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.

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