Posts Tagged ‘EDIMA’

Edible giant ants

In Read, View on March 14, 2011 at 7:16 am

Ants are great, but this is gross:

Nutty Bacon-like Taste!
Nutty Bacon-like Taste!

Giant Toasted Leafcutter Ants hold two secrets. One, they are very high in protein and low in saturated fat. Two, they have a very unique taste. And C, they are commonly called (by those in the know): “hormigas culonas.” That roughly translates into “big ass ants” – so named for the size of their abdomen, but also appropriate for today’s slang. Giant Toasted Leafcutter Ants – get ’em now, while the gettin’ is good.

Via:  The Presurfer

Ants as ecosystem engineers

In Read on March 7, 2011 at 7:25 am

Just a reminder that every day is Monday for an ant.  Work, work, work.  No weekends.

Today’s EDIMA post harkens back to our first ant post, which looked at the ways ants play surprising roles in the larger world around them.

Research at the University of Exeter has begun to describe how ants act as ecosystem engineers:

Through moving of soil by nest building activity and by collecting food they affect the level of nutrients in the soil. This can indirectly impact the local populations of many animal groups, from decomposers such as Collembola, to species much higher up the food chain.

UPDATE:  This just in from my photographer:

Ant farm. Week 2.

Ant farm. Week 2.


Ant farm update

In View on February 28, 2011 at 11:16 pm

I got the ants for my Christmas ant farm in the mail last week.  Here’s their first week’s progress:

Ant farm.  Week 1.

Ant farm. Week 1.

The blue-green stuff is gel that serves as both their food source and their habitat.  Sort of like a gingerbread house.  I made the three starter holes, and they’ve begun expanding the right one.

It took them a while to get cranking, mostly because the temperature has been sub-optimal.  If it’s too cold they get lethargic.

Army ant pothole patching

In Read on February 21, 2011 at 7:28 am

Researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered that some species of ants will increase the efficiency of their pathways by using their bodies to plug holes or smooth out uneven terrain:

Certain workers stretch their bodies over gaps in the forest floor, allowing their food-carrying sisters to march over them.The ants carefully size-match to the holes that they plug. [Researchers] Powell and Franks stuck planks with different sizes of hole in the path of the ant column, and found perfect matches between ant and hole.

By smoothing the trail home, they ensure that other workers can return food to the colony as fast as possible.


Army ant plugging a hole in the road.
Army ant plugging a hole in the road.

The article notes that these specialist ants improve the performance of the colony as a whole even though they are not directly carrying food or other supplies.

Ants of the Trailhead Colony

In Read on February 14, 2011 at 7:14 am

Happy Valentine’s Day!  It’s probably a bit much to say that ants feel love, but here’s a piece from the New Yorker examining the devotion they nonetheless have for their colony:

The Queen may not have been the leader of this miniature civilization, but she was the fountainhead of all its energies and growth, the key to its success or failure. The metronomic pumping out of fertilized eggs from her twenty ovaries was the heartbeat of the colony. The ultimate purpose of all the workers’ labor—their careful construction of the nest, their readiness to risk their lives in daily searches for food, their suicidal defense of the nest entrance—was that she continue to create more altruistic workers like themselves. One worker, or a thousand workers, could die and the colony would go on, repairing itself as needed. But the failure of the Queen would be fatal.

A quick heads-up: the full story is around 11 printed pages.

Ants circling

In Watch on February 7, 2011 at 7:27 am

A few months back, this video of an ant circle made the rounds:

Some quality theories in the video comments:  ant mosh pit, ant death spiral, ants creating a portal to another dimension, ants summoning Azathoth, etc.

Discovery News got a hold of Sanford Porter, an ant expert who offered a real explanation for the behavior:

“The mill just goes round and round, generally until the ants simply die.”

