Friday, July 28, 2006

IUSSI subterranean probe poster

So.... I have been very busy in the past couple of weeks preparing for the upcoming IUSSI meeting in DC. I finally finished my poster, which I think came out pretty well. It is all about my new subterranean probe for collecting underground ants. There is also a picture on it of the new species of Dolopomyrmex I found. Dolopomyrmex is a new genus which has been described but the paper hasn't been published yet. Anyway, apparently I found a new species (Stefan assures me) which makes the number of the species in the genus two, one found in the Southwestern US and the other found in the Amazon Basin. Weird. But both subterranean, which would explain why it hasn't been seen much of. And which makes me feel pretty pleased with my new probe. Anyhoo, if anyone is going to be at the conference, stop by my poster and say hello.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Where's the festschrift ?

So my vocabulary word for the day is Festschrift. From wikipedia:

"In academia, a Festschrift; plural, Festschriften, is a book honouring a respected academic. The term, borrowed from German, could be translated as celebration publication. A Festschrift contains original contributions by the so-honoured academic's close colleagues, often including their former doctoral students. It is typically published on the occasion of an anniversary. A Festschrift can be anything from a slim volume to a work in several volumes. It often includes important contributions to scholarship or science."

How did I come upon this word? As I was perusing the net for ant keys and whatnot, I came upon an announcement in Notes from Underground stating that a festschrift would be coming "this summer" entitled Advances in Ant Systematics and published by the Memoirs of the Entomological Institute. The announcement does not state who the festschrift is in celebration of. It does have a list of titles, though, many of which look awesomely helpful (to me). They include a revision of Wasmannia, an identification guide to Gnamptogenys in the Americas, and an article entitled "How to conduct large taxonomic revisions in Formicidae." I would kill to get my hands on the first two papers right now. And then there is a paper on a new genus from the southwest us which apparently is very similar to something i found in ecuador -- which is really interesting. Too bad it hasn't been published. "This summer," by the way, was 2005, and still no word about when this thing is going to get published. I actually emailed a couple of people about it but never received any reply. Very frustrating. Does anyone know anything about this? I would love to know.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Where are the mechanical mole machines?

Well, I have been woefully remiss in keeping up with this blog. I blame the upcoming IUSSI conference, for which I have been trying to complete a poster for. In preparing the poster, I have gotten sidetracked by my readings and confused by statistics and right at this moment I am freaking out because I have less than a week to finish this thing. Anyway, my poster is about subterranean ant diversity and a new underground probe we developed in order to capture soil ants. I have been reading a lot about how important subterranean ants (and other fauna) are, and how little we know about them, and how critical it is for everybody to hop on this soil bandwagon, step up to the plate, and come up with some information, some data, some fabulous new methodology to study this highly significant and undersampled fauna. Of course what I have found (as I'm sure anyone else who has looked intot his subject has found) is that not very many people have done so. Or if they have, they haven't published their findings. It's understandable. Soil ants are awfully difficult. And myrmecologists, in my opinion, are chronically overworked and behind. Every ant person I've ever met has drawers and boxes full of samples in their lab or tucked away in some corner that they will get to work on "next week" or "as soon as I finish this thing I'm working on right now." When I first started working on ants my eyes would get big when someone would say something to me like "yeah, I found a new species of that genus last year, but I don't have time to get to it right now." How could you not have time to make history, name a new species, add to the scientific knowledge of mankind? Well, now I know. Cause you're busy. And there's always something else that needs to get done first. And it's hard. And a lot of the time it seems pointless unless you can do a genus revision. And who the hell has time for that? And it's not like there's a lot of money in it. (On a side note, why isn't there money in it? I would like to talk about this a bit more in the future, but right now I must FOCUS and finish this blog so that I can get back to focusing on my poster.). So things sit around and it's hard to motivate yourself into creating some fantastic new method for looking at underground ants.

But I digress. In my research I came across an organization called The IBISCA Project (Investigating the BIodiversity of Soil and Canopy Arthropods). I thought -- fantastic -- a whole big group of people dedicated to looking for canopy and soil ants. They must be using the latest and greatest technologies. Well, they are -- for canopy ants. The IBISCA Project is currently in the process of measuring the "beta diversity and vertical stratification of arthropods in a Neotropical forest in Panama" using such contraptions as a canopy crane, a “canopy raft”, a manned helium balloon, and a “treehouse” (Corbara et al 2005). These are in addition to canopy fogging, composite flight-interception traps, beating, light traps, sticky traps, ground flight interception traps, malaise traps, and bait traps. In woeful comparison, the only methods that are listed for soil collection are Winklers and pitfall traps, two methods that do a good job of collecting ants from the leaf litter, but not the primarily subterranean ants.

So what's up? Cranes? Manned helium balloons? That is some wacky, creative (not to mention expensive) thinking there. Why can't we come up with something similar for soil fauna? Where are the mechanical mole machines? The subterranean video monitoring systems? The hypogaeic listening devices? The back-hoe engineered plexi-glass viewing panel so we can just sit in a chair and record underground behavior while sitting on a beach chair? Come on people! Surely we can do better than this!

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Yesterday I went to Harvard to look at some of my ants and have lunch with David Donoso, who was here for a few weeks on an Ernst Mayr Grant. I met David when I was in Ecuador and he was a student at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. He is now preparing to start grad school under Mike Kaspari, and no doubt has a glorious career ahead of him. As glorious as a career in myrmecology can be, I suppose.

