Sunday, December 30, 2007

A quick round-up of what I've been missing

So while I was gone there were a bunch of interesting posts from the blogosphere. A quick round-up:

  • JoVE -- This is the official blog of JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments. Looks like fun

Post holiday catch-up

I am finally back to blogging after an extended illness and ten days in Hawaii for Christmas (sadly, these two events overlapped significantly). Here are the things I miss about Hawaii --
  • chocolate popsicles -- don't even get me started
  • teri chicken plate lunch
  • my cat Aengus -- 15 years old and still more fun at a party than me
  • the weather -- where even the rain seems pleasant
  • the mountains, the plants, the birds, the beaches
  • the fact that I look just like everybody else
  • how everybody is in a good mood all the time
Things I do not miss about Hawaii:
  • my allergies to just about everything in Hawaii (including my fab cat Aengus)
  • the traffic -- worse than Boston, I am sure
  • the fact that Hawaii is a rock in the middle of the ocean -- people are always asking me why I would want to leave paradise. The truth is you can only take paradise for so long before it starts to bother you that you've basically done and seen everything. You can drive around the entire island in a couple of hours and you'll just end up back where you started. Everything is expensive and a lot of things never make it to Hawaii at all (think movies, plays, concerts, products in stores, ideas for chrissakes). It's like the little town you grew up in where everything is safe and familiar but all you want to do is get to the big city and pursue your dreams. Except you can't take a Greyhound out of town or hitch a ride with some likely stranger -- you have to buy an expensive plane ticket. Yup. Nice place to visit. Hard to live in. At least for me.
So the holidays were nice if short and a bit stressful. I was able to visit my grandmother on Maui, who just had a stroke, which was a good thing (the visit, not the stroke). Spent some time with my Mom and caught up with a couple of old friends. Spent exactly ten minutes at the beach (Waikiki Beach, which hardly even counts - plus I was wearing sneakers, which makes it count even less). Witnessed the Christmas miracle of Taz (my mother in law's dog, who has been quite ill, and who was so sick that we all thought he was going to die that night -- shaking uncontrollably, unable to get up, not responding -- who got up the next day, bouncy and happy, demanding to be taken for a walk and given treats! Yay!). Hooked up with the wonderful Honolulu Derby Girls and went to two practices with them -- also met Sassy Chassis (Rat City Rollergirls) and Bea Attitude (Texas Rollergirls) who were also in town. Hooray for derby! Completely and totally ignored my email and anything even resembling work, despite the fact that Shawn Dash sent me an email saying he was DONE WITH THE HYPOPONERA!!! More on that later.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bolton's Technomyrmex Revision

Bolton's Technomyrmex revision is now available from The American Entomological Institute.

Taxonomy of the dolichoderine ant genus Technomyrmex Mayr (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) based on the worker cast. Barry Bolton. 2007. 150 pp. Contributions of the American Entomological Institute Volume 35, No. 1. $30.00

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who pointed it out.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Shrinky-Dink microfluidics

I grew up in Hawaii, where apparently Shrinky-Dinks never quite made it as the icon of childhood craftiness that it seems to be for others of my peers, but I recently heard about them in the journal Chemical Technology. Check it out:

Shrinky-Dink microfluidics

A children's toy has been turned into a microfluidic research tool in the hands of US engineers.

Michelle Khine's team from the University of California, Merced, printed microfluidic mould patterns onto Shrinky-Dinks and used them to make patterns of channels for mixing fluids and moving cells about. The technique allows the whole process - from device design conception to working device - to be completed with very simple tools within minutes.

Shrinky-Dinks are thermoplastic sheets of polystyrene which have been pre-heated and stretched. When they are reheated they shrink to their original size, also shrinking anything drawn on them. The drawn features become narrower and more raised as the ink lines are compressed.

An image showing the patterns of channels

Using only a laserjet printer and a toaster oven, the team printed a device layout on a Shrinky-Dink sheet and shrunk it down to make a mould. The ink lines printed on their Shrinky-Dinks were raised by over 500% to form a series of small walls with slightly rounded edges, ideal for making channels for use with microfluidic valves. The polydimethylsiloxane plastic used to make the devices could then be simply poured onto the mould, cured, and peeled off.

'Many researchers are excited about this, because it dramatically lowers the barrier to entry into the microfluidics field,' said Khine. 'There are no tooling costs - all you need is a printer and a toaster oven.'

'I am not a patient person,' explained Khine, 'and being a new faculty member at a brand new university, I did not have the cleanroom facilities I am accustomed to. As I was brainstorming solutions, I remembered my favourite childhood toy and decided to try it in my kitchen one night, and it worked amazingly well!' The Shrinky-Dink moulds can be used more than ten times, and different heights of channel can be made by running the Shrinky-Dink sheets through the printer more than once.

'We are using the microfluidic chips for chemotaxis experiments and cell culture experiments,' she added, 'and we definitely have a couple more projects based on this in the oven.'

Clare Boothby

Link to journal article

Shrinky-Dink microfluidics: rapid generation of deep and rounded patterns
Anthony Grimes, David N. Breslauer, Maureen Long, Jonathan Pegan, Luke P. Lee and Michelle Khine, Lab Chip, 2008

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

At this lab, everyone is required to maintain a science blog

I think this is a fabulous idea. Via The World's Fair:
Posted on: December 4, 2007 1:44 PM, by David Ng

Last week (or thereabouts), I had a chat with Rosie Redfield, an evolutionary biologist at the University of British Columbia. She had come over to visit because I noticed that every member of her lab (predominantly postdocs) had their own blog, and I was curious to see what was up with that.


Anyway, it turns out that Rosie makes it a requirement for her lab members to maintain a blog. This was primarily to act as an appendum lab book, and a place to reflect on the experiments carried out recently.

Chatting with her, she was quite excited by the prospect of such a thing becoming common practice. She noted a number of side benefits to the process:

1. It allows her, as a supervisor, to remotely keep track on what's going on. Think of it as preface material before the lab meeting, or the one on ones.

2. She's convinced that with the public facade to the posting, folks in her lab tend to conceptualize more fully what the experiments and data could signify. In doing so, there's a great opportunity for blogging to help clarify the experiments necessary to move the research projects forward.

