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From “Ugh Ants.” to “Yay Ants!”

Posted by: | September 16, 2014 | No Comment |

Upon arriving at the Macaulay building on Saturday, September 8th, I found that I had been placed in the ant group for Macaulay BioBlitz. Originally, I wanted to be in the group that was studying mammals, but this group became full very quickly. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. I couldn’t imagine a worse way to spend my Saturday night. I didn’t think that looking at and counting the different species of ants in New York Botanical Gardens would be interesting at all. Luckily, I was greatly mistaken. Upon arriving at NYBG we met with our Myrmecologists, or ant specialists, who flew all the way from North Carolina. We then collected our materials, which included trowels, trays, aspirators, pencils, and the observation sheets. An aspirator is a mechanism used to collect ants for study.

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            The myrmecologists told us the most common places to find ants, including in between the pavement and grass, at the base of trees, and under rocks. For the most part, we found the ant colonies under rocks. In the first set of ants we collected, we collected the queen of the colony. Among all the ants in the tube, she was the most determined to escape, perhaps showing her superior way of thinking. We continued to find more ant colonies under various rocks including the most ancient form of the species, whose name escapes me, unfortunately. While collecting the ants, we learned that there are is only one ant species in New York that will bite and the bite is so insignificant that humans won’t even feel it. So all those stories you heard about the red ants in your backyard being vicious biters are all myths! We also learned that you can also find ants in full acorns that have a hole drilled through the top. Worms sometimes drill a hole through the tope of an acorn, and when they are done using it, they leave. This allows ants to enter the acorn and make a home there.

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            After collecting the ants, we then took them to the lab to study them under a microscope. Being able to see the ants at such a large size was absolutely amazing. We learned that you can identify some species of ants by the presence of a single or double hump right after the thorax. Upon further study of the two queens we collected, we noticed that one had wings and the other did not. One of the ant specialists told us that once the queen is well established in her colony, she sheds her wings. Going along with a queen being well established in a colony, I asked one of the specialists about the theory of ants having the “perfect monarchy.” The specialist was quick to rebut this claim saying that many ant colonies have coos in which the winning side overthrows the current queen and appoints a new one! It was very interesting to learn about how similar ant colonies are to some past and current societies. Ants even have a sort of “caste” system in which ants are born into a certain role in the colony that they cannot move out of. Also, female ants are the ones that do all of the work in the colony! As the Bioblitz was wrapping up, we used our “data sense” to identify the different ants we collected. Throughout the experience the specialists helped us to gain a substantial amount of “knowledge sense” when it comes to ants.

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under: Bioblitz, Science

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