It was Dangerfield (1921-2004), you know, who coined the catchphrase, "I don't get no respect."
Male ants don't either, says myrmecologist (ant reaseacher) Brendon Boudinot, a doctoral student in Phil Ward's Department of Entomology and Nematology lab, University of California, Davis.
Boudinot, who recently won a first-place President's Award for his presentation on “Revising Our Vision of Ant Biodiversity: Male Ants of the New World” at the 2014 Entomological Society of America meeting in Portland, Ore., is passionate about ants, particularly male ants.
Male ants get little respect or attention, said Boudinot, who aims to raise public awareness of their importance and demystify them through his scientific research.
“There are about 12,800 living species of ants described to date,” explained Boudinot, who enrolled in the UC Davis doctoral program after receiving his bachelor's degree at Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., in 2012. “Males are known for only 27 percent of these species, and no identification resource exists for identifying male ants for most bioregions.”
Addressing this concern, he provided the first male-based identification keys to subfamily and genus level for the New World. The keys cover 13 of the 16 subfamilies and 151 of the 324 genera. This, coupled with a global male-based key to all 16 ant subfamilies he submitted in November, will enable male ants to be identified by genus in the New World---encompassing North, Central, and South America---for the first time.
“This will facilitate the use of male ants in evolutionary, ecological, and taxonomic studies,” Boudinot said. “Moreover, it encourages a shift in the focus of myrmecology, the study of ants, by allowing male-specific collecting methods to be used and will encourage future workers to include males in their research.”
As for telling the difference between a male and a female ant, that's not easy, even for many ant researchers, Boudinot acknowledged. “Males and reproductive females, queens, usually have wings and look different from workers. Males are usually differentiated from females by having slightly different morphology. Besides having complex and strange genitalia, male ants also tend to have one more antennal segment, larger eyes, and in general look more ‘waspy.' "
The genitalia of male ants are fascinating, he said. “Think of a Leatherman or Swiss Army knife which has paired muscular claspers, graspers, and sawblades. Male ants have evolved winglessness and worker-like morphology at least five times in the ants, which has historically led to the accidental description of these wingless males as new species. This is a weird phenomenon which I will be focusing on for a chapter of my dissertation. Why have they evolved winglessness? What are the evolutionary patterns of skeletomuscular reduction? Are there trade-offs for a colony when they lose the ability to produce dispersing males? Anyway, this should be fun.”
Boudinot noted that the inaccurate portrayals of ants in Hollywood movies lead to lifelong misinterpretations. “There is a perception that there are two kinds of ants: red ants and black ants--and sometimes yellow ants--and that the workers of ants include both sexes, as in the Disney movies A Bug's Life and Antz,” Boudinot said. “Really, ants are incredibly diverse---which is why I am fascinated with them in part.”
Reproductory misinformation abounds in “A Bug's Life,” the 1998 American computer-animated comedy adventure film, Boudinot said. All worker ants are female and sterile, but Princess Atta marries a male, Flik. “Flik and Princess Atta wouldn't have married, and if they did, Flik wouldn't be the dad as chances are she, as a worker, would be able to lay only unfertilized eggs which would become clonal males.”
If there's one thing that Boudinot wants youngsters of today to know about ants, it's this: “There are remarkable things to discover everywhere, and unanswered questions abound. Discovery is borne out of observation, and there is so much to observe in any single square meter of Earth's surface. I like ants in this respect because they are everywhere! In tropical rainforests ants and termites (another group of social insects) may make up to one-third of the total animal biomass, dwarfing that of vertebrates such as panthers, birds, and amphibians. There are about 90 species of ants in Sonoma, Napa, Yolo, and Sacramento counties alone, including fungus-cultivating ants!”
Boudinot encourages people to check out AntWeb.org. “This website is a digital database of thousands and thousands of species of ants, many of which look like they are extraterrestrials or are strange beasts out of nightmares,” he said, adding “Okay, and some of which are just fluffy and adorable.”
But "citizen scientist" is a catchy term, all the same. Basically, it's the public engagement in scientific research activities.
“Citizen Science is a powerful tool that scientists can use to harness the power of the public,” says entomologist Andrea Lucky. "Public participation in science offers both scientific and educational benefits, including the possibility of massive and openly accessible data. This approach holds the promise of a new way of doing science and a new way of learning science, but also poses challenges of organization, quality control and funding. Two projects, the School of Ants and Backyard Bark Beetles were developed to address the main concerns with Citizen Science projects, and demonstrate how modern public participation in science can be an effective tool for teaching science and investigating topics including, but not limited to biodiversity, invasive species, population genetics, and systematics.” (Read what Entomology Today says about citizen science and Andrea Lucky's role. Also check out her citizen science projects on her website.)