3. Scientists are not necessarily noted for their writing skills. Which is too bad, because that ability tends to come in very handy in the fine art of preparing grants. Here, you have a platform where you can work the "practice makes perfect" angle.

4. Depending on the tact of the blogger, you may inadvertently end up with a significant amount of draft material for that thesis or paper you going to have to write later.

Then, of course, Rosie got into the whole issue of open access. In that, her efforts to promote science blogging in her lab, could possibly be thought of as a powerful exercise in scientific communication. Imagine a scenario where facets of the standard "lab book" are offered for public viewing.

This means that things like negative data, serendipity findings (things that don't normally get published) have a chance to be publicly aired, which only adds to the body of scientific knowledge. And what about unpublished data? How open is that? For instance, Rosie herself has no qualms in presenting her grant proposals, even before competition deadlines.

Mind you, her lab happens to focus on a research area that is not too competitive, so the relative merits of what her lab's blogging is obviously subjected to this important nuance.

Still, it's interesting to imagine a scenario where what Rosie's lab does is common practice. i.e. what if NIH, NSERC, NSF, CIHR made it explicit in their funding structure.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A review of the genus Mystrium

Jochen Bihn from Trophallaxis has just published a review of the genus Mystrium in the Indo-Australian region:

JOCHEN H. BIHN & MANFRED VERHAAGH, 2007: A review of the genus Mystrium (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in the Indo-Australian region. Zootaxa 1642: 1-12.

Indo-Australian species of the amblyoponine ant genus Mystrium Roger are reviewed. Three species are recognized in the region, and two of them, which were found in Indonesia (Papua and West Papua Province), are described as new species: Mystrium maren sp. nov. and Mystrium leonie sp. nov. Worker diagnoses and illustrations of the three species and a tabular key are given.

Full article can be downloaded here.
Image: Mystrium maren

Friday, November 30, 2007

Bug Girl's Blog

I found a new blog the other day that I thought I would share. It is called "Bug Girl's Blog: Entomology. Gardening. Ranting. Nerdery." How can you go wrong with a title like that? Check it out here.

From her blog I found a couple of other science/nerd blogs that also look like they might be worth keeping an eye on:
The Science Creative Quarterly
Science Mole
Weird Science
Young Female Scientist

Just thought I would share.

New ant blog

You know how you always see these fantastic photos of ants (live ants, not pinned ones like mine) on people's blogs, on their websites, or in their presentations? Well, most of them are taken by Alex Wild. Today I found out (via Ontogeny) that he has started a new blog focused on ants and photography. Check it out at Myrmecos.

Ant Saves Man's Life

I meant to post this story when it first came out but I got distracted. You're always hearing about dogs that save their owner's life or cats that wake their families up in time to escape the fire, but you never hear about the lowly ant stepping up to save somebody's life. Now you have...


No one saw 18-year-old Adrian Gregorio's car veer off the Don Shula Expressway early Sunday and plunge into a canal, Florida Highway Patrol officials said.

He still managed to pull himself out and swim to shore.

Then, he waited alone for help for at least 10 hours in the morning chill before a family found him lying on the grassy embankment next to the water, blood gushing from his head, they said.

They called police, and Gregorio was air-lifted to Ryder Trauma Center. His condition was unavailable Sunday.

Gregorio's 2006 Nissan 350Z sank into a canal just north of Florida's Turnpike and was barely visible to drivers, FHP Lt. Pat Santangelo said.

''If those people hadn't stopped in that particular spot, he may never have been found,'' Santangelo said.

The teen was apparently driving northbound on the Don Shula at about 1:30 a.m. when he swerved off the road, Santangelo said.


Gregorio, who had been reported missing overnight, was found purely by chance -- and thanks to an ant.

At around 11:40 a.m. Sunday, Reynaldo Acosta and his family were driving by the same canal when his 4-year-old son Sebastian complained that an ant was biting him.

Acosta, 42, pulled over to the side of the road near Southwest 117th Avenue so his girlfriend could swat the ant out of the boy's car seat, he said.

When Oskarina Martinez stepped out of the car, she saw Gregorio lying on the grass by the canal. Unable to move, he raised his arm to get their attention, she said.

''Thank God that we stopped there because of that ant,'' Martinez said in Spanish. ``He must have felt so desperate. The truth is that no one could see him.''

Acosta approached the faint teen, who told him he drove his car into the canal hours earlier. Acosta's older son called 911. Acosta also called Gregorio's mother to let her know her son was OK.

When Miami-Dade Fire Rescue arrived, Gregorio was in and out of consciousness.

''So in a way, the boy owes his life to the ant, partly also to my son, but more importantly to God,'' Acosta said.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ghost Bug Explained


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Tale of Four Stories: Soil Ecology, Theory, Evolution and the Publication System



Soil ecology has produced a huge corpus of results on relations between soil organisms, ecosystem processes controlled by these organisms and links between belowground and aboveground processes. However, some soil scientists think that soil ecology is short of modelling and evolutionary approaches and has developed too independently from general ecology. We have tested quantitatively these hypotheses through a bibliographic study (about 23000 articles) comparing soil ecology journals, generalist ecology journals, evolutionary ecology journals and theoretical ecology journals.


We have shown that soil ecology is not well represented in generalist ecology journals and that soil ecologists poorly use modelling and evolutionary approaches. Moreover, the articles published by a typical soil ecology journal (Soil Biology and Biochemistry) are cited by and cite low percentages of articles published in generalist ecology journals, evolutionary ecology journals and theoretical ecology journals.


This confirms our hypotheses and suggests that soil ecology would benefit from an effort towards modelling and evolutionary approaches. This effort should promote the building of a general conceptual framework for soil ecology and bridges between soil ecology and general ecology. We give some historical reasons for the parsimonious use of modelling and evolutionary approaches by soil ecologists. We finally suggest that a publication system that classifies journals according to their Impact Factors and their level of generality is probably inadequate to integrate “particularity” (empirical observations) and “generality” (general theories), which is the goal of all natural sciences. Such a system might also be particularly detrimental to the development of a science such as ecology that is intrinsically multidisciplinary.

