Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Myrmecos reviews the year in ants

image: Alex Wild

via myrmecos:
  • The Demise of the Standard Ant. That is the title of a review by Juergen Heinze, but the idea that our basic conception of how ant colonies work is overly simplistic receives plenty of additional support from the research community. For instance, Smith et al document the complexity of caste determination in Pogonomyrmex badius, while Schwander & Keller find likewise in P. rugosus. Meanwhile, Dobata et al show some supposed queens of Pristomyrmex punctata are actually parasites, and Hughes et al find parasitic patrilines among the attines.
  • The Eureka Ant. A potential sister lineage to all living ants is discovered when Christian Rabeling and Manfred Verhaagh find Martialis heureka wandering about in Amazonian leaf litter near Manaus, Brazil. We gain a subfamily, Martialinae, and a great deal new to ponder about ant evolution.
  • Ant Genomes. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute announces the funding of not one, but three ant genomes. While we won’t see the assembled data for a good while yet, the genomes are certain to become a gold mine for many different areas of myrmecology. The announcement comes on the heels of Tsutsui et al’sstudy on the evolution of genome size in ants.
  • Elephants and giraffes are a pivotal part of Africa’s famed ant-acacia mutualisms. Palmer et al experimentally removed large mammals from the system to find that the ant-acacia relationship broke down.
  • Attine fungus-growing ants have a big year, with Schultz & Brady producing a detailed phylogeny of the attini, Bacci et al publishing a phylogeny of the leafcutting genus Atta, Mueller et al showing that some of the microbes in the system are not as co-evolved as had been thought, and Hughes et al documenting an abrupt shift in anti-microbial gland size in the leaf-cutting attine genera.
  • Parasitic nematodes turn their ant hosts into bird-attracting berries so that they can spread to new ants via tasty bird poop. This, according to work by Yanoviak et al.
  • Lasius neglectus’ transition to invasiveness receives thorough documentation in a. The team concludes that pre-existing traits may have combined with human activity to assist an escape from parasites. A new pest is born.
  • The ant evolutionary tree receives a boost as systematists produce species-level histories of the genera Pheidole, Atta, Lasius, Odontomachus, and Linepithema.
  • Suicidal Forelius workers provide a stark example of altruism when they regularly close themselves out of the nest in the process of sealing it from attackers. As recorded by Tofilski et al.
  • Treehoppers in trouble call ants. According to Morales et al, when hoppers get in trouble with lady beetles they issue audio signals. These attract ants that chase off the carnivorous coccinellids.
  • GP-9 demystified. The enigmatic gp-9 was the first gene to be associated with social behavior in ants, marking the difference between single and multiple queen colonies of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. A study by Wang et al showed that the gp-9 locus might not directly cause the difference itself; instead, it primarily affects gene expression at a small number of other loci, many associated with chemical communication. If you’re wondering what the future holds for myrmecology, pay attention. These sorts of genomic studies will become much more common as researchers begin to dissect the links between genetics and social behavior.

Read more here.

Leafcutter ant colony + 10 tons of cement = awesome documentary

This video is from a documentary titled Ants! Natures Secret Power. I saw it on BoingBoing recently, but it appears to have been around for years. Based on Bert Hölldobler’s research, it shows the excavation of a full sized leafcutter ant colony filled with 10 tons of cement ala Walter Tschinkel. Yup. I haven't seen the full documentary but the YouTube clip is amazing. What I really want to know is what happened to this ten ton cement colony afterwards?

If you happen to be in Oklahoma on March 24th, it appears that there will be a showing at the University of Oklahoma. The word on the street is that it is well worth watching.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

More mystery ants

Once again, these photos were taken by Kelly Swing at Tiputini Biodiversity Station.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mystery ant!

So, anybody know what this ant is? This photo was taken by Kelly Swing at Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador. More mystery ants are coming....

Monday, December 08, 2008

A few interesting links

What's up with me

If anyone out there is dying to know what I have been up to:

  • Working on a revision of a paper comparing species diversity of ants in primary and secondary forest in Amazonian Ecuador. Finally sent it in last week and hope to see it published soon.
  • Watching my friend, labmate, and collaborator Amy Mertl finish her thesis a month and a half after getting married. Crazy woman.
  • Starting in on The Big Paper. Details to follow.

Ant #4 (Tim and Kari): ceramic planter

So, if anyone out there recalls my fabulous idea of creating an ant a day, they will also recall that I have been an abject failure at doing so. I shall now move into a mode involving showing ants I created in the past, that are just sitting around the apartment, rather than ants that I created for this project. Next I shall no doubt move into a mode involving showing ants other people have made that are just sitting around my apartment. Sigh. This is a ceramic planter I made for a ceramics class several years ago. It is actually a collaborative piece between my husband and I, who created a rolling ant stamp that I used in the design.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Dance Your PhD! (Possibly the coolest thing ever)

Dear God: Please please please let me have the motivation (and balls) to enter this contest. Amen.