After lunch I took a look at my Odontomachus, which I had previously identified but for some reason became unsure about at some point. So I looked at all of them over again and was able reconfirm all of the previous species. Some interesting notes:

I have identified O. yucatecus which seems to only occur on the Yucatan peninsula. But the characteristic -- longitudinal striation on mesonotum vs. transverse striation -- seems pretty straightforward. I even got Stefan to double check for me. He agreed that it looked like yucatecus, and that the minor differences can be attributed to geographical variation. So that is pretty exciting to have found it so much further south.

I also identified O. panamensis. According to Jack Longino's site, panamensis has only ever been found in Costa Rica and Panama, so I thought my specimens were pretty special but further investigation reveals that panamensis has since been found in Brazil and Colombia (see Fernandez and Sendoya, 2004). Not Ecuador, though, so they are still special, just not as cool as I thought.

I learned that O. meinerti can have queens where the mesonotum is longitudinally striate even though the workers are always transversely striate. Good to know. Also the workers vary greatly in size and color. Also good to know. I also learned that O. meinerti is the same thing as O. minutus. O. minutus appears in Brown, 1976, which contains the key I use, and when going through the MCZ's collection, there are specimens labelled minutus, but not meinerti. In addition, there are many publications which refer to minutus, but when I searched on the Hymenoptera name server, there was no mention of Odontomachus minutus. Instead, they have a reference to Odontomachus haematoda subsp. minuta, which I think is supposed to be the same thing, but was fairly difficult for me to figure out. All of which was very confusing. I've got it now, though. O. minutus = O. meinerti. End of story.

O. mayi can be identified by the mesipisternal anteroventral lobes that protrude very obviously when viewed dorsally. These lobes exist on the reproductives but are much less obvious. This is a picture of a worker.

So that's about it for Odontomachus. I have a few extra specimens I still need to look at, but I hope to do that next week.


I have been thinking about scientific names of late. Some ants have the coolest names ever. Gigantiops destructor is my favorite. That is one bad-ass name. It means, one supposes, big-eyed destructor. It looks the part, too. Thaumatomyrmex is another ant that looks like it should be working as a bouncer somewhere. I believe, however, that it means "wondrous ant" or "miraculous ant," which, when you think about it says something nice about whoever named it. That he would look at this new ant and think, this ant is a wondrous thing, a miracle, a thing to behold with awe. That's nice. In my internet explorations, I found the Antfarm's Guide to Scientific Names of Ants. Some of my favorites are the bald-headed ant (Phalacromyrmex), the thrifty ant (Pheidole), and Emery's wretched ant (Emeryopone). Seems like that last one should have a good story behind it, but I can't find any more information. I also wanted to know what Gnamptogenys means, since it seems like such a crazy name to me. But it wasn't there. I did, however, find a greek dictionary which seems to indicate that gnampto means bent or curved, and genys means jaw or cheek. So I suppose that must mean curved cheek, which isn't as exciting as I was hoping. Anyway, that AGSNA site is missing A LOT of names. It would really be great if it could be updated or some other site would take it up. That would be really cool.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Ants of Tiputini Poster Species Guide

So, I sent a couple of copies of my ant poster to Kelly Swing, who is the director of Tiputini Biodiversity Station, and a super good guy, and he emailed me back asking for a list of what species the ants were. Fabulous idea. I was meaning to create a list but of course was sidetracked. But here it finally is. I put a link to it on my research page, and also a link from the store, but if there is anyone out there who has already bought the poster, I don't really have any way of contacting you, so I hope you find your way to one of these links so you can get the list. Anyway, if anyone is interested, here is the list in alphabetical order (the PDF has the names in the order they appear on the poster):

Acanthoponera peruviana

Amblyopone undetermined

Anochetus diegensis

Basiceros militaris

Camponotus atriceps

Camponotus claviscapus

Camponotus rapax

Cephalotes atratus

Cephalotes laminatus

Discothyrea sexarticulata

Dolichoderus attelaboides

Dolichoderus imitator

Dolichoderus lamellosus

Dolichoderus lutosus

Dolichoderus shattucki

Dolichoderus varians (queen)

Eciton hamatum

Eciton vagans

Ectatomma edentatum

Gnamptogenys bisulca

Gnamptogenys concinna

Labidus coecus

Labidus spininodis

Lachnomyrmex scrobiculatus (queen)

Megalomyrmex balzani

Megalomyrmex silvestrii

Neivamyrmex punctaticeps

Odontomachus biumbonatus

Odontomachus hastatus

Pachycondyla constricta

Pachycondyla laevigata

Pachycondyla obscuricornis

Paraponera clavata

Platythyrea angusta

Procryptocerus impressus

Pseudomyrmex tenuis

Rhopalothrix new species (queen)

Stegomyrmex manni

Thaumatomyrmex undetermined

I am pretty proud that I have species names on almost all of the pictures. The only ones I don't have species names for are the Rhopalothrix, the Thaumatomyrmex, and the Amblyopone. The Rhopalothrix I am sure is a new species (check out the weird mandibular plate -- or whatever it is). The Thaumatomyrmex may or may not be a new species. Or it might just be T atrox, due to the presence of the small basal tooth on the mandible. The genus apparently needs some revision work (see discussion from Ants of Costa Rica), so for now I have labelled it undetermined and have given it to Stefan at the MCZ, who will, one day, do something useful with it. The Amblyopone, too, may or may not be a new species. When I first keyed it out I was pretty sure it was a new species. However, I then came across a description of A. cleae which sounded close to my specimen (although the description was in French, so it was a little hard for me to figure out). I then emailed a photo of my ant to the authors of the paper asking what they thought. Sébastien Lacau sent back a very nice email saying it looked like A. cleae but he obviously couldn't say for sure from a photo. He even offered to send me some samples to compare to mine, but then for some reason he stopped answering emails. So then I sent my specimen to Brian Fisher, who said he would take a look at it but has not had the time yet, so for now, it is undetermined.