Frequently asked questions

Can I participate?
Question: Can I participate?
Answer: Yes! Though we are currently prioritizing sampling efforts in Chicago, New York City and Raleigh-Durham, we are accepting ant samples from anywhere in the United States.

Is there a deadline for submitting samples?
Question: Is there a deadline for submitting samples?
Answer: We are currently accepting submissions on a rolling basis! Keep in mind that many ant species dissapear when it gets cold in the winter. If you live somewhere chilly, you might want to wait to do your sampling in the spring when things warm up a bit!

Can I submit more than one sample?
Question: Can I submit more than one sample?
Answer: We are thrilled that you are eager to participate and contribute your samples! Unfortunately, we cannot currently accept more than one sample from a given location. However, if you want to make collections from different locations - whether within your neighborhood or even a different state - we are happy to accept additional samples. Just make sure that each sample comes from a unique address.

What do ants do in the winter?
Question: What do ants do in the winter?
Answer: In most places, once cold weather approaches you may notice that you see fewer ants. Many ants prepare for winter by tucking into their underground nests and becoming less active. The ants that are still out foraging may move more slowly than in warmer weather. Still, the cold doesn't deter all ants, in fact some ants thrive in cooler weather. The Winter Ant, Prenolepis imparis, is one of these ants that is most active once the summer heat subsides. Keep an eye out for the cold-hardy ants in your area!

Why Pecan Sandies?
Question: Why these cookies? Do I need to use Keebler Pecan Sandies or will any cookie crumbs do?
Answer: Myrmecologists in the USA have been using Pecan Sandies for years to collect ants, and these cookies have become part of the standard protocol of ant sampling. We know that the appeal of these particular cookies lies in the fact that they contain sugar, salt, fats and proteins, and so they appeal to many different species of ants. Some people say that ant collectors just like to munch on these particular treats!
We encourage everyone to use these cookies so we can maintain a standardized protocol across all samples. However, if you simply can't find these in your area, use a nut-based shortbread cookie with similar ingredients.

Do I need to wait an hour?
Question: Do I need to wait exactly an hour? What if ants are eating all of the cookies after 15 minutes? What if ants are just starting to arrive after 55 minutes?
Answer: Depending on the temperature, time of year, and species of ants near you, it may take more or less than an hour for ant to arrive. We suggest an hour on average, but if you see that ants are clearing away your cookies in a hurry, make sure that you make your collection before they are all gone! Likewise, if the ants are slow to arrive, give them some time to recruit their nestmates to your baits.

Freezing Ants?
Question: Is part of the sampling protocol to kill the ants I have collected by freezing them?
Answer: In short, yes. This is a carefully considered aspect of this study. This project is a collections-based project which means that the people who choose to participate are electing to sacrifice animals for science. We recognize that not everyone will make this choice. For the people who do participate, however, we are hoping to convey a message of conservation and respect for the animals we study.

The ultimate goal of this project is to increase awareness about the incredible diversity of life that lives just outside our doorsteps - often this life is small and under-appreciated. Ants certainly fit into this category. What is more, many people consider ants to be pests, and the widespread use of chemicals to treat a few pest species has tremendous negative effects on many other species throughout ecosystems. We hope to help people recognize that these other species, the ones that often lack common names and are largely unknown to the general public, are wonderfully diverse, have fascinating life histories and are absolutely worthy of our care and protection.

As scientists who strive to protect threatened species and endangered ecosystems we have considered this quandary often - it seems contradictory to kill individual ants in order to preserve species, communities and ecosystems. In our ethical calculations, we see that we can contribute more by taking these actions than by choosing not to.

The wonderful thing about ants in this context is that the individual ants are like leaves on a tree - the ants are part of a colony, and the colony is not killed through the collection of a few individuals. While we have to admit that even we don't like pulling leaves off of trees, we do want to help where we can and in that spirit have developed a project where others can also participate in helping.

That being said, we respect some people's decisions to observe and protect rather than collect, so here is a substitute activity that you may be interested in doing with your family. You can crumble cookies or place bits of fruit or other 'snacks' on pieces of paper (for visibility) on the ground in different areas and see what ants discover them. Note that different species will be in different habitats, that different species will arrive at different times and that there is often competition among species for these bits of food. Some species will eventually dominate these resources and prevent the others from sharing! You can follow these crumb-carriers back to their nest entrances to see where they make their homes. We hope this sheds some light on this project - and encourages you to get to know the ants (and other critters) in your area!