The 2009 AAAS Science Dance Contest


The contest is open to anyone who has (or is pursuing) a Ph.D. in any scientific field, such as physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, anthropology, or in science-related fields such as mathematics, engineering, linguistics, bioethics, the history of science, etc. regardless of whether you've remained in academia.

1. Make a video of your own Ph.D. dance.

2. Post the video on YouTube. In the video's information box, include your Ph.D. title and any relevant information (scientific or artistic) that you'd like to share.

3. Not later than 23:00 EST 16 November 2008, email your name; current affiliation and status; the title of your Ph.D., university where it is earned, and completion date; and the Internet link to your Ph.D. dance video to: gonzo@aaas.org

Once this information is posted on the Contestants video page, you are officially entered in the contest.

* * Submission deadline: 16 November 2008 * *


On 17 November 2008, an independent panel of judges will select a total of 4 winners from the following categories:

Graduate Student: Best among those currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program

Post-Doc: Best among those who have a Ph.D. but not tenure at a university

Professor: Best among those with Ph.D. and tenure at a university

Popular Choice: The video with the highest YouTube viewcount by the deadline

If a dance video wins in both the Popular Choice and another category, the video with the next highest viewcount wins the Popular Choice award. The dance can be solo or a group effort, but the author of the Ph.D. must appear in a central role. This is a dance contest, not a video contest, so the judges will focus on the quality of the dance rather than any fancy editing you do with iMovie. The winning dances will be those that most creatively convey the scientific essence of their respective Ph.D. theses.


On the day you are chosen as a winner, you must submit a single peer-reviewed research article on which you are a co-author. (Graduate students who have not yet co-authored an article must choose one co-authored by their Ph.D. advisor.)

Each of you will be paired with a professional choreographer. (A team of 4 choreographers in Chicago are ready and waiting.) Over the next couple of weeks (via email and telephone) you must help your choreographer understand your article, its aims, the hypotheses it tests, and its big-picture context. With that knowledge, the choreographers will collaborate to create a 4-part dance based on the science behind the 4 winning research articles.

You will be honored guests at the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago in February. Accommodation for 2 nights will be provided, and travel grants are available to help cover your expenses.

During the AAAS meeting, on 13 February 2009, you will have front row seats to the world debut of "THIS IS SCIENCE"--the professional dance interpretation of your scientific research.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ants in the New Yorker

Who says you have to go to the far off jungles to study ant diversity? Check out this New Yorker article on the work of former graduate student Marko Pecarevic entitled Ant Diversity and Abundance Increase with Increasing Plant Complexity and Amount of Garbage Bins in New York City Street Medians.

Via bridgeandtunnelclub

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How to Identify Queens

Alex over at Myrmecos has a fabulous post on how to identify queens. It is the clearest, most useful explanation I have ever seen, with some wonderful images to illustrate. I really wish I had had this when I was first starting out. Go check it out and thank Alex for all the hard work he clearly put into this. Thanks Alex!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Check List: journal of species lists and distributions

Just had this journal pointed out to me today. From their website:
CHECK LIST is a quarterly journal devoted to publishing species occurrence lists, geographic distribution maps, and notes on the geographic distribution of any taxon. These reports have traditionally been neglected and considered "too basic" or "not scientifically relevant" for publication in other venues. CHECK LIST seeks to remedy this. Efforts to preserve the remaining ranges of species are fundamental for the conservation of biodiversity and the first step to accomplish this is to keep records of the distribution of the species. CHECK LIST was created to fill this gap by publishing papers on these important inventories.
It looks like it is a Brazilian-based effort by CRIA (Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental), a "non-profit and non-governmental Brazilian organization that aims to contribute to the conservation of global biodiversity by dissemination of high quality scientific information." Since 2005 they have published 11 issues (in English) online. Papers are peer-reviewed, turn-around is quick, and there are no publication costs. Sounds good to me. Check them out here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Scratchpads: biodiversity online

Scratchpads: Biodiversity Online is an online biodiversity site (duh) that looks very promising. From their website:

Scratchpads are an easy to use, social networking application that enable communities of researchers to manage, share and publish taxonomic data online. Sites are hosted at the Natural History Museum London, and offered free to any scientist that completes an online registration form. Key features of the Scratchpads include tools to manage:

Taxonomy Classifications Phylogeny Phylogenies
Literature Bibliographies Documents Documents
Images Image galleries Custom Data Custom data
Specimens Specimen records Simple Maps Maps

Users control who has access to content, which is published on the site under Creative Commons (by-nc-sa) license.