Lucky, an assistant research scientist with the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of Florida--she received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, working with major professor/ant specialist Phil Ward--will speak on "From Pavement Ants to Population Genetics: Citizen Science Today and Tomorrow" on Wednesday, May 28 at a seminar hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Her talk, from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive, is scheduled to be recorded for later viewing on UCTV.
A native of Chicago, Andrea Lucky grew up in Cincinnati, graduated from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and then spent two years as a Fulbright scholar studying insects in Ecuador. Her insect talks are numerous. She was an invited speaker at the 2012 International Congress of Entomology, Daegu, South Korea, Aug 2012. She has also presented her work at the Entomological Society of America (ESA), and Pacific Branch of ESA and has taught numerous classes, seminars and workshops. At UC Davis, she designed a course on “Insects and the Media,” which she taught in the spring of 2006 and the fall of 2008. In 2009, she won a UC Davis outstanding graduate student teaching award, presented to her by the chancellor.
One of her goals is to "make science accessible and available to the general public, particularly to make the process of 'doing' science accessible to non-scientists."
A noble and worthwhile goal, indeed.
Who would have thought?
Who would have thought that ants are more closely related to bees than they are to most wasps?
In ground-breaking research to be published Oct. 21 in Current Biology, a team of UC Davis scientists and a colleague from the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, American Museum of Natural History, has found that ants and bees are more genetically related to each other than they are to social wasps such as yellow jackets and paper wasps.
"Despite great interest in the ecology and behavior of these insects, their evolutionary relationships have never been fully clarified," said senior author and noted ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology at UC Davis. "In particular, it has been uncertain how ants—the world’s most successful social insects—are related to bees and wasps. We were able to resolve this question by employing next-generation sequencing technology and advances in bioinformatics. This phylogeny, or evolutionary tree, provides a new framework for understanding the evolution of nesting, feeding and social behavior in Hymenoptera."
The researchers used state-of-the-art genome sequencing and bioinformatics to produce this significant research.
The six-member team: Ward; molecular geneticist and assistant professor Joanna Chiu; honey bee scientist and assistant professor Brian Johnson; doctoral student-researcher Marek Borowiec of the Ward lab; and postdoctoral researcher Joel Atallah of the Johnson lab, all with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and visiting scientist Ernest K. Lee of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, American Museum of Natural History.
Ants, bees and stinging wasps all belong to the aculeate (stinging) Hymenoptera clade -- the group in which social behavior is most extensively developed.
Said Chiu: “With a phylogeny or evolutionary progression that we think is reliable and robust, we can now start to understand how various morphological and/or behavioral traits evolved in these groups of insects, and even examine the genetic basis of these phenotypic changes.”
Said Johnson, whose lab studies the genetics, behavior, evolution and health of honey bees: "Using transcriptomics we were able to resolve a long standing question regarding the evolutionary relationships between stinging wasps, ants, and bees. We found that ants and bees are more closely related than previously thought. This result should be important for future studies focused on eusocial evolution, as it suggests that morphology may not be a good indicator of evolutionary relatedness in these groups of organisms."
The abstract: "Eusocial behavior has arisen in few animal groups, most notably in the aculeate Hymenoptera, a clade comprising ants, bees, and stinging wasps. Phylogeny is crucial to understanding the evolution of the salient features of these insects, including eusociality. Yet the phylogenetic relationships among the major lineages of aculeate Hymenoptera remain contentious. We address this problem here by generating and analyzing genomic data for a representative series of taxa. We obtain a single well-resolved and strongly supported tree, robust to multiple methods of phylogenetic inference. Apoidea (spheciform wasps and bees) and ants are sister groups, a novel finding that contradicts earlier views that ants are closer to ectoparasitoid wasps. Vespid wasps (paper wasps, yellow jackets, and relatives) are sister to all other aculeates except chrysidoids. Thus, all eusocial species of Hymenoptera are contained within two major groups, characterized by transport of larval provisions and nest construction, likely prerequisites for the evolution of eusociality. These two lineages are interpolated among three other clades of wasps whose species are predominantly ectoparasitoids on concealed hosts, the inferred ancestral condition for aculeates. This phylogeny provides a new framework for exploring the evolution of nesting, feeding, and social behavior within the stinging Hymenoptera."
