In this new FREE iBook, Dr. Eleanor delights readers young and old with tales of the Big Apple ants most commonly encountered by students participating in the School of Ants project. Her stories of the heroes and villains that tiptoe around the city are brought to life in this interactive new book featuring the vibrant photographs of Alex Wild. What are you waiting for? Download Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants of New York City TODAY!

In this new FREE iBook, Dr. Eleanor delights readers young and old with tales of the Big Apple ants most commonly encountered by students participating in the School of Ants project. Her stories of the heroes and villains that tiptoe around the city are brought to life in this interactive new book featuring the vibrant photographs of Alex Wild. What are you waiting for? Download Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants of New York City TODAY!

An Important Question from a Citizen Scientist

“Can you tell me why it's important to collect data on these ants?”

This is a simple question we received by email last week from a family participating in School of Ants. I have to admit, I actually scanned our entire website, certain that we must have answered this in writing somewhere. Needless to say, I couldn’t find it – somehow we managed to overlook addressing this Very Important Question. I started crafting a brief response, and then four sentences turned into – well, a lengthier piece that I thought was important to share with all of you, as well as Shelli and her son.

Dear Shelli (and your son),

First of all, thank you for participating in the School of Ants! I’m delighted that you both enjoyed the experience.

And thank you for your question.

The data that you and your son have helped us collect, along with hundreds of other citizen scientists, is giving us valuable data about the diversity and distribution of ants across the United States.

Ants are ubiquitous. They are widespread and diverse, such that most people can easily pick out the ant when presented with a line-up of insect photos. Yet despite how familiar ants are to us and how often we may encounter them in our daily lives (sometimes more often than we would like), we actually know relatively little about their diversity and distribution, particularly in urban areas. The species we know the least about are the very same species that we interact with most frequently – those that are commonly found in backyards and on sidewalks, in street medians and on playgrounds.

Some of the species we are hoping to learn more about are exotic species – those that have been introduced from habitats outside of the United States. Many of these exotic species are considered harmful to ecosystems and people, and are termed invasive species. While invasive species tend to be better studied once they have become established and are causing havoc in an ecosystem, it’s hard to gather data about them in their earlier stages of introduction, before they have become widespread. This is where School of Ants participants can save the day! In fact, just this past year, young participants helped us determine that the Asian needle ant, a nasty invader well-known in the southeastern US, had expanded its range to Wisconsin and Washington State…Yikes!

We are also interested in the least studied of our native species, especially those that aren’t pests and are often overlooked. While some ants can be nuisances, many have beneficial roles in ecosystems. By digging tunnels they turn over dirt and aerate the soil. They can even help keep other pests at bay, including cockroaches, fleas and termites. Yet so little is known about their role in urban ecosystems! Some of the ant species crawling around on sidewalks in major cities haven’t even been named yet!

We’re harnessing the power of scientists to collect data across a much wider range than we could possibly sample on our own (although what a road trip that would be!). We are learning a great deal about the diversity and distribution of ants. We have already found cases of species living outside their previously described ranges. For example, a native seed-harvesting ant (Aphaenogaster miamiana), believed to live only as far north as South Carolina, was found by a participant in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

Studying the diversity and distribution of ants is not only relevant today, but can also help us understand how climate change, land use, and urbanization might affect ants in the future.

So thank you, again, for participating in the project and contributing your data!

Please let me know if you have any other questions!

All the best,

Lauren and the School of Ants Team

Engendering respect for ants - a trial School of Ants in Australia

Today we have a guest post by Dr. Kirsti Abbott and Kate Lafferty, who are championing the exploration of ants in Australia and inspiring kids to appreciate the often overlooked wildlife that surrounds them. They are also spearheading the effort to make the School of Ants an international project. Stay tuned for School of Ants Down Under!

Deepdene

I think it would be fair to say that when the extension students at Deepdene Primary School in Melbourne first started their School of Ants experience they were sceptical. They very deliberately told us that they thought ants “were just tiny brown and black things that get into your sugar. What on earth could we learn about them that is interesting?” And we nodded, smiled and proceeded with what would be a turning point in their respect for not only ants, but little things that we so often miss in our busy, upward looking lives. Those very same, sceptical kids had changed their tune after 10 weeks to “ants are the most amazing creatures alive!”, and “I never imagined that ants would be so diverse and interesting”.

Find out what the students found by reading the full blogpost on the Your Wild Life blog

Announcing the Winning Submission for the School of Ants Essay Contest!