Data added to a Scratchpad are automatically classified and grouped around a taxonomy that is supplied by the users. This is optionally supplemented with information from high quality web accessible databases, to automatic construct content rich web pages about any documented taxon. Currently these sources include Genbank, GBIF, Biodiversity Heritage Library, Yahoo! Images, flickr and Google Scholar.

Want to learn more? I do!

  • Roberts, D., Rycroft, S.D., González, M., and Smith, V.S. (2007) Scratchpads: what are they? European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy News (newsletter article).

  • Smith, VS.* (2008) Cybertaxonomy: applying computers & the Web to the study of biodiversity. Invited. Part of the Voyages of Discovery lecture series. Natural History Museum, London, U.K. April 22, 2008.

  • Smith, VS.*, Rycroft, S.D. & Roberts, D. (2008) Scratchpads: Getting biodiversity online, redefining publication. Invited. NHM trustees presentation. Natural History Museum, London, U.K. March 4, 2008.

  • Smith, VS.*, Rycroft, S.D., & Roberts, D. (2008) Scratchpads: Getting biodiversity online, redefining publication. EDIT general meeting, Carvoeiro, Portugal. Jan. 24, 2008.
    PPT Slideshare

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

ZooKeys: new online journal edited by Terry Erwin

From their website:
"ZooKeys is a peer-reviewed, open-access, rapidly produced journal launched to support free exchange of ideas and information in systematic zoology.

All papers published in ZooKeys can be freely copied, downloaded, printed and distributed at no charge for the reader. Authors may retain all other rights on their works. Authors are thus encouraged to post the pdf files of published papers on their homepages or elsewhere to expedite distribution.

Papers are published both online and in the traditional printed format, in full compliance with the current requirements of ICZN."

The abstract from the editorial opening paper:
"Publishing taxonomic and systematics studies in the digital era faces major challenges and requires new approaches, many of which are currently stimulating spirited discussions amongst taxonomists and systematists. New amendments to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature are expected to regulate electronic publishing of new taxa and create a standard form for their registration (ZooBank). Responding to a perceived need, this editorial announces establishment of ZooKeys – a new online and print journal in zoological taxonomy and systematics, which aims to quickly respond and adapt to the newest developments in taxonomic publishing. Open Access is accepted as mandatory for ZooKeys. Th e rationale for and concept of ZooKeys is discussed in detail."
Check it out here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The 2009 Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Awards

Photo from terpenstra

From The Dispersal of Darwin blog:
I am happy to announce this information from George Keremedjiev and Bozeman's American Computer Museum. In 2006, biologist Edward O. Wilson visited, gave a lecture, and signed books in Bozeman, as part of accepting the 2006 George R. Stibitz Computer and Communications Award for his proposal to create an electronic encyclopedia of all life (EOL, and see this TED talk).

Now, Bozeman and Montana State University will host in 2009 the first ceremony for recipients of the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Pioneer Awards, which, according to the website, "will will be presented by Dr. Wilson in person to honorees who have pioneered, invented, developed or used modern technology to help advance the biodiversity of life on planet Earth."

A free public forum in the afternoon and a tickets-required awards dinner in the evening are scheduled for Thursday, April 9, 2009.

Four honorees have been announced so far:

  • Dr. Jane Lubchenco Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology, Distinguished Professor of Zoology, Oregon State University
  • Dr. Steve Running Professor & Director, Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group (NTSG), College of Forestry & Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT
  • Dr. Michael Soulé Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Dr. David Ward Professor of Microbial Ecology, Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Montana State UniversityBozeman, MT

Updates about the awards, the events, and its honorees will be updated on this website.
[Photo credit: E.O. Wilson signing books in Bozeman, Montana, 2006]

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Kurt Kuene Antpage

By the way, when I was hunting around on the internet for random Fluon facts, I stumbled across this guy. That is like the coolest ant farm ever! He has detailed drawings, descriptions, and photos of the development of this thing from year to year. It is amazing. Check it out here.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Where do you get your Fluon from?

One of my favorite ant-related products is Fluon. Liquid Teflon. The thing that keeps all of our ants from running amok (well, most of them anyway). Apparently the company that we usually get our Fluon from has gone out of business and our dealer sent us a replacement that was not so good. Where do you get your Fluon from?