Honey bees love it.
We watched a honey bee foraging on lavender blossoms last weekend, when an ant appeared on the scene. The ant? A worker of Liometopum occidentale (velvety tree ant), according to ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
If you don't know much about ants, but have always admired them, then "Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants," is for you.
It's the collaborative work of two entomologists: biologist/science writer Eleanor Spicer Rice, who received her doctorate in entomology from North Carolina State University, and biologist/insect photographer Alex Wild, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, studying with Ward.
In a recent Myrmecos blog, Wild describes the book as "an entry-level ebook written for the general naturalist curious about ants. Dr. Eleanor recounts stories of the most common species seen in the southeastern United States, interspersed with photographs from my galleries."
"It’s the kind of book you give to the young naturalist who wonders about the ants on the sidewalk," Wild says, "or perhaps to that grumpy uncle who never quite seems to get what it is you are doing in graduate school studying the little creatures."
And, guess what? The Dr. Eleanor/Dr. Alex book is free to download. One way to receive it is to access the Myrmecos blog and click on the I-Tunes and/or PDF links.
Rice relates that she's always been fascinated by ants. So is Andrea Lucky, who, like Wild, received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis with Phil Ward. Lucky heads the widely acclaimed citizen-scientist project, "The School of Ants." (The School of Ants project is based in the Lucky lab at the University of Florida's Department of Entomology and Nematology and the lab of Rob Dunn in Biology at North Carolina State University. (Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more.)
But back to "Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants." It's fascinating. It's riveting. It's superb. The easy-to-read text and the amazing photos draw you in. You can literally feel the excitement, enthusiasm and passion when Dr. Eleanor asks "What's the big deal about ants?"
"We might not notice them, but ants surround us, occupying nearly every type of habitable nook and cranny across the glove," she writes. "Right now, ants snuggle up to your house, lay out their doormats in front of the trees in your yard, and snooze under your park benches. Some even nest inside the acorns littering the ground."
"We might not notice them, but they're there, and they shape, literally shape, our world," she points out.
And if you look closely in your own back yard, you just might see an ant and a bee sharing a lavender blossom.
What do butterflies tell us about tropical diversity?
Take it from an expert.
Tropical ecologist Philip DeVries of the Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Orleans, will discuss the topic at his lecture on Thursday, Feb. 9 at the University of California, Davis.
His presentation, sponsored by the College of Biological Sciences' Storer Life Sciences Endowment, is at 4:10 p.m. in 2 Wellman Hall. Professor Phil Ward of the UC Davis Department of Entomology is his host.
Free and open to all interested persons, the lecture is sparking a lot of interest, and rightfully so.
DeVries focuses his research on insect ecology and evolution, especially butterflies. A native of Detroit, Mich., he received his doctorate in zoology from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1987.
Highly honored, DeVries has received fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim and Dodge foundations, and the Smithsonian Institute. He is not only a noted researcher and ecologist, but a writer, scientific adviser and photographer.
If you listen to his piece on YouTube (uploaded in 2008), you can see, hear and feel the excitement in his voice as the long-tongued hawk moth, Morgan's Sphinx (Xanthopan morgani) pollinates Darwin's orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) one night in a Madagascar rain forest. Truly amazing!
Background of the moth and orchid: Naturalist Charles Darwin examined the orchid in 1862 and famously predicted in his book Fertilisation of Orchids that there must be in existence a moth with a long-enough tongue (proboscis) to be able to pollinate it. The orchid's "nectar spur" measures about 12 to 14 inches long. The moth itself was discovered in Madagascar in 1903--correctly proving Darwin's prediction of its existence-- but no one saw it pollinate the orchid until DeVries headed out to the rain forest with his camera equipment. Since pollination occurs only at night, DeVries used infrared light (invisible to the moth) to capture the scene.
Jerry A. Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, blogged about the spectacular video in "Why Evolution Is True."
"The video," Coyne wrote, "was made in Madagascar by a friend of mine, Phil DeVries from the University of New Orleans, a remarkable—and, as you’ll see, intrepid—naturalist, and author of the two-volume Butterflies of Costa Rica and their Natural History."
"It’s really lovely to see how excited Phil gets when he finally sees the pollination," wrote Coyne. "Those are the juicy moments that every naturalist lives for."
Yes, indeed! It's something you never expect to see--and hope to see again.