Barot S, Blouin M, Fontaine S, Jouquet P, Lata J, et al. (2007) A Tale of Four Stories: Soil Ecology, Theory, Evolution and the Publication System. PLoS ONE 2(11): e1248. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001248

Monday, November 26, 2007

Identifying Pheidole

Have a bunch of Pheidole that need identifying and don't know what to do? Here are a couple of resources:

Pheidole Working Group (John Longino)
Pheidole of Costa Rica (John Longino)
Pheidole of Tiputini (Amy Mertl)
Pheidole of Africa (Brian Taylor)
Pheidole of Egypt (Brian Taylor)
Pheidole of Iran (Brian Taylor)
MCZ Type Database of Pheidole
Pheidole of Mississippi and Alabama
Pheidole of Japan
Pheidole of Borneo

Many of these keys are works in progress, so if you use them and find some problems with them, most folks are happy to get feedback about their keys.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A seclusion of embiopterans

Nothing to do with ants, but I enjoyed this blog entry about embiopterans. Via A Catalogue of Organisms:

A work colleague and I got into a conversation a while ago about collective nouns, and of course that eventually got onto the question of making up appropriate terms for groups of animals that currently lack collective nouns. One suggestion that I came up with that I still rather like the sound of was a "seclusion of embiopterans". From now on, I urge you to use the term when discussing embiopterans.

If through some bizarre oversight you haven't regularly found yourself discussing embiopterans, then you really should be. Also known as webspinners or embiids, embiopterans are one of the definite contenders for the total of world's coolest insects. I have personally come across a specimen in the wild just once that I found clinging to a piece of bark I pulled off its tree - unfortunately, I have to admit, no-one around me quite got what I was getting so excited about.

Webspinners are small insects that live in silken galleries they build in secluded areas such as under bark or rocks (the picture above from the homepage of Janice Edgerly-Rooks shows a female webspinner peeping out of its home). There is something of an esoteric contention about what exactly the correct name for the webspinner order should be - Embioptera, Embiidina or Embiodea all can be found. I'm going to stick with Embioptera for no good reason. The name means "lively wings" and is wildly inappropriate - webspinners are not noticeably lively, and more often than not lack wings (females are invariably wingless, males can sometimes be). It has been suggested that the name refers to the flicking movement of the male wings. The wings of male webspinners have large blood sinuses developed from the veins that are pumped full of haemolymph to make the wings rigid when they fly. When the haemolymph is drained from the sinuses, the wings become limp and floppy, able to move in whatever direction is required to let the male crawl through a female's silk nest, even bending forward over the head if the male goes into reverse.

Webspinners are often referred to as semi-social and females may share inter-connected galleries. Females also show a high level of parental care. However, females will not show any care for the young of others, and social interactions between females should probably be regarded as opportunistic rather than required (Grimaldi & Engel, 2005). The female and juvenile webspinners emerge from their silken palaces at night to feed on vegetation and detritus. Adult males, on the other hand, do not feed.

The webspinner's silk glands are located along the edge of the third segment of the forelimb tarsus, which is noticeable broadened as shown in the diagram above from BugNetMAP. The German name for embiopterans, "tarsenspinner", is therefore entirely apropos. The stunning "Life in the Undergrowth" series that I've had cause to mention before included spectacular footage of a webspinner constructing its silken fortress, waving its forelimbs in front of itself in a motion that can only be described as "wax on, wax off". So impermeable is the resulting wall that the spinner must actually cut through it with its mandibles in order to drink from water drops lying on the surface if it is not to dry up completely.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Master of the Killer Ants" on NOVA next Tuesday

This looks awesome! From PBS NOVA:

Deep within a termite mound in Africa, soldier termites spring into action, slicing their smaller opponents in half with a snap of their powerful jaws. But the attacking driver ants use strategy to overwhelm the defenders. Little do these six-legged combatants know that their marching orders come from a drought-plagued human village that is counting on them to drive out the termites.

Filmed in High Definition with advanced macro-shooting techniques, "Master of the Killer Ants" garnered best film awards at the Shanghai Film Festival and Japan's Wildlife Film Festival. The stunning footage includes different castes of termites coursing through their intricate tunnels—and the monstrously egg-swollen queen herself, rippling with the contractions that deposit thousands of eggs per day. (For more on the queen phenomenon, see Being Queen.) The climax comes as the invading driver ants close in on the queen's royal cell.

Although known for their ruthless aggression, driver ants also have a beneficial side. This is traditionally exploited by the Mofu people of northern Cameroon, who call the local species of red driver ants jaglavak. (To hear more of the Mofu and their traditions, go to Jaglavak, Prince of Insects).

"Master of the Killer Ants" tells the story of the Mofu's intimate relationship not only with jaglavak but with other insects. For instance, the people know that a crablike, bright-red insect serves as a harbinger of rain and a sign that it is time to prepare the earth. Winged insects and grasshoppers make a valuable food supplement and are especially tasty when grilled. (For more on edible insects, see Bugs You Can Eat).

But the insects provide a guide to behavior as well as an aid to survival. The Mofu say that they must work as hard and selflessly as the ants and termites if they are to survive, and they attribute drought and misfortune to their moral shortcomings.

One special quality of jaglavak above all concerns the village elder Matsgrawaï. When the film opens, he is called to inspect a neighbor's house. Termites have infested the earthen floor and are attacking the walls and roof. Worst of all, they threaten the adjacent granary with its crucial stock of grain sorghum.

From past experience, Matsgrawaï knows that jaglavak can drive the termites away, thereby securing the grain sorghum stores on which the villagers' lives depend. Under special circumstances, driver ants will attack termite colonies, and Matsgrawaï begins with prayers and offerings to jaglavak. When the ants fail to show up, he sends children to seek them out. (Play the Amazing Ants Game).

Thus commences a charming, instructive true-life fable on how to fight fire with fire—termites with ants—and not get burned, or rather too badly stung, in the process.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Robo-Roaches Can Control Insect Groups

Via National Geographic:

Cockroaches will often choose shelter unwisely when under the influence of robots, a new study shows.

Usually when the creepy crawlers are let loose in a brightly lit area, they gather under the darkest shade they can find.

"Nice means dark, for a cockroach," said lead study author Jose Halloy, a social ecologist at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium. "They look for shadows."

But when the bugs were joined by tiny robots designed to smell and behave like roaches, the machines were able to control the insects' behavior.

If the robots lingered beneath a less desirable, more brightly lit shelter, for example, the cockroaches did too—a choice they rarely made when the robots weren't around.