Some interesting facts about Fluon (taken from a very old post on The Ant Farm's message board):

  • Its slipperiness declines over several months in warm, humid conditions, such as during summer in many places, or in tropical climates. In dry conditions, it may last over a year.
  • Some arboreal ants can climb over it.
  • Unused Fluon should be agitated, either shaken gently with a circular motion, or merely turned upside down two or three times, about once every ten days or two weeks. Otherwise, the polymer will settle out of suspension and become useless.
  • If you are a smoker, be sure NEVER to inhale combusted Fluon, such as might rub off on a cigarette. This can result in severe flu-like symptoms, known as "polymer fever". Wash it off your skin very thoroughly after use.
For all you thrifty ant keepers out there -- here is a 2007 article on how diluted Fluon works just as well as undiluted Fluon:
And for the historically minded -- check out this 1956 article mentioning Fluon (perhaps for the first time?) as a tool in the control of insect movement:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wear your nerdiness proudly!

Buy them here.

Study looks at leafcutter ants to provide new insight into the origins of Amazonian diversity

Figure: Timeline of diversification in Amazonian Atta species

Via EurekAlert:

"The results of a new study suggest that past climate changes and sea level fluctuations may have promoted the formation of new species in the Amazon region of South America.

Today, the Amazon basin is home to the richest diversity of life on earth, yet the reasons why this came to be are not well understood. A team of American and Brazilian researchers studied three species of leafcutter ants from Central and South America to determine how geography and climate affect the formation of new species. Their results will be published July 23 in the journal PLoS ONE.

"One way in which our study is unique is that we looked at an insect. Previous studies have focused mostly on birds, mammals and other vertebrates, whereas insects actually represent the majority of the animal diversity in the Amazon," said Dr. Scott Solomon, the lead author on the study.

Climate changes during the last ice age affected where Amazonian species, such as leafcutter ants, were able to live, restricting some to isolated "refugia" that could cause them to evolve into new species.

"During the last ice age the Amazon region was cooler and drier than it is today, although it was probably still mostly covered by forests," said Solomon.

By comparing the climatic conditions where the species live today with models of what the climate was like in the past using a computational method called maximum entropy, the researchers estimated exactly where each species was capable of living during the last ice age, approximately 21,000 years ago. The researchers then tested their estimates using DNA sequence information from each species and found that the patterns matched up, suggesting that the ancient climate changes left a genetic signature on the ants that is still detectable today.

Prior to the last ice age, rising sea levels may have also played a role in separating populations. Parts of South America that are today covered in rainforest may have been underwater between 10-15 million years ago, according to the researchers. This would have caused higher elevation regions nearby, like the slopes of the Andes mountains, to become like islands, in which species were able to evolve independently from species on other "islands."

According to the study, the genetic evidence was consistent with both scenarios, suggesting that both ice age climate changes as well as flooding of the Amazon basin could be responsible for generating diversity in leafcutter ants.

The authors rejected the idea, previously suggested by other scientists, that rivers play a role in generating diversity in the Amazon basin by separating populations that live on either side. According to the study, even the Amazon river—which at places is nearly 2 miles wide—has not kept winged leafcutter ant queens and males from flying across it.

"It is interesting that Amazonian rivers acts as barriers to some birds, but these ants are apparently able to cross them," said Solomon.

According to the authors, the idea that refugia were responsible for generating species diversity in the Amazon has been heavily criticized. However, the new findings suggest that the refugia theory may need to be reevaluated.

"Even though we found support for the refugia hypothesis, our results suggest that climate changes had a different effect on each species, even though they are very closely related. This goes against the way people have thought about refugia in the past, and it highlights how difficult it is to generalize when it comes to making predictions about how climate change affects species," said Solomon."

Citation: Solomon SE, Bacci M Jr, Martins J Jr, Vinha GG, Mueller UG (2008) Paleodistributions and Comparative Molecular Phylogeography of Leafcutter Ants (Atta spp.) Provide New Insight into the Origins of Amazonian Diversity. PLoS ONE 3(7): e2738. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002738

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

E. O. Wilson working on a novel

Apparently, he would write a novel.

In a recent article in the New York Times, E. O. Wilson is said to be working on his first novel:

"Over lunch he describes his novel in progress, currently titled “Anthill.” Its contents have occasioned certain differences of emphasis between himself and his publisher, even though it was his editor at Norton, Robert Weil, who suggested he write it. Dr. Wilson would like ants to play a large role in the novel, given all the useful lessons that can be drawn from their behavior. The publisher sees a larger role for people and a smaller, at most ant-sized, role for ants. The novel is rotating through draft after draft as this tension is worked out."
I can't wait to read it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Primary vs. Secondary forest

Photo: Tiputini Biodiversity Station -- tower view

It occurs to me that I am not doing a good job of living up to my blog mission statement. More specifically, I have not been "keeping track (for my own benefit) of my daily progress in the identification of the ant fauna of Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador, the analysis of that data, and the pursuit of my PhD." To remedy that situation, I shall tell you what I am doing right now.