House hunting with collective intelligence

In Read on January 31, 2011 at 7:17 am

Researchers at Arizona State University have been studying how ants make decisions as a colony.  Specifically they looked at how a colony chooses a new nest site, and their findings suggest that the “brain” of the colony is distributed among the worker ants:

“Ants have to reach a consensus if they want to move the colony to a different location,” said [Stephen] Pratt, an associate professor at the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “There are a few key ingredients to how they do this. The main thing is that they have to communicate, and that communication has to say something about how good a site it is.”


Ants are marked for research purposes.  Photo by Arizona State University.

Ants are marked for research purposes. Photo by Arizona State University.

“There is a competition going on here,” he said. “There are some ants advertising one site and other ants advertising another. The number of ants visiting and advertising is rapidly growing for the good site. The ants essentially ‘vote’ based on the number of ants visiting a site. If the site reaches a quorum, or threshold, they increase the advertising and basically make a higher level of commitment to that site.”

Click through for thoughts on the queen ant’s role (basically just a baby factory) and for a blurb on the ant robot the researchers are building.  Also at the link is a video demonstrating ants that work together cooperatively to carry a “food” object bigger than what a single ant could move.

Ant warfare

In Read, View on January 24, 2011 at 7:01 am has an interesting look at the wild world of ant warfare.  The piece draws on work that ecologist Mark Moffett has done to explore and photograph the ways in which ant fighting is similar to human fighting:

“When it comes to war-fighting, ant species are more similar to humans than most other animals, even primates,” ecologist and photojournalist Mark Moffett tells Danger Room. “Societies with population explosions, that extend into the millions, are prone to large-scale, intense, tactical warfare. It’s a nature of battle only possible among communities with plenty of excess labor force.”


Malaysian marauder ants fight a termite.  Photo by Mark Moffett.

Malaysian marauder ants fight a termite. Photo by Mark Moffett.

Also, how about this “looming mega-battle” in California:

So with all the strategy, ruthlessness and brute force, which ant species reigns supreme? We might soon find out, thanks to a looming “mega-battle” Moffett’s anticipating in California. There, two species of ants — Argentine and fire — are preparing to duke it out for the state’s 164,000 square miles.

Where do I go to watch this?

Ants repelling elephants

In Read on January 17, 2011 at 7:27 am

Researchers in Africa have determined that after everything people have tried to keep elephants away from their crops, ants may be the best plant defenders:

Researchers Todd Palmer at the University of Florida and Jacob Goheen at the University of Wyoming observed the eating patterns of elephants on Kenyan savannas and stumbled upon an incredible anomaly: the lumbering mammals plowed through everything that they encountered, save for one type of tree (Acacia drepanolobium) that was covered in ants.

“We found that the elephants like to eat the ant-plants just as much as they like to eat their favorite tree species, and that when either tree species had ants on them, the elephants avoided those trees like a kid avoids broccoli,” Palmer explained to Discovery News.

Follow the link to read about how they do it.

Ants may be the best elephant repellants.  Photo by Zahra Hirji.

Ants may be the best elephant repellants. Photo by Zahra Hirji.

Once again, ants playing a surprising role in the larger world around them.

“These tiny ants are actually major ecosystem players, capable of regulating woody plant biomass accumulation in a savanna, and stabilizing the tree population against catastrophic damage by elephants,” Palmer said.

Ants using pesticides

In Read on January 10, 2011 at 7:19 am

These ants use antibiotics to kill off unwanted germs in their food supply:

Research led by Dr. Matt Hutchings and published today in the journal BMC Biology shows that ants use the antibiotics to inhibit the growth of unwanted fungi and bacteria in their fungus cultures which they use to feed their larvae and queen.

These antibiotics are produced by actinomycete bacteria that live on the ants in a mutual symbiosis.

Although these ants have been studied for more than 100 years this is the first demonstration that a single ant colony uses multiple antibiotics and is reminiscent of the use of multidrug therapy to treat infections in humans.

So a pest using pesticides.  Also, it turns out the antibiotic they use might be useful for people as well.

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