Archive | January, 2012


23 Jan

I’ve been reading Cul-de-Sac.  It’s cute.  The author has a very good handle on children, which is actually somewhat unusual in the comic world.

This one seemed appropriate to the blog:

source: Cul-de-Sac

(This one’s not bug-related at all but it’s my favorite.)

Baby, Baby, Baby (Ants queens and brood)

20 Jan

Since I’m on the topic of mating flights and founding colonies, here’s a video of some fire ant foundress queens tending their eggs, brood, and young workers.

…I sort of really, really want to add Justin Bieber’s “Baby” as the sound track to this video.  Would that be too much?

Swarms of Fire Ants

16 Jan
Solenopsis invicta and alates swarming for nuptial flight.

Fire ant workers swarm defensively prior to a mating flight.

Sexual fire ants typically fly on clear, windless afternoons following a rain.  Workers open large holes in the nest, and then spread out, swarming the surrounding area to eliminate any potential threats.  Male and female alates are urged out of the nest, where they typically climb surrounding plant material before taking to the air to seek a mate.  Below are a few clips of a colony I found swarming on a sidewalk near my house.

See related:

Alates Leaving Home

A Heap of Queens

The Sad Plight of Male Ants

Queen Ants: Founding a new colony

Alates leaving home

13 Jan
Pyramid ant workers guard an alate at the nest entrance.

Pyramid ant workers (Dorymyrmex) guard alates as they emerge from the nest (Argentina).

Many ants mate in nuptial flights, taking to the air to seek out a mate among swarms of their kind.  After walking through one such swarm on his way to class, my labmate Collin told me, “Help, I’m covered in queens.  Would you like any?”

These flights are often synchronized by seasonal and environmental cues to insure everybody makes it to the party at the right time.   Winged future queens and their short-lived male counterparts then emerge from underground tunnels and prepare to take to the skies.  As the alates gather, the workers mill around protectively, making sure everyone stays safe and nobody leaves until the time is just right.  Sometimes workers drag out reluctant alates–the free ride is apparently over and it’s time to kick the kids out of the house.

Most of these alates (and all of the males) won’t make it.  But some of the female alates will eventually drop their wings and become the mothers of a new generation of workers and alates.

See related:

A Heap of Queens

The Sad Plight of Male Ants

Queen Ants: Founding a new colony



Big-headed ant majors need to be 20% cooler

6 Jan
Tiny major and minor pheidole ants and brood.

Major and minor worker big-headed ants (Pheidole).

Pheidole, the big-headed ants, are a charmingly hilarious genus of ants.  The typical workers (minors) are small and delicate.  The soldier caste (majors) are just a bit bigger with hugely over-sized heads.  They always make me smile.  The ants above are from a polygyne colony I picked up in a dead branch.  They live in the lab with my fire ants (okay, not with my fire ants) and come on visits when I do outreach.

Pheidole majors defend minors from a pen.

Pheidole workers examine a pen.

These guys are in the news recently because of research that has been done on a rare third caste that occurs in some Pheidole species: the supermajor.  These guys are majors, squared.  Their hilariousness is also squared.  Intriguingly, recent research indicates that this caste may have independently arisen by the same mechanism each time–a mechanism which scientists can mimic in other Pheidole species to create false supermajors.  Alex Wild has an excellent break down of the topic over at Myrmecos.

Pheidole ants and brood in rotting wood.

Pheidole majors (upper right) defend an opened nest while minors carry brood to safety.

And of course, check out his follow up post,  These People are Killing Journalism, to see the media handling the topic with their usual intelligence and dignity.

On the other hand, I do have a new career aspiration.

Mutant Ant Shirt by WearScience
(Shirt via WearScience)