biconstricta, cephalica, cramptoni, deima, fimbriata, floricola, fracticeps, gilva, horribilis, laidlowi, lemnisca, metana, midas, nitella, peruviana, pholeops, pubiventris, sabella, sarpedon, scalaris, scolioceps, tristicula, xanthogaster, ALM006, ALM013, ALM022, ALM023, ALM025, ALM026, ALM028, ALM031, ALM032, ALM033, and ALM034. Also maybe sagax -- there was some confusion and Amy is rechecking that. This is just from my collection -- Amy actually has a lot more species from her own study. Check out her website for further Pheidole, although I think maybe she hasn't updated it with the new species yet. Give it a day or two.

Received an email from Jack Longino offering to check my Wasmannia identifications. Yay! Even better, he offered out of the blue to look at my Crematogaster. Hallelujah! He might regret that but I will definitely be taking him up on that offer!

Talked with my advisor about my thesis, my progress, etc, and am definitely feeling more focused and organized.

Talked with Winston (my new work study student) who is doing a fantastic job sorting my ants in alcohol. Am feeling good about Winston -- he is doing a great job. When he is done with that I will be able to send specimens to other folks to do DNA on, which is a nice thing to do, especially if they are identifying my ants for me.

I also arranged to have our workshop supervisor make us more subterranean probes so that we can lend them out to folks and also maybe do some studies with them up here. We are also talking to some people about having them manufactured so that it will be easier for others to purchase and use them for their own studies. That will definitely take a few months, though. At the very least.

The rest of my day was spent working on the probe paper for submission to a new journal. I can barely stand to look at the thing.

update: see Pheidole Update for corrections to the Pheidole species list

Friday, September 29, 2006

DIY Ant Sudoku

Make your own picture sudoku with photos from flickr. I just made the one above using photos from JochenB's lovely gallery of ant portraits. Link via Make

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Procrastinating with silly scientific journals

I have actually been working lately, although I haven't written about it much. Mostly I have been writing a paper on my subterranean probe work, and preparing it for submission. I have revised and revised and revised and revised until I thought I could revise no more, and then I revised some more. I can't even look at this thing anymore. Unfortunately, it was just rejected by the first journal we tried. So sad. Now I fear I must revise some more for a different journal. In order to procrastinate, I present to my readers a list of silly scientific journals:

Any others?

Tiputini Video and Research Links

Myrmecologist and filmmaker Amy Mertl has just posted a new video to her webpage on Yasuni National Park and the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador. It is "a short documentary on the incredibly diverse Yasuni National Park in Amazonian Ecuador and the threats it faces from the construction of oil roads. Includes interviews with Kelly Swing and Jaime Guerra." Check it out.

I enjoyed watching this video immensely. It made me really nostalgic for the station. I realized I haven't been back (or anywhere in the field) since 2003. I really miss it! Tiputini Biodiversity Station is such an amazing place. I've been inspired to troll the net for various links to it and I encourage all researchers to consider it as a possible field site. And let me know of other links, too!

Tiputini Links:

Wikipedia entry

Official TBS website

Boston University TBS website

NPR series on Tiputini: The Hidden Language of Insects
A new genus of Burmanniacae found at Tiputini

The Tadpole Organization -- conducting amphibian surveys and research at Tiputini. "The alpha diversity of amphibians recorded at the site exceeds all other reported locations and exemplifies the region’s exceptional biodiversity."

Anfibios del Parque Nacional Yasuní -- Fantastic site on the amphibians of Yasuni with photos, movies, sound recordings, lists of species, and other information (in Spanish)

Tiputini Climatological Data -- "climatological information compiled by Dr. Jaime Guerra at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Amazonian Ecuador is available (for Mac and PC equipment) in graphic form. Weather data are presented for all standard parameters (rainfall, wind speed and direction, luminosity, etc.) from 1998 through the present. In the event that raw data are required by any investigator, these can be made available upon request." (scroll to bottom of page)

Video clips from students on the tropical ecology program at Tiputini.

Yasuni Rainforest Campaign -- "The Most Biologically diverse place on earth." Current news stories, information about the indigenous Huaorani, letters of support from organizations and individuals (including EO Wilson and Jane Goodall), and diversity maps.

Diversity and biogeography of vascular epiphytes in Western Amazonia, Yasuní, Ecuador (PDF)-- a paper published in the journal of biogeography. Also includes a Species list of vascular epiphytes from the Tiputini. I think I remember these guys from when I was at the station. One of them had a botfly in his head.

Smithsonian CPD site

John Blake's website on the structure and organization of bird communities at Tiputini. His site includes a map of his plots and a protocol for other researchers who would like to utilize his plots.

Turtles of Tiputini

Beetle Diversity -- canopy fogging paper by Erwin et al.

Ants of Tiputini

Pheidole of Tiputini

Kimberly Holbrook, research on toucans at Tiputini

Understanding biophysical and landscape controls on spatial patterns of tree diversity -- a paper using Tiputini as a field site

A personal essay on the experience of being at Tiputini, with a cameo by Ben Rinehart, bat researcher extraordinaire and fellow BU grad student. A story about Ben: One day I was walking towards the elevator and bumped into Ben, garbed in field gear, net in hand, who grumbled: "I bet you don't have to go out when some lady finds an ant in her garage." Struth.