Carly Tribull

Thank you to everyone who submitted an essay - we received a huge number of writing samples and the panel of judges agreed that you all are an impressive bunch of writers, artists, dreamers, ant enthusiasts, and of course scientists!

The winning entry was submitted by Carly Tribull, a second year graduate student working towards her PhD at the Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History. She studies Hymenoptera (the order containing ants, bees, and wasps) with a specific focus on parasitic wasps. While she agrees that parasitic wasps do terrible things, like creating zombie-slave cockroaches, she would concede that there is something really cool about that process. She likes to draw and is interested in how comics and graphic novels can be incorporated into scientific outreach and education. Her website is www.explorathon.net.

Enjoy Carly's graphic novella, and keep an eye out for other submissions that received an honorable mention - we'll be posting them soon.

Thanks to everyone who participated!!

~the School of Ants Team

Bug Lovers Swarm the Museum

The School of Ants got to partake in quite the buggy bash on Saturday! Whether they came to look at the butterflies, watch trap-jaw ants snap at termites, or taste the mealworm stir-fry, NC Museum of Natural Sciences was teeming with over 35,000 people who turned out for Bugfest 2012.

It was thrilling to be part of so much entomological enthusiasm and share some of the exciting discoveries made by School of Ants participants so far. We even got to meet some of our citizen scientists in person! These are the folks that make all of this possible. Over 160 visitors constructed kits and volunteered to join the ranks of our citizen scientist network. We can’t wait for their samples to start rolling in so that we can continue mapping the common – and not so common – ants that are living around us!

We are already looking forward to all the new ant stories we will get to share at Bugfest 2013!

Check out our Facebook page for photos from the event.

Ants and Trains: Adventures in urban field biology

*Today’s post is written by Jeremy Boeing, a rising sophomore at Lake Forest College, who has spent his summer sampling ants along Metra lines in Chicago. You might recognize him as the star of a video posted today in the Chicago Tribune feature on School of Ants.*

What exactly does it mean to be a field biologist? Perhaps the biggest difference between our work and the other biology projects happening here at Lake Forest College is that our data collection happens exclusively outdoors. In order to collect our project samples, we must physically travel to and collect ants from our designated study sites. We have used various modes of transportation to reach our sites including hiking, biking, train rides, and car rides. At my sites the reactions of the people to what I am doing are as fun as the sampling itself. For this post, I’d like to take you through an average day in my shoes:

The goal of my project is twofold. One, help out the School of Ants project by sampling all of the Metra train stops in Chicago in order to get a feeling for the amount of biodiversity within the city. And two, look at the ways that ants may potentially use the Metra lines as a means of moving throughout the city. The edge of the train tracks remains grass and trees, like it has been for many years. These corridors may keep distant parts of the city connected for animals as well as people. Think of it as a tiny road system for insects! To answer to our research question and help with the School of Ants, I go out with Gabe, another student at Lake Forest College, and sample every other day.

Continue reading at the Your Wild Life Blog

Announcing the School of Ants Essay Contest!

People are hungry to know more about ants, how they live, where they live, what they are doing in your kitchen and in your garden. Who better to explain what these amazing ants are up to than you, the scientist studying them?

So go ahead and tell us (and the world) about the coolest thing you've seen, read or studied about ants, and while you’re at it, tell us about you and why you do what you do. Write this essay for the childhood version of you, so that another generation of kids will be inspired to look closely at ants, to understand them and appreciate the richness of life around us.

Read essay contest details

By Rob Dunn – Guest blog post on Myrmecos

A few weeks ago I went to elementary school in Italy. I had been asked to visit one of the schools where professors at the University of Parma have been working with children to study ants.

There were three of us on the expedition. The other two were my six-year-old daughter and Fiorenza Spotti. Fiorenza helps to lead the Parma ant group’s work with schools. When we entered the classroom, Fiorenza introduced my daughter to the students. Seconds later, my daughter was enveloped into a sea of little Italian girls eager to hold her hands. Fiorenza then began to ask the kids questions. “How do you tell the difference between an ant and a wasp? Are the worker ants girls or boys?” And then, “What kinds of ants do you think we will find?” I expected the students to say “big” or “stinging,” but Fiorenza had already visited this class and prepared them for what they might find. A proud little boy with hair that stuck straight out in every direction remembered the visit. His hand shot up. Fiorenza called on him and he squeaked, “Lasius emarginatus,” and then, as if awaiting a badge, beamed.

Continue reading at Myrmecos