Right now I am working on a paper comparing ant diversity in primary vs. secondary forest. This is from a small pilot study Amy Mertl and I did in 2002. It was our first visit to Tiputini, our first field season, and our first attempt at identifying ants. We were not very good. We would sit together in the lab, one of us with a key and the other at the microscope. We had never heard of pinning so we just looked at them in alcohol. We had never heard of Bolton, so we used the key in The Ants. One of us would read through the key couplet by couplet and the other one would say things like, "I guess the first one" or "what the hell does that mean?" or "is there a third option?" or "why don't you take a look." And no one was around to tell us if we got anything right (or wrong). It's a miracle we got anything right at all. Of course, the beauty of keeping your ants in alcohol is that you can go back and re-identify them. :)

Interested in how biodiversity is affected when primary forest is cut down and then allowed to regrow? There is an interesting article in a recent issue of Science on rainforest biodiversity in recovering forests. Check it out here.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ant #3 (Tim): wood burned ant trail

This lovely trail of ants was created using a wood burning pen on a very small piece of wood (about 1 cm wide).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Tiputini Mantis Database: The Numbers

9: # of subfamilies.

64: # of valid genera records.

17: # of genera represented by a single species.

110: # of species represented by a single specimen.

65: # of species represented by two specimens.

10: # of species represented by over 100 specimens.

8483: # of specimen records.

50: # of species records for the genus Pheidole, the most species-rich genus in my collection.

65: # of Pheidole species Amy Mertl has collected at Tiputini.

154: # of Pheidole species on John Longino's Ants of Costa Rica website.

14: # of people (besides myself) who have helped me to identify species.

70: # of specimen records for specimens that are definitely not ants.

8: # of years I have been in graduate school.

6: # of years that have passed since I collected my first specimen at Tiputini.

27: # of copies of various versions of my database that I have.

5: # of places I keep backup versions of current database.

29: # of specimen records that contain the phrase "lost specimen" in the specimen notes.

861: # of specimen records for reproductives.

108: # of specimens that I was unable to identify to anything more than "Formicidae"

542: # of species records -- this includes fake ones like Formicidae (Formicidae) where I know it's an ant but have no idea what kind it is or Attini (Attini) where I know it is an Attine, but have no idea what kind. It also includes the classic Hymenoptera (Hymenoptera), otherwise known as "it has six legs and wings."

503: # of species records -- this does not include the above fake species but does include morphospecies and new species, and is not necessarily the number of species that I have collected, as it includes certain morphospecies which may overlap each other.

???: # of species I have collected.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ant #2 (Kari): Bitstrip Ant

This ant was created on Bitstrips, which is a pretty cool site that lets you design characters and create comics very easily. It was mashed together using silhouettes of baseball bats, lemons, bottles, a heart, and two golf tees. I forgot the antennae, though.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An ant a day (ish)

I've been a big fan of the skull-a-day blog where the author created a new piece of art (with a skull theme) every day for a year. I thought, I can do that! And (obviously) I would want to use ants as a theme. I made a deal with my husband that we would take turns making something every other day and I would post the results in this blog. Turns out we are both pretty lazy and have come up with nothing close to an ant a day. More like an ant every couple of weeks. I will still post the results here, though. We also make no claims as to the quality of the art -- it's just for fun.

Day 1 (Tim): bent wire ant

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

International Code of Area Nomenclature (ICAN)

John S. Wilkins over at Evolving Thoughts pointed me in the direction of a new code which has just been published in the Journal of Biogeography that aims to standardize the naming of areas of endemism and other biogeographical areas. This new code would be similar in scope to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), which governs how we name new taxa. The smallest area would be named a district, followed by province, dominion, region, and realm. From the abstract:

"Biogeography needs a standard, coherent nomenclature. Currently, in biogeography,
the same name is used for different areas of biological endemism, and one area of endemism is known by more than one name, which leads to conflict and confusion. The name ‘Mediterranean’, for example, may mean different things to different people – all or part of the sea, or the land in and around it. This results in ambiguity concerning the meaning of names and, more importantly, may lead to conflicts between inferences based on different aspects of a given name. We propose the International Code of Area Nomenclature (ICAN), a naming system that can be used to classify newly coined or existing names based on a standard. When fully implemented, the ICAN will improve communication among biogeographers, systematists, ecologists and conservation biologists."

