But they're much more than that. Much more.
Ant specialist Brian Fisher, an entomologist with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, describes ants as "industrious, tenacious workers who live in colonies and obey a hierarchy of rulers."
And they're also massive.
“Consider that the collective weight of all the ants in the world is equal to the weight of all the world's humans," Fisher says. "It's a big subject with a big impact. That alone makes ants worthy of scientific study.”
Fisher, associate curator of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences and an adjunct professor of biology at both the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University, will deliver the 2011 Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar, UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Fisher, who just returned from a collecting trip in Madagascar, will speak on “How Many Ants Can an Island Hold? Exploring Ant Diversity in Madagascar" from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9 in the Recreation Pool Lodge on La Rue Road, UC Davis. The lecture is free and open to the public.
He'll be honored at a reception set from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Rec Pool Lodge.
Fisher received his doctorate degree in entomology from UC Davis in 1997, studying with major professor Phil Ward.
Often found hip-deep in Madagascar mud, Fisher is a self-described modern day explorer who has devoted his life to the study and conservation of ants and biodiversity around the world. His research sends him through the last remote rainforests and deserts of Madagascar and Africa in search of ants. Although his subjects may be small in stature, they make a huge impact on their ecosystems.
By documenting the species diversity and distribution of this “invisible majority,” Fisher says he's helping to establish conservation priorities for Madagascar, identifying areas that should be set aside to protect the highest number of species. Along the way, he has discovered hundreds of new species of ants. He has published more than 75 peer reviewed articles including Ants of North America with Stefan Cover.
Every year, Fisher trains dozens of international graduate students in the taxonomy and natural history of ants, providing them with skills to use ants as an important indicator of biodiversity across the globe. He has appeared in a number of BBC, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic films and has been profiled in Newsweek and Discover magazines.
So, for the last 23 years, Brian Fisher has traveled the globe finding, collecting, identifying and naming ants, describing their behaviors, and cataloguing their traits. Of the estimated 22,000 ant species known to science, Fisher has personally discovered 1000 species.
Born in Normal, Ill., the son of a college professor and a fifth grade teacher, Brian Fisher always knew he wanted to work outdoors. But for awhile, he didn't know what. The day after his high school graduation, he caught a flight to Europe and spent two years bicycling the continent, learning French and carpentry before returning home.
Once he returned to the states, he enrolled at the University of Iowa, majoring in biology. “But I was itching to get to Latin America, learn Spanish and live the dream of a tropical plant collector,” he remembers. It was during a year in Panama that he worked part-time for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He also worked as an aspiring botanist, collecting specimens of tropical flora.
It was during his stay in Panama that the love bug bit. Ants!
“You go to the tropics and the sheer diversity of insects are literally raining down on you,” Fisher says. “At that point, I decided to switch from being a great botanical explorer to becoming an ant finder.”
The Nov. 9th UC Davis seminar memorializes cotton entomologist Thomas Frances Leigh (1923-1993), an international authority on the biology, ecology and management of arthropod pests affecting cotton production. During his 37-year UC Davis career, he was based at the Shafter Research and Extension Center, also known as the U.S. Cotton Research Station. He researched pest and beneficial arthropod management in cotton fields, and host plant resistance in cotton to insects, mites, nematodes and diseases.
And we're sure Tom Leigh encountered a number of ants along the way, but not as many nor as diverse as Brian Fisher has.
Unlike the Saints, the ants won't "go marching in"; they'll be "marching on."
The "Ants Go Marching On” will set the theme for the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 13 at 1124 Academic Surge, California Drive, UC Davis campus.
There you can learn about ants from myrmecologists--those are the folks who study ants.
Admission is free.
Ant specialist and doctoral candidate Bonnie Blaimer of the Phil Ward lab will engage the visitors with a slide show of a collecting trip to Madagascar. She and fellow doctoral candidate Marek Borowiec, also of the Phil Ward lab, will be discussing characteristics of ants and answering questions.
The Bohart is home to more than seven million insects.
“The Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps) form about 30 percent of the Bohart collection,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
The Bohart Museum also has a live “petting zoo” that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks; and a gift shop where visitors can purchase such items as t-shirts, sweat shirts, posters, jewelry and insect candy.
The R. M. Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, was founded in 1946 by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart. Dedicated to teaching, research and service, it houses the seventh largest insect collection in North America.
The museum holds specimens collected worldwide and is the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity of California’s deserts, mountains, coast and great central valley.
The museum’s regular hours are from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It is closed on Fridays and on major holidays. More information is available on the Bohart website or by contacting Tabatha Yang at email@example.com or (530) 752-9464. Due to limited space, group tours will not be booked during the weekend hours.
Ladybugs, aka ladybeetles (family Coccinellidae), are best known for devouring aphids, those pesky little critters that suck plant juices.
But have you ever seen ladybugs gobbling ants?
There's a three-way predator-prey relationship here. When aphids pierce plant stems, they leave behind honeydew excretions. Ants scurry to the honeydew and quickly alert their buddies. Soon, you'll see a long trail of ants marching toward the honeydew.
Now enter the ladybug, which is attracted--quite nicely, thank you--to both aphids and ants.
This little beetle will feast on aphids and ants much like we humans chow down on popcorn and jelly beans at a movie.
In the photos below, unsuspecting ants climbed a lavender stalk, only to meet their demise.
If you look on You Tube, you'll see a video of an apparently famished ladybug chowing down ants. The background music of Queen's "We Will Rock You" adds the finishing touch.
Want to learn more about ants? Check out professor Phil Ward's website. He's a noted myrmecologist (one who studies the taxonomy, evolution, biogeography and behavior of ants) and a professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
One of his former graduate students, Alex Wild, has incredible insect photography on his website, appropriately named myrmecos.net.
Pull out the bottom tray (floor) of a beehive and you're likely to see lots of bee droppings, a little pollen, a few mites, a few dead bees and...a few scurrying ants.
Ants find a bee hive nice and cozy, especially in the winter as temperatures drop.
Beekeeper Elizabeth "Liz" Frost of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, who helps tend the hives never knows what she'll see during a colony inspection.
"Look," she pointed out, "see the ant carrying pollen?"
The tiny little critter hustling a heavy load of pollen made for an interesting photo.
Ants and bees are both social insects and belong to the same order, Hymenoptera. Bees and ants are sometimes called "superorganisms" as they employ a division of specialized labor, working together to support the colony for the good of all.
Ants in the bee hive, though, are a nuisance.
Branstetter delivered an illustrated presentation on “Phylogeny and Biography of the Ant Genus Stenamma: Uncovering the Evolutionary Origins of Mesoamerican Taxa.” Stenamma is a little studied genus of leaf litter ants.
He competed in the Revisions and Evolution Section, moderated by scientists from Laurentian University, Ontario, Canada, and the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. Following his presentation, judges and spectators asked questions, an integral part of the competition.
Fourteen graduate students from throughout the
A fourth-year graduate student, Branstetter studies with UC Davis entomology professor
Branstetter, a native of
The recipient of several grants, Branstetter has collected ants in
Branstetter’s next collecting trip will be a two-month excursion in
This is the second consecutive year that a UC Davis graduate student in systematics has won the President’s Prize at the ESA meeting, said Lynn Kimsey, chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Last year