Thursday, January 25, 2007

perfect insect boxes

Here is my little tip of the day -- I am always looking for good boxes to keep my ants in and for shipping. I have found that the shipping boxes that Proactiv Solution skin care products come in are perfect. They are about 11 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 2 inches with a flap top. The largest Cornell unit tray will fit snugly in there (or several smaller ones, as in the photo below). It is perfect for organizing small ongoing projects in the lab or transporting them when traveling to museums. For shipping they might be perfect, but I always put the box into a bigger box with lots of padding just in case. Anyway, they are so perfect, I thought I would share. I recently bought a lot of 22 boxes from ebay for about a dollar a box. Totally worth it.

Visualizing the tree of life

What would the tree of life look like? Really really big. Check out this crazy poster by David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl, and Robin Gutell (University of Texas) based on rRNA sequence data that includes about 3,000 species. It is free to download for personal and educational purposes. I like the "you are here" marker.

Other related stuff:

A Phylogeny of Complete Genomes: Data Repository -- a high-resolution picture of a tree based on the analysis of complete genomes (Ciccarelli & al. 2006). And an interactive version. You can even upload your own data! And read the journal article about it.

Timothy Hughes has an interesting page about Phylogenetic tree visualisation along with a visualisation of the NCBI "Tree of Life" in Walrus (a Java based 3D hyperbolic viewer). Craziness.

An interesting powerpoint presentation entitled Visualizing phylogenetic trees, and linking them to databases, by Brent D. Mishler and Rebecca L. Shapley.

And, of course, there is the Tree of Life Project.

Picture: The Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt

Mike Kaspari's Blog: Getting Things Done in Academia

Dr. Mike Kaspari is Director of the Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Oklahoma. I met him at the Ant Course several years ago. Last week I was pointed towards his blog, which has very little to do with ants, and everything to do with getting things done as a graduate student. Holy mackerel. That is the most useful thing I have seen in quite awhile. Bravo. Go read it now. I command you.

Also, I love his webpage under antlab associates where instead of having something stuffy like "collaborators" (which is what I have on my webpage) instead he has "teachers" with photos of everyone from Darwin to EO Wilson to Paul McCartney. That is cool. I want to go change mine now.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Introducción a las Hormigas de la Región Neotropical has posted a guide to Neotropical ants on their website. It includes keys and descriptions to all the subfamilies and genera. Unfortunately, it is only available in Spanish. I have found, though, that Spanish keys are often easy to decipher for English speakers since so many taxonomic characteristics are very similar in both languages (mandíbulas triangulares = triangular mandibles, acidoporo circular = circular acidopore, etc.). The main document can be found here and the keys can be found here.


The long-awaited, updated version of Mantis has finally arrived. Although still in beta version, it is "fully functional and will never expire." I am ordering (thanks to my very generous advisor) FileMaker Pro 8.5 so I can use all the cool web-publishing features. So excited. A stand-alone version is also available if you don't have Filemaker. I have used the old version for the past several years to keep track of my ever-growing database of Amazonian ant specimens and have been very satisfied with it. I do have a few complaints, and am hoping they will be fixed in the new version. So, give it a try if you are so inclined. It can be found here.

Identifying Male Ants IV

I found another resource for identifying male ants that may be useful. Specifically, it is for male ants of the California Desert, but perhaps it could be more generally useful. It can be found at

Megalomyrmex of Ecuador

Juan Vieira, a student from Ecuador, sent me an email a couple of weeks ago. He is currently working on a revision of Megalomyrmex in Ecuador. So, as soon as I get my act together, I am going to send him some of my Megalomyrmex specimens for him to look at. Yippee! At the moment I have identified 8 species of Megalomyrmex from Tiputini, one of them new, and three of them new records for Ecuador. I hope he agrees with my IDs! I also think I may have a couple of males from the canopy, but am really just guessing. We'll see, I suppose. If anyone else has Megalomyrmex specimens from Ecuador, Colombia, or Peru, you can contact Juan at

Strumigenys and Pyramica

Mingsheng Wang, who used to be a graduate student here at BU and is now a postdoc at Tennessee State University Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Research was recently in Boston for a week or so and kindly offered to look at my Dacetines for me. There is a recent key (Bolton) for them available but a lot of the characters require a super strong microscope which I do not have here. So he took them over to Harvard and came back with 27 morphospecies. Rockin'! Mingsheng is not an expert on Dacetines, but he does know his ants. No names yet, but I am so pleased.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Video of Fungus-Infected Ant

On YouTube is a short video from the BBC series Life in the Undergrowth which shows time lapse video of fungus growing from the head of an ant. Very cool. The lovely David Attenborough narrates. Other insects, too. The ant in the video is the infamous Paraponera clavata, a.k.a. the Bullet Ant, a.k.a. Hormiga Bala, a.k.a. the 24-hour ant, a.k.a. the giant scary tropical ant whose sting is so terrible it feels like you've been shot and are in agony for a day and you might even die from it. I sat down once not far from one of their nests. They all came out from the base of a tree stump towards me and I have never back-pedaled so fast in my life. Click here for some more info on P. clavata.