Apparently someone has already published a paper which utilizes this new system. López et al. (2008) includes the following statement from the abstract:

"The following zoogeographic provinces are proposed for Argentine freshwater fish fauna following the International Code of Area Nomenclature: Andean Cuyan, Patagonian, Aymaran, Great Rivers and Pampean. The former two are placed within the Andean Subregion of the Austral Region, and the latter three within the Neotropical Subregion of the Holotropical Region. These provinces, based on results coinciding with PAE and cluster analysis, represent the first classification of Argentine provinces based on objective methods."

There are a lot of reasons why I'm doing what I'm doing and one of them is that I like organizing systems. They make me happy. I like putting things into categories and (theoretically) bringing order to chaos. At its best it feels like the "after" photo from one of those articles about organizing your closet. Look how clean and organized it is now! Every sock has its own little cubbyhole, sorted by color and length. Summer outfits on the left, Winter on the right. Shoes all lined up and ready to compare to your purses so you can color coordinate your outfits! Considering a new dress? Now you can easily and efficiently scan all the dresses you already own, and be able to make a good decision about whether that new dress is really all that different from all your old dresses! Isn't it wonderful? Won't life be so much better now? Just think of all the time and money you will save!

So you can see why this new system seems pretty neato to me. I have certainly run into problems in the past trying to figure out what exactly people are talking about when it comes to geography. Or what term I should be using for my area of study. Western Amazonian lowland rainforest? Yasuní region? Upper Napo region? Amazon Basin? Lowland Ecuadorian rainforest? Yasuni National Park? Tiputini Biodiversity Station? The Neotropics? It is not always clear to me.

On the other hand, it is also not clear to me how exactly I would utilize this new code in reality. Perhaps there is a list somewhere of currently accepted terms, but if so, I can't find it. So does that mean that everyone is starting from scratch? I don't even know what a realm is. And I would think that all of these areas would be attached to particular taxa. For instance the areas of endemism for freshwater fish are probably not going to be the same as the areas of endemism for ants or birds. At least at the province level. But they would certainly overlap. At the top of the hierarchy, though, they might be the same. How does that work? You can cite previous work, so I could (for instance) cite Bolton and divide ants into the classic groups of Nearctic, Palearctic, Neotropical, Afrotropical, etc.), but would those be kingdoms? Realms? Districts? Would the Neotropical region for ants be different from the Neotropical region for freshwater fish? How would my newly defined areas fit into the existing system? Or is there no system yet? I'm not clear. Perhaps some concrete examples would help me understand it. Of course, I've only spent about an hour browsing the internet to figure this stuff out, so all the answers could already be out there. But I really need to get back to work!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

And now for something fun -- Elements!

The return of the ant room maven

As some of you may have noticed, I have been absent on this blog for quite awhile now. The reasons are various and sundry but mostly involve the fact that I discovered some major problems with my master database and I think I have been going through the 5 stages of grieving:

Denial -- I'm sure this isn't that bad. Maybe just a couple of records gone awry. I'll just check my email first.... My desk is so disorganized. I'm going to clean out my desk so I can have a good environment to work in. Yeah, I really should figure out what is wrong with my database. But I think I'm coming down with a cold. Probably better if I take the day off and rest so I don't get really sick. It's important to take care of yourself! I will definitely deal with that whole database issue tomorrow.

Anger -- #@!!%!!!!!!!

Bargaining -- Perhaps I have some older version of the database that isn't messed up. Hmmm... not on my computer... maybe on one of these twelve million random disks that are sitting in my desk. No... maybe on my old laptop that died four years ago. Okay, that doesn't work. Perhaps I should spend several days making my old computer try to work. That seems reasonable. And so on.

Depression -- Everything is bad... (groan).... I'm going to have to re-identify every... single... specimen... (moan).... I'm just going to curl up in a little ball for awhile....

Acceptance -- Okay. I really just can't trust my database anymore. The only way to be sure of the data is to do a pin-by-pin inventory of every single specimen in my collection and match them up to its record in the database. If I don't see it in front of me (and I didn't send it off to another researcher) then it doesn't exist.

So that is what I have been doing. Which is a process both boring and stressful, the worst possible combination. The good news is, I am now officially done. HURRAY!