The findings show that such robots can influence group behavior in animals, the authors report in this week's issue of the journal Science.

This means that the tiny machines could be valuable tools in helping to understand how animals that move in swarms make collective decisions.

Susan Brown
for National Geographic News
November 15, 2007

Read rest of link here

Law enforcement key to saving Borneo's rainforests -- an interview with Borneo scientist Rhett Harrison

Law enforcement key to saving Borneo's rainforests
An interview with Borneo scientist Rhett Harrison
Rhett A. Butler,
November 13, 2007


In an interview with, Dr. Rhett Harrison, a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) associate researcher and Secretary for the Asia-Pacific Chapter of ATBC, says that law enforcement could be the key to safeguarding biodiversity contained in Borneo's lowland parks.

"Simply investing in protecting the existing protected area system and enforcing wildlife protection laws would achieve far more [than "Heart of Borneo]," he said. "If the current protected area systems were actually protected things wouldn't be so bad. However, throughout Borneo hunting and wildlife collecting are rampant (both inside and outside protected areas), and in parts of Kalimantan (Indonesia) you even have logging in some parks."

Harrison, who is helping organize the 2008 ATBC-Asia-Pacific Chapter meeting in Kuching on sustainable land use, further states that there may be opportunities for conservationists to work with oil palm to developers to ensure that existing forests are not converted for plantations and that palm oil can be produced in a sustainable manner. He adds that carbon offsets may eventually offer a means to fund conservation and sustainable development efforts in areas that still have standing forest.

read interview here
Image: Forest clearing near Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan. Courtesy of Google Earth.

“From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm”

Via Antomatic:

Yesterday’s New York Times Science section has a lengthy article that looks at some of the recent work by mathematical biologists Daniel Grunbaum and Iain Couzin on the instinct to swarm.

If you have ever observed ants marching in and out of a nest, you might have been reminded of a highway buzzing with traffic. To Iain D. Couzin, such a comparison is a cruel insult — to the ants.

Americans spend a 3.7 billion hours a year in congested traffic. But you will never see ants stuck in gridlock.

Army ants, which Dr. Couzin has spent much time observing in Panama, are particularly good at moving in swarms. If they have to travel over a depression in the ground, they erect bridges so that they can proceed as quickly as possible.

“They build the bridges with their living bodies,” said Dr. Couzin, a mathematical biologist at Princeton University and the University of Oxford. “They build them up if they’re required, and they dissolve if they’re not being used.”

The reason may be that the ants have had a lot more time to adapt to living in big groups. “We haven’t evolved in the societies we currently live in,” Dr. Couzin said.

[read the rest of the article]

The graphics that accompany the article are quite interesting, although unfortunately that’s not always obvious from the thumbnails displayed in the margin. Better descriptions would be most helpful.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Exceptions prove rule of tropical importance in biodiversity

Via EurekAlert:

Exceptions prove rule of tropical importance in biodiversity

Even a group of shellfish that appear to violate the overarching pattern of global biodiversity actually follows the same biological rules as other marine organisms, confirming a general theory for the spread of life on Earth. The University of Chicago's David Jablonski and his colleagues present this finding this week in the advanced online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"There's more of everything in the tropics. More genetic diversity, more diversity in form, more diversity of species," said David Jablonski, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor in Geophysical Sciences at Chicago. Biologists call this the "latitudinal diversity gradient." They have known about this phenomenon for more than a century, "but there's remarkably little agreement on how it's formed," Jablonski said.

Scientists have offered dozens of different theories to explain the evolutionary underpinnings of the tropics' rich biodiversity. In their Proceedings article, Jablonski, the University of Chicago's Andrew Krug and the University of California, Berkeley's James Valentine present findings that highlight the importance of the tropics in maintaining the entire planet's biodiversity.

Scientists had debated for three decades whether the tropics were a cradle of diversity, where new species originate, or a museum of diversity, where old species persist. Last year Jablonski, Valentine and Kaustuv Roy of the University of California, San Diego, potentially resolved the debate by showing that the tropics is both a cradle and a museum of biodiversity.

But there is a problem nagging at all research on the latitudinal diversity gradient. "So many variables correlate with latitude" - temperature, environmental stability and many other features of the oceans - "that it is tough to separate cause and effect," said Krug, a Research Associate in Geophysical Sciences at Chicago. To do exactly that, the team sifted through a database consisting of 4,600 species of bivalves that occurred in more than 200 locations worldwide.

The research focused on bivalves because of their rich fossil record. "They're known from the shallowest intertidal zone to the deepest of the deep sea," Jablonski said of the bivalves, a group that includes clams, scallops and oysters. "They're known in every latitude, from the north polar ocean to the Antarctic."

The vast majority of bivalve groups show the standard pattern: a peak of diversity in the tropics, tailing off into less diversity in the higher latitudes. "We found one major group that didn't do that. We call that a contrarian group," Jablonski said. That group, called the Anomalodesmata and dubbed the Anomalos by the Chicago-Berkeley team, displayed a striking diversity pattern. Contrary to virtually all other marine life, Anomalo diversity peaked in the mid-latitudes of both hemispheres, but dipped in the tropics.

"We knew we had to take a closer look at these guys," Jablonski said. "We had to see how they fit into the bigger picture, how they got into this strange state. They could've shown a whole new evolutionary dynamic." But they didn't, which actually excited the scientists even more.

"We found out that they do follow the same rules, that they are an exception that proves the rule," Jablonski said. "This was really exciting: science is always about the search for rules, generalizations that can explain nature in new ways." Krug agreed: "The results of the research were a bit surprising, as general rules governing natural systems can be hard to come by."

The origin of new Anomalo lineages was concentrated in the temperate zones, coinciding with their peak diversity. The coincidence between peak diversity and prolific evolution was seen in that group's relatives, too, and because both fell in the tropics, a normal diversity resulted.

"You could imagine a situation in which all their evolutionary action was still in the tropics, but they just had so much extinction there that by default their diversity peak was in the temperate zone," Jablonski said. "But if you know where the diversity peak is, you can predict where evolution is the most prolific."

"Thanks to the fossil record, we can show that their weird diversity pattern is because of a failure to diversify in the tropics and not because of supercharged evolution in the temperate zones. Our rule came through with flying colors."