Article on Cheliomyrmex at Tiputini

Bostonia article on TBS

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Timorous Beasties

Look at these fabulous designs from the even more fabulously named store Timorous Beasties!

(via BoingBoing via CribCandy).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The two most powerful forces

E. O. Wilson's new book, The Creation, is an attempt to get two groups of disparate folks -- scientists and evangelical Christians -- together on the one issue that Wilson believes they can agree on: saving life on earth.

As Wilson says, science and religion are "the two most powerful forces in the world today." What wonders could be accomplished if they were on the same side?

Here is a link to an article in the Washington Post.
And another link to an interview with Wilson and Dr. Gerald Durley, Pastor of the Providence Missionary Baptist Church of Atlanta, Georgia, on NPR.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Drawing by Christine Parent

I have just finished updating my Wasmannia page. Previously I had been using the Costa Rica key, which is somewhat helpful, but I knew I definitely had ants that weren't there. I had heard a new revision and key was coming out soon, but this has yet to actually appear. Luckily, I was able to talk to Jack Longino at the IUSSI conference and he kindly forwarded a copy of the new key to me. Happily, it was fairly straightforward and easy to use and I am confident in my identifications. My species list now has W. auropunctata, W. iheringi, W. lutzi, W. rochai, W. scrobifera, and W. sigmoidea. There is even a key to queens so I was able to identify those, too. Some notes:

W. auropunctata: this one is very easy to identify due to its strongly quadrate petiole (see picture above). Scrobifera also has a quadrate petiole but the clypeus shape is completely different (see below).

W. iheringi: I'm not positive, but I believe that the species which is currently labeled as JTL-001 on the Ants of Costa Rica site is iheringi. The petiolar peduncle is very long, there is no erect hair on the gaster. All of my specimens were collected from canopy fogging samples, including several queens.

W. lutzi: this species is closely related to affinis, which I did not collect. They both have scrobes which are wide and flat and reach all the way to the sides of their head. lutzi differs from affinis by having longer propodeal spines which are about as long as the space between them. Also the postpetiole is strongly punctate and opaque and more trapezoidal or quadrate than elliptical. Also it looks like it has only been collected from Brazil, so I guess my having found them in Ecuador is fairly significant. They were all collected from the canopy.

W. rochai: I only have a single specimen of this, collected from the canopy. It is similar to sigmoidea but is smaller, the propodeal spines are shorter and curved downwards, and the setae are more curved and a bit clavate.

W. scrobifera: Has a quadrate petiole like auropunctata but the clypeus looks completely different -- strongly projecting at a right angle. Scapes are flatter and setae are shorter than in auropunctata. My specimens were collected in the canopy and with winklers

W. sigmoidea: Similar to rochai but a little larger, propodeal spines are a little larger and upturned, setae are not as curved or clavate as rochai. I found myself having a little bit of trouble confusing the petioles for auropunctata, but they are not quite as quadrate and the anterior and dorsal faces meet in a more sloping manner. My specimens were collected in winklers, pitfalls, and hand collected.

There are tons of webpages and photos out there of Wasmannia auropunctata but almost nothing of any of the other species. Here are a few links:

Ants of Costa Rica species list

Original description of genus, partly in English

Original description of W. scrobifera

Some basic info on the genus from the Ants of North America

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Virtual Ant Colony

Well, it's the weekend, so I give myself permission to not feel bad about having two entries in a row regarding silly ant things to buy. Sometimes you just have to veg.

I had one of those gel ant farms on my desk for awhile but they all died. Perhaps I should give this computer ant farm a try:

"Bandai is set to release Ant's Life Studio this November in Japan, a virtual ant farm simulator that could very well become the next Tamagotchi. It's apparently being aimed at the hordes of Japanese men who do nothing but slave away at a tiny desk all day, working until their eyes fall out. Maybe Bandai's making some sort of social justice metaphor here, but, then again, they could just be wanting to cash in on a fun idea.

Like real-world ant farms, people simply watch the virtual ants go on with their lives, moving dirt, making tunnels, getting nervous when approaching the queen to ask for a favor, etc. Up to 100 different nests can be built by the ants, ensuring that no matter how dull and meaningless your work day is, you can always watch your pets toil away."

Bandai's Ant's Life Studio via Tokyo Times via gizmodo

Be sure to watch the two movies on the Bandai website. Don't have any idea what they are saying, but they look kinda fun.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ebay item of the week: Stairs for the Soul

I was going to go for the microscope slides of insect tongues I saw on BoingBoing, but I decided that I would try to find something cool on my own. Voilà! A handmade tapestry from Peru entitled Stairs for the Soul. From the listing: "Stylized ants climb mystical stairs on this multi-colored tapestry. Handloomed with the traditional techniques of centuries, it represents true cultural wealth. A truly original work, this tapestry comes from Gerardo Fernández."

Auction ends September 18