Monday, April 14, 2008

A really useful blog post (not mine)

Photos of L. humile and some other species by Alex Wild

Alex Wild over at Myrmecos has just posted a really useful post on how to identify the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile. I wish I'd had this post back when I was identifying all my samples. I cannot explain to you how long I agonized over whether I even had Linepithema, let alone which species they were. This is such a nice explanation that I may even be motivated to go back and look at some of those specimens again. Ack!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Brachymyrmex is one of those genera that is really easy (for me, anyway) to identify to genus, but almost impossible to identify to species. The only species I was able to put a name on was Brachymyrmex cavernicola, a cute little bugger that looks more like a Paratrechina than a Brachymyrmex until you count the antennal segments. The last taxonomic revision was in 1923 (Santschi) so it is definitely due for another one. Luckily, it looks like Vinda Maharajh, a PhD student at the University of Florida, is working on one. I sent him a bunch of my samples last week and wish him luck. If you have any Brachymyrmex specimens lying around, you might consider sending them on over.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Physicists undertake stamp-collecting

John S. Wilkins (Evolving Thoughts) has a nice post about physicists and taxonomy and the role of classification systems in science:

"Ernst Rutherford, the "father" of nuclear physics, once airily declared "In science there is only physics. All the rest is stamp collecting". By this he meant that the theory of physics is the only significant thing in science. Such mundane activities as taxonomy in biology were just sampling contingent examples of physics.

So it is with some amusement that I note that in order to make sense of string theory, a group of physicists have been trying to do taxonomy over string theories. Why this is more than a "gotcha!" is that since the late nineteenth century, philosophers of science have ignored classification, although some of the more important advances in physics relied on it, such as Mendeleev's Table, which drove theoretical advances in both chemistry and physics (and led even more ironically to the understanding Rutherford had of radioactivity)...."

Read more at Evolving Thoughts

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Monday, March 17, 2008

Unraveling the Evolutionary History of the Hyperdiverse Ant Genus Pheidole

Myrmecos has a very nice review of Corrie Moreau’s Pheidole evolution paper, as well as a hilarious informal summary of the results (see image above). Read the review here and the paper here.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Some interesting links

NC State University Insect Museum blog
lots of interesting stuff here. I like the idea of a blog that several people post to -- I keep trying to get my labmates to give me stuff to post about what they're doing but they're all too busy working and stuff :)

Geometry explains the benefits of division of labour in a leafcutter ant
new paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B by Heikki Helanterä and Francis L.W. Ratnieks

The 5th edition of Linnaeus' Legacy
It's a blog carnival focusing on taxonomy and biodiversity. I'm not sure what a blog carnival is but it appears to be a roving roundup of interesting news and papers.

Darwin Live and in Concert

Ask Jane

Sometimes I hear about something and I think -- gee, I should really right a blog entry about this -- and I make a little note to myself or save the link for later and then when I sit down to write the entry I think -- boy, I don't have anything interesting to say about this and I don't want to do something lame like just have a link to it so why don't I deal with this later -- and then of course I either never get to it or I just have a lame link to it. Sometimes while I'm procrastinating someone else decides to write something interesting about it. That's what happened today when Myrmecos commented on Jane: the Journal/Author Name Estimator. So go read it.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Gigantiops Destructor Store gets a mention

Looks like my cafepress store got a mention on antbase. That's cool. Makes me feel bad for not updating it in so long, though. Just remember, it's called The Gigantiops Destructor Store, not The Gigantiops Destructor Shop (cause that doesn't rhyme!).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Biodiversity Heritage Library

Biodiversity Heritage Library has launched. Looks like it will be a good resource for taxonomists.

"Ten major natural history museum libraries, botanical libraries, and research institutions have joined to form the Biodiversity Heritage Library Project. The group is developing a strategy and operational plan to digitize the published literature of biodiversity held in their respective collections. This literature will be available through a global "biodiversity commons."

Participating institutions:

* American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY)
* The Field Museum (Chicago, IL)
* Harvard University Botany Libraries (Cambridge, MA)
* Harvard University, Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (Cambridge, MA)
* Marine Biological Laboratory / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Woods Hole, MA)
* Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis, MO)
* Natural History Museum (London, UK)
* The New York Botanical Garden (New York, NY)
* Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Richmond, UK)
* Smithsonian Institution Libraries (Washington, DC)

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Plazi.org is a new web based service that has been developed for the access and storage of taxonomic info. Myrmecos is a fan. I just gave it the quickest of look-overs, but it does look very cool. Go check it out.

Site Redesign

I have recently spent way too much time redesigning my research website. Comments would be appreciated.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Awesome new scientific name: Beelzebufo

So I'm sure you have heard about this new giant frog fossil found in Madagascar. It's big news. What I didn't know, and just found out last night, is that it is called Beelzebufo, which I think is an absolutely fabulous name. I really do appreciate a clever scientific name. I also appreciate all the crazy headlines this frog has inspired. I'm starting to feel bad for the poor thing:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

See more great scientist valentine's at Ironic Sans

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Climate change and the fate of the Amazon

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B has a theme issue on ‘Climate change and the fate of the Amazon.’ And it looks like it's all available online. Check it out here.

Happy belated Darwin Day

Yesterday was Darwin's 199th birthday. Here is a quote that I particularly like:

Nothing before had ever made me thoroughly realise, though I had read various scientific books, that science consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.