These results show how important the tropics are for life on Earth: "The tropics are the engine of biodiversity. As the tropics are undermined or deteriorate for a whole variety of reasons, that actually undercuts evolutionary production on a global scale," Jablonski said.

Contact: Steve Koppes
University of Chicago

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Publishing in the New Millennium: A Forum on Publishing in the Biosciences

Via A Blog Around the Clock:

Back at Scifoo I met Anna Kushnir. And then we met again. And then, inspired by the conversations at Scifoo, Anna decided to organize a day-long, student-hosted conference about the future of scientific publishing - Publishing in the New Millennium: A Forum on Publishing in the Biosciences. And she decided to invite me to appear on one of the panels.

So, later this week, I will be in Boston, more precisely Cambridge MA, discussing Open Access and Science 2.0. I am arriving on Thursday in the early afternoon and leaving on Saturday in the early afternoon, so there is plenty of opportunity to meet me, even if you cannot make it to Harvard on Friday afternoon (and I hope you can - it promises to be quite exciting!). Just let Anna know about. Apart from Anna, I also hope to meet some other old friends, like Corie Lok, Alex Palazzo, Evie Brown, Moshe Pritsker, Kaitlin Thaney and YOU! So, check out the conference schedule and try to be there if you can.

The Carnivorous nights taxidermy contest

Via Make:

Photos and more from The Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest, a Secret Science Club event held at Union Hall in Park Slope, Brooklyn, last Friday night - [via] Link & more.


  • Obscura Antiques & Oddities, 280 East 10th, New York City - Link.
  • "Dogseat's" Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest" photoset on Flickr - Link.

I'm not sure why this appeals to me, but it does...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Feynman and ants

Via MAKE Magazine

LanBo, the folks who distribute the gel-based ant habitats have a fun story about a DIY ant experiment from the famously curious physicist Richard Feynman -
"I wanted to see how long it would take the other ants to get the message to go to the 'ferry terminal'. It started slowly, but rapidly increased until I was going mad ferrying the ants back and forth." After a while, he started taking the ants from the sugar to a different spot. None of them went back to the original starting place, which would have returned them to the sugar. They followed one another, but not to the sugar.

Feynman did other experiments with ants. In one, he laid out glass microscope slides and got ants to walk back and forth on them to some sugar. When he rearranged the slides or replaced an old one with a new one, the ants got confused and couldn't figure out how to reach the sugar. "It was pretty clear, from rearranging the glass slides that the ants left some sort of trail." He concluded.

He tried to figure out whether the trail indicated which direction to take to the sugar or only that an ant had been on the slide already. He also wanted to know how long the trail lasted. "I tried at one point to make the ants go around in a circle, but I didn't have enough patience to set it up." He wrote.

More than ten years later, after he had worked on a number of important projects, including the Manhattan project, Feynman was still wondering about ants. He was frustrated because the experiments he had done to demonstrate the ants' sense of geometry had not worked. He still wondered, "Why do ant trails look so straight and nice?" By this time he was teaching at the California Institute of Technology.

Feynman and ants - Link.
Posted by Phillip Torrone | Nov 5, 2007 02:00 AM

Graduate studies in Comparative Biology

Via antbase:

Some months ago, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City was granted official authority to award it own Ph.D. degrees. What this mean is that, starting in the Fall of 2008, a first generation of graduate students will be able to pursue a full state-of-the-art program in Comparative Biology at the best setting possible: an institution devoted to collection-based science.

The AMNH has already a long history in graduate level education through its join programs with Columbia University, NYU, CUNY and Cornell University. Many courses are already taught right in situ by the Museum's curators, and the students enjoy use of the various resources for their research (besides the collections, there are molecular laboratories, digital imaging with a SEM facility, and the fastest computer clusters for phylogenetic analysis ever assemble, just to name a few). However, further governing autonomy will surely create a more cohesive atmosphere and save a few headaches to its students. Nevertheless, as far as I know, the AMNH will keep its join programs with the universities.

This post was prompted by the launching of the new Ph.D. program website. The application deadline is December 28, 2007. I highly recommend anyone interested to contact some of the curators and apply for this or subsequent academic years.

Multiple recruitment systems in ants

Via AntVisions:

Been surfing through the literature for signs of multiple recruitment mechanisms in any single ant species. I assumed there would be some work on Camponotus species as they exhibit tandem running (one-on-one & group recruitment), solitary foraging, and mass recruitment. Though there is quite a lot of work carried out on recruitment behaviour in Camponotus, they all seem to address one strategy in each species.
But, I found this interesting paper by non other than 'the duo', Holldobler and Wilson. Of the several interesting points in this article is that when the major workers cannot cross gaps to reach a terrain, they build bridges, to which other workers are visually attracted. However once the chains are formed, workers lay trail pheromones on this 'bridge' to recruit nestmates. The five different recruitment systems used by the African Weaver ant,
Oecophylla longinoda as documented in this article are:
(a) recruitment to new food sources, mediated by odor trails produced from the rectal gland, coupled with tactile stimuli during mouth-opening, antennation, and head-waggling
(b) recruitment to new terrain, mediated by odor trails produced from the rectal gland and tactile stimulation through antennation
(c) emigration to new sites
(d) short-range recruitment to territorial intruders, during which the terminal abdominal sternite is maximally exposed and dragged for short distances over the ground to release an attractant from the sternal gland
(e) long-range recruitment to intruders, mediated by odor trails from the rectal gland and by antennation and intense body jerking

There are some fantastic sketches and close up photographs of these ants in the article.

Holldobler B and Wilson EO. 1978. The multiple recruitment systems of the African Weaver Ant,
Oecophylla longinoda (Latreille) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Behav Ecol Socio 3: 19-60.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Via NatureMedicine

Science on a shoestring

Nature Medicine 13, 1128 (2007)

Microscopes made from bamboo bring biology into focus

Paroma Basu1

  1. New Delhi

Funding is tight. Grants are rejected. Research equipment is too expensive. And these are complaints heard in well-heeled laboratories in the US and UK. In the following pages, we present inspiring examples of scientists who, using materials as simple as litmus paper, bamboo and blenders, prove that science on a shoestring is possible—and sometimes even better than the alternative.

In a remote village in eastern India, dozens of underprivileged children are for the first time marveling at the elaborate details of flower petals with the help of a microscope—made out of bamboo.

Fitted with a times20 lens, the light, compact and ecofriendly microscope is proving a boon for dozens of cash-strapped schools, granting students firsthand access to an otherwise unaffordable scientific tool.

Microscopes made from bamboo bring biology into focus

Clear vision: Members of the Delhi-based nonprofit Jodo Gyan have made about 2,500 microscopes from bamboo.

This nifty device is a product of the creative minds at Jodo Gyan, a small nonprofit in New Delhi. "Indian children are not getting to experience all the joy and wonder of science because there is too much emphasis on the memorization and repetition of concepts," says Usha Menon, a government researcher who founded Jodo Gyan in 1999. "Hundreds of thousands of children are learning without understanding anything."

Priced at 150 rupees (roughly $4), the microscope is just one of the educational tools created by Jodo Gyan, literally translated as 'linking knowledge'. Other tools include mathematical card and board games and sticky geometric shapes in a variety of colors. The 30-member group has also led more than 700 teacher-training workshops and runs an alternative primary school that enrolls 54 underprivileged students.

But the microscope remains the star attraction. Jodo Gyan has supplied the instrument to several organizations such as Chennai's Goodbooks Teacher's Center and New Delhi's Pragya, a nonprofit that provides services to neglected, high-altitude areas. These organizations then distribute the microscopes to schools in their localities. Jodo Gyan has also secured two big orders in the last few years from the UN Children's Fund for use in alternative learning centers in India.

Microscopes made from bamboo bring biology into focus

But with no external funding, Jodo Gyan is run on a shoestring budget, particularly because the group sells its learning aids for not much more than it costs to produce them, says Menon. The group's base of operations is a ramshackle building in Delhi's impoverished Shakurpur area that also doubles as Menon's home.

To meet the demand for its popular microscope, Jodo Gyan has fashioned a makeshift microscope factory right on the building's roof. Sitting up there amidst bamboo shards, members have so far chopped and carved about 2,500 microscopes for use in schools, educational nonprofits and, in at least one case, research.

Debal Deb, an ecologist who has set up a rural seed exchange to conserve dozens of endangered folk rice species in West Bengal, routinely uses Jodo Gyan's microscopes to study the surfaces of rice grains. More important, Deb's microscope has caught the attention of dozens of curious children from nearby villages, who stop by after school to peer through its lens.

"The microscope has opened up a whole new world for these children," says Deb. "They could never have imagined that an ant could have tiny antennae or that dragonfly wings could have such beautiful and intricate patterns."

Can I just say that in the past few days I have received two emails from people just letting me know they enjoy my blog. That really made me feel good! So here's some warm fuzzy halloweeny ant cheer right back at you! Via Flickr:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why do so many species live in tropical forests and coral reefs?

Via EurekAlert:

The latest development in a major debate over a controversial hypothesis of biodiversity and species abundance is the subject of a paper to be published in the 1 November 2007 issue of the journal Nature. The authors report good agreement between the species richness of two of the world's most vulnerable ecosystems -- tropical forests and coral reefs -- and a simple mathematical model building on the so-called "neutral theory of biodiversity." "We're helping to refine and improve this theory because it might have important implications for the effort to protect terrestrial biodiversity from climate change and urban development," says Jayanth Banavar of the Department of Physics at Penn State, a member of the research team.

The Nature paper is based on a counterintuitive assumption of neutral theory: that one can largely ignore interactions between species in modeling patterns of species abundance. The authors are physicists Igor Volkov and Jayanth Banavar of Penn State University, plant biologist Stephen Hubbell of UCLA (formerly of the University of Georgia), and physicist Amos Maritan of the University of Padua in Italy.

Among ecological theorists, neutral theory has sparked a six-year quarrel over the fundamental assumptions of their discipline. The Nature paper counters another scientific team's claim in 2006 that coral-reef diversity "refutes" the neutral theory. At the same time, the paper by Volkov et al., to be published on 1 November 2007, modifies the classical version of neutral theory that appeared in a 2001 book by Hubbell. (Graham Bell of McGill University also developed a neutral theory independently of Hubbell.) Banavar, Maritan, Volkov, and their collaborators have been active in the development of a mathematical framework for understanding ecosystems that builds on and clarifies Hubbell's neutral theory.

"Despite its controversial nature, neutral theory has proved to be a good starting point for understanding ecosystems," Maritan says. In a 2005 paper published in Nature, Banavar, Maritan, Volkov, and their collaborators demonstrated that tree-species abundance and diversity in the tropical forests can be explained by the density-dependence mechanism, in which birth, death, and migration processes are postulated to depend on the abundance of a species. In a Nature paper in 2006, they presented a theory for the time scales of neutral evolution that is in good accord with empirical data.

Another coral reef off the coast of Ishigaki-jima Island.
Click here for more information.

"Mathematical modeling is increasingly vital in the biological sciences, and the key challenge is to uncover the simplicity underlying the seemingly bewildering complexity," Banavar says. In recent years, theorists have struggled to reconcile neutral theory with more mainstream ecological models, such as the famous niche theory, according to which species survive by exploiting ecological "niches" to which they are uniquely and better adapted than other species. For example, a rare plant species might survive in a dense rainforest habitat by exploiting a peculiar soil composition for which it is genetically adapted. Niche theory seemed so commonsensical that many ecological theorists reacted fiercely when Hubbell published his hypothesis, because it implied that individual members of plant or animal species comprising a fixed total population could be modeled as if they were equivalent entities in a random evolutionary lottery influenced only by rates of birth, death, and immigration.

In Hubbell's 2001 book, The Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity and Biogeography, he pointed to a surprising feature of some measurements of relative species abundance distributions (RSAs). The measurements are indistinguishable from fictional distribution curves generated by models based on random processes; that is, processes in which the fates of hypothetical species owe purely to chance events in birth, death, and immigration rather than to their adaptive prowess. Of course, in real life, adaptation to niches is an obvious feature of living creatures. For example, polar bears are adapted to the chilly niche of the Arctic, not to the sultry niche of the tropics. Still, Hubbell's findings hinted that the abundance of species and the development of ecological communities and ecosystems owe more to chance processes, and less to biology, than previously had been assumed.