- Charles R. Darwin

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Linnaeus' Legacy #4: Darwin Month Extravaganza!

The Other 95% has a nice roundup of interesting blog entries in the taxonomic/Darwinian/Linnaean genres:
"the economy of nature"

species are "alloted places" in nature

"everyone's war against everyone"

These were concepts familiar to Darwin by the time he wrote On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. They influenced his thinking are solidified within his writings. Yet, these are not Darwin's own words, nor his own ideas. Other's works weighed heavily on Charles Darwin from Thomas Malthus and Gilbert White to Charles Lyell and William Paley. The words, or ideas, are none of their own as well. These words and concepts belong to Carolus Linnaeus, the namesake of this carnival and founder of taxonomy.

Linnaeus had a very ecological view on organisms and their place in nature. He was particular interested in reproduction and had a vivid imagery associated with writings when describing bisexual plants. "Nine men in the bride's chamber, with one woman" describes the 9 stamens surrounding a singular pistil on a flower. Erasmus Darwin, Charles' grandather, was similarly vivid and poetic. Darwin apparently read translations of Oeconomia Naturae and Politia Naturae in the 1840s, though I am not sure if he read the Systema, but he certainly would have been aware of it and followed Linnaeus' taxonomic guidelines. This month brings you posts in the traditions of Linnaeus and Darwin.
Deep Sea News reports on the discovery of an entirely new order of fish.
"Tube-eye is a strange fish indeed. It possesses a pair of telescopic eyes that lie anteriorly when not feeding. During feeding, the head is oriented up and back and the mouth is moved forward. The mouth cavity is balloonable and can greatly expand its size (38X). This creates negative pressure and provides suction for capturing prey."
In true linnaean fashion, the Systema Brachyurom is out!! An amazing reference for identifying every brachyuran, or true crab, IN. THE. WORLD. Can't plug this one enough! I've already downloaded it (its open access!!!) and flipped through it. It is well put together with clear photos to aid in identification. Check it out for free courtesy of the Raffles Museum in Singapore.

10,000 Birds has an interview with David Ringer, creator of Birdstack. Find about more about the bird listing website that has the "potential to become the web standard for listing". Mike also encourages bloggers who discuss natural history and ecology to register their blogs on the Nature Blogs Network.

What are the mysteries of the platypus? Oh let me count the ways... A 3lb Monkey Brain describes how the fossil record elucidates this mystery, it might not be the one your thinking of. Browse his blog for my systematic fun!

The Catalogue of Organisms reports on breaking news that will Shock and Awe™ the genetics world. Should Drosophila melangaster be maintained despite obvious paraphyly?? Or should it become the wine-cellar fly of Linnaeus? Or will the evil geneticists win because of their laziness to accept the rules of nomenclature?

A character analysis of moray eels is discussed over Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice and Sunset. Every Monday, Rick discusses a species on moray eel on his series That's a Moray Monday. Its turning out to be a online field guide! He hints at a cool new species of Moray for the next Monday's edition so stay tuned to the blogdial.

John Lynch tells us that a new beetle is named after Roy Orbison and giant elephant shrew was recently described. Laelaps also talks about the Grey-Faced Sengi in more detail. Pondering Pikaia picks up on this amazing discovery too. While at Living the Scientific Life, a new subspecies of bird was discovered in Nepal and a giganormous rodent found in New York City modern day Uruguay.

Greg Laden discusses the ascent of cat breeds (with a hilarious LOLcats to boot). In thinking about the number of species of flies (not cats), The Questionable Authority has a quiz about "How many different species should these three populations be grouped in, and why?" Tune in on Monday to find out the answer!

Finally, last year Darren Naish at Tetrapod Zoology helped to blow the whistle on inappropriate activity in the field of palaeontology. Mike Taylor has the latest from Aetogate. Darren updates us on this issue and the press it has received. Christopher at the Catalogue asks what would the ICZN do about the issue? Adventures in Ethics and Science discusses the ethical ramifications of this and then explains why the "is this really that important?" attitude is detrimental, then wonders which field of science has the most integrity problems. Additional coverage is provided by The Ethical Palaeontologist, Cryptomundo, Dinochick Blogs, Laelaps, Gene Expression, The Open Source Palaeontologist, Slashdot, One Big Lab, A Blog Around the Clock, All My Faults Are Stress-Related, Dinochick again, Palaeoblog, A Three-Pound Monkey Brain, Stephen Sorrell, The Reptipage. As you can see, this is a very important issue and each blog offers their unique perspective on this and the support for ethics in taxonomy and palaeontology is overwhelming.