Since 2001, numerous researchers have published the results of field tests of Hubbell's theory, based on their analyses of life forms and habitats such as tropical forests, North American birds, tropical reef fishes and corals, marine benthic communities in intertidal zones, and pollen records of eastern North American during the Holocene. Test results have varied from strongly positive to strongly negative. Some groups have disagreed in their interpretations of the same data.

A coral reef near a diving point in Palau.
Click here for more information.

In March 2006, Maria Dornelas of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, and her colleagues published in Nature their study of coral-reef communities in the Indian and Pacific oceans. They found the coral-reef species in various local communities differ from each other far more than expected by neutral theory, and they exhibit RSA patterns that are quite distinct from those of tropical forests. The Nature article was titled "Coral Reef Diversity Refutes the Neutral Theory of Biodiversity." In their new Nature article, Volkov et al. reply to this latest challenge by arguing that the Dornelas team's thesis is invalid because the spatial structure and degree of isolation of coral-reef communities is different from those of tropical forests. In their latest paper, Banavar, Maritan, Volkov, and their collaborators have reanalyzed the Dornelas dataset and have concluded that it and measurements of rainforest species are compatible with an extended version of neutral theory in which all species are equivalent and do not interact with each other or the environment. Their work shows that "a theory in which all interspecific interactions are turned off leads to analytical results that are in good agreement with RSA data from tropical forests and coral reefs," the Nature article says. This agreement is so despite the obvious differences between the two types of communities -- coral reefs being composed of "many small, isolated communities" and tropical rainforests being "larger and more connected."

Volkov et al. conclude that "one can make significant theoretical progress in ecology by assuming that the effective interactions are weak in the stationary states in species-rich communities such as tropical forests and coral reefs." Maritan says that ecosystems may have evolved to a stationary state in which the coexisting species are substantially noninteracting because that is the most probable outcome. The next step, Volkov says, is "the development of a framework for bridging neutral and niche theories through the realistic accounting of the most important interactions among species and with the environment; for example, ways in which tree species might compete for the same resources or harbor insect pests that affect their competitiveness with rival tree species."

"The six-year saga of neutral theory is an intriguing example of how a scientific hypothesis can fertilize stimulating new research while evolving over time in response to scientific critiques," Banavar says.


The research was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, Earthwatch, Frank Levinson and the Celera Foundation, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and MIUR/Italy.

Jayanth Banavar at Penn State: 814/863-1089,
Amos Maritan at the University of Padua: (+) 39 049 827 7175,
Barbara K. Kennedy at Penn State (PIO): (+1)814-863-4682,

Links to some nice high-resolution images of coral-reef scenes are on the Web at .

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ants : Artwork by Kari Ryder Wilkie

So, if anyone is in Cambridge sometime in the next month, take a walk on over to CCTV, where, if you look through the window, you will see an art show by yours truly entitled, of course, ANTS:

Video thumbnail. Click to play
Click To Play

From the CCTV website:
Kari was one of the local myrmecologists interviewed for Project Documentary 2007's film "Ants" Now she is back at CCTV, presenting her ant-themed artwork in a show at the Drive by Gallery from October 25th - December 5th 2007. You can learn more about Kari's artwork in this short video, as well as at her website .

QotD: Darwin on why hypotheses matter

Via Getting Things Done in Academia:

I sat in on a grad seminar the other day that presented lots of data, and whose “Goals” slide started with the words “To find out if….”. Much of the resulting input from the audience was of the sort: “Could your data suggest that..?”.

Reminds me of a story. A critic said that Darwin, in writing Origin, should have just “put his facts before us and let them rest”.

Darwin replied

“About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize, and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!”

The best science is communicated as a narrative, a voyage of discovery, that presents your data in the light of different cool hypotheses.

That’s three parts to communicating science.

Data and hypothesis without a narrative ignores the fact that humans learn from stories.

Data and narrative without hypotheses is like watching a slide show from a stranger’s cross-country trip (”Where is this going fercryin’ out loud!?”).

Hypotheses and narrative without data is like an evening listening to free verse.

h/t Michael Shermer, Scientific American, October 2007

ANeT '07 - India

via AntVisions:

The conference was as it should be, lots of ant fanatics! Hosted by the Punjabi University, over 60 delegates from 15 countries attended this meeting. The highlight was without any doubt, Dr Rudolph J Kohout being honoured for his Lifetime contribution in the field of Myrmecology. A breathtaking cultural program organised by the Postgraduate students gave us all a feel for 'the real Punjab'. Session talks were spread out from nearly 9.00 in the morning to around 7.00 in the evening. Speakers were given 8 minutes, though most often this was quite flexible owing to some generous chair persons! We were off on a field trip to collect and watch ants at the base of Himalayas. The highlight for most was seeing Odontoponera transversa, while for others it was Oecophylla smaragdina. The journal of Asian Myrmecology was released and the articles in the first issue suggests a promising future for the Journal! All in all, a well organised conference by Dr Himender Bharati, attended by a nice community of 'ant people'. A must attend from now on!

Pictures by Archana and Thresi

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pheidole working group

Jack Longino has posted an impressive first version of the Pheidole Working Group online:

From Jack:

The useful things on it are:
1) a complete taxonomic catalogue as an excel file. Barry was generous with his current Word doc with up to data catalogue. The fields are not all filled in, but the most important ones are.
2) my first ever Lucid key. At this point it just has HL, HW, SL, CI, SI in it, and some geography, but I think it is a pretty useful sorting tool, even at this crude stage.

any corrections, contributions, etc. welcome.

Sadly the lucid key isn't working right now, but hopefully will be up and running soon. Go check it out.

U. S. Neivamyrmex paper

From Gordon Snelling: a new revision of Neivamyrmex of America: It can be found at

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Planet Bob and Cybertaxonomy

Via: Antbase

This week the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE), a new research institute based at Arizona State University, released Planet Bob. This short, humorous film is the first effort within the IISE's commitment in educating and bringing the science of Taxonomy closer to the public. It does a good job in shaking off Taxonomy's reputation as a dead science and in describing the field's central role in biodiversity studies.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mark Moffett -- my new favorite person

So I was browsing around on the web today and came across a video of Mark Moffett on The Colbert Report. Which led to a video of Mark Moffett on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Both are hilarious and if you haven't seen them already, you definitely should. I kind of wish I was Mark Moffett now -- scientist, adventurer, photographer, journalist. That sounds like a sweet gig. And I love his website. Go check it out if you haven't already.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bostonia article on Traniello Lab

Bostonia, the Boston University alumni magazine, has a big article in its Fall issue about our lab. My advisor is, of course, mentioned prominently. So is my labmate Mario, who is working on ant brains, and they even quoted an ex-member of the lab. And Amy, my other labmate, has a big link to her Ants movie in there. No mention of me, though. Sigh. I love this photo of James, though:


James Traniello in Concord, Massachusetts, where he and colleagues dig up ant colonies to take back to the lab to study ant brain development. Photo by Vernon Doucette

It’s an unlikely starting point for neurobiology research, but James Traniello is in the woodsin Concord, Massachusetts, striding along paths trod by Thoreau. Sweet fern perfumes the air and the ubiquitous Queen Anne’s lace pokes up its white flowers along the side of the trail, even as the Route 2 traffic noise buzzes through the woods. Traniello finds what he is looking for, tell-tale signs of the ant species Pheidole pilifera: tiny piles of seed hulls at nest entrances. It’s warmer on the sun-drenched trail than it is in the woods, so ants build their homes underneath it.

Traniello (CAS’74), a College of Arts and Sciences professor of biology, comes here with his students and colleagues to dig for living colonies of P. pilifera to take back to his lab on Cummington Street. They excavate the nest, suck the ants up with an aspirator, then sort them out, making sure they have the queen, essential to keeping a colony alive.

Almost all ants in a colony are sterile workers and sisters, with assigned roles from nurse to nest keeper to forager to soldier. Traniello wants to know whathappens in ant brains that leads to behavioral specialization. Until recently, scientists didn’t have the tools to even begin answering this question. But with new imaging techniques and neurochemical analyses, the sociobiology of ants is becoming clearer.

Now, with help from a nearly half-million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, Traniello and his colleagues are trying to discover the neurological basis of ant behavior, and by looking at several different species at the same time, they also hope to understand the evolution of the structure of ant brains. These aren’t just idle questions: Edward O. Wilson, one of Traniello’s doctoral advisors at Harvard, has famously suggested that ant behavior is helpful in understanding the behavior of certain upright biped creatures as well.

Read the rest of the article here.

Eye structure in Bullants correlates with the timing of foraging bouts

Ever wondered about what goes on in the enormous eyes of Bullants? Yup we did too, and we ended up finding that the diameter of the photoreceptor, the optical sensitivity, the number of facets and the facet sizes, all increase gradually from diurnal to diurnal/crepuscular, crepuscular/nocturnal and nocturnal species. Such adaptations in eye structure within a single genus, the primitive ant genus Myrmecia especially, is truly remarkable.

Read more here:
Greiner B, Narendra A, Reid SF, Dacke M, Ribi WA, Zeil J. 2007. Eye structure correlates with distinct foraging bout timing in primitive ants. Current Biology 17 (20): R879-R880.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

6 badass scientists

Via Ontogeny:

I'll give you the short list...Bayblab can fill in the details of why they chose them:

1. Craig Venter
2. Richard Feynman
3. Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov
4. Dr. Duncan Steel
5. Stephen Hawking
6. Meredith Charles Gourdine

No women? Hmm. I can think of a significant renegade who happens to be a woman: Barbara McClintock

I agree. Hey -- what about me? I'm a scientist and I play roller derby. How much more badass can you be? Of course I'm not famous or anything (or very good at roller derby), but maybe one day...
How about that guy who was bitten by a poisonous snake and sat down to record the effects of the poison as it slowly killed him. That is pretty badass. Does anyone know who this guy is?

Friday, October 12, 2007

"The Hive" Starring Tom Wopat-World Premiering This Month on VOD

So I got this email from someone named Erica telling me about this new movie coming out on VOD called "The Hive." She seems to work for RHI Entertainment. I can't actually watch this movie as I don't even have basic cable, but it does sound like a lot of fun:
The Hive is a horror-thriller that features a mass of 200 flesh-eating army ants making its way through the jungles of Brazil devouring every living thing in its path. Called in to stave off the attack is Horace Lennart, a scientist from Thorax Industries extermination service in Los Angeles, and his girlfriend, entomologist Claire Dubois. But when they discover the bizarre intention and origins of the crawling creatures, they fear for the future of the planet.
I went to IMDB and found this user comment on the movie from someone named david, from glasgow, scotland.
For me, if you start with a premise of killer ants you cant go far wrong but throw in aliens, babies being eaten, dialogue like "im not here to have a conversation with an ant" and you're moving into true cult status.
Add to the mix ants who form themselves into fists and knock over trees and how good does this film sound? And you haven't even seen the cool weapon the good guys have!
You could argue that its not the best acted movie in the world but I don't think awards ceremonious were on anyone's mind when storyboarding this one.
If you think say "the swarm" is a poor movie then this maybe isn't one for you but if you've ever lay awake at night wondering how ants would build a computer then this is the only place i know where you might just find out!
Like I said, sounds like fun. If anyone sees it, let me know how it is.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ant-Aphid Mutualism Gets Weirder

From Ontogeny (via Nature):
The strange symbiotic relationship between ants and aphids has been made even more interesting by a new discovery. It has previously been shown that the ants – which ‘milk’ the aphids for a sugary liquid – will chew off and chemically retard development of aphid wings to keep them nearby. Now it seems that they also dope them up so even if they try to run away they don’t get far (The Daily Telegraph).

“Although both parties benefit from the interaction, this research shows is that all is not well in the world of aphids and ants. The aphids are manipulated to their disadvantage: for aphids the ants are a dangerous liaison,” says Vincent Jansen of Royal Holloway university (Press release)

The researchers found that aphids walking on filter paper travelled much slower when the paper had previously been walked on by ants than they did on plain paper. And when placed on dead leaves – which they should try to leave in search of food – having ants around significantly slowed aphid departure. “We believe that ants could use the tranquillizing chemicals in their footprints to maintain a populous ‘farm’ of aphids close to their colony, to provide honeydew on tap. Ants have even been known to occasionally eat some of the aphids themselves, so subduing them in this way is obviously a great way to keep renewable honeydew and prey easily available,” says Tom Oliver, of Imperial College London (press release).

You can access the journal article here.