Archive for the ‘Ants in the News’ Category

It has been about 8 months since my last post, and since then I have returned from China and begun my Ph.D. program in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago. More information on this work is here.

To start off the resumption of my blogging, I leave you with today’s NPR story on ants and how they prevent traffic jams: here.

Ants in a Trail
(iStockphoto image from the NPR piece)


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Somewhere in Bolivia, two men decided to steal some motorcycles. They were excited about their loot, until they ended up being tied to a tree with venomous Pseudomyrmex triplarinus ants. This, as reported via the Associated Press in The Guardian and The Washington Post, was the near-fatal penalty suffered by these two miscreants for their ill-advised behavior. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only tragedy in this story.

In both newspapers, the portrayal of the key players – the insects – is horribly botched. The Guardian refers to the “venom of fire ants” in the caption of what looks to me to be a beetle (certainly not an ant), and fails to follow basic conventions like capitalizing the name of the genus “Pseudomyrmex” and italicizing the entire scientific name. The Post mercifully spares us a photo, but sticks “fire ants” in the title of its article that contains the same egregious errors as the one in The Guardian (having essentially identical AP-sourced content).

Pseudomyrmex triplarinus is completely different from fire ants. Completely different. Two-second Google search different. So is the difference between an “ant” and a “beetle”. And failing to properly capitalize and italicize the scientific name betrays the scientific illiteracy of the writer. But, despite these errors, the intriguing nature of the story makes it worth a read.

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I’ve covered Fort Wayne’s NBA D-League team, the Mad Ants, a couple times before. Well, per my presciant prediction in my first post on the Ants, they are “irrefutably the team to beat” at this year’s playoffs, as reported in the surely unbiased Fort Wayne-based The Journal Gazette. I look forward to their ultimate success.


Fort Wayne Mad Ants logo


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It is pretty old news at this point, but I figured that as I haven’t recently given it or this blog the due attention that each deserves, I should now mention that Ant-Man the film will be hitting theaters in 2015. Paul Rudd has been cast as Ant-Man (Ant-Man is the main character in the film).

I have two hopes for this movie. The first is that it is riddled with actual facts about ants. The second is that it features at least one cameo by at least one actual myrmecologist. An obvious candidate would be someone like Mark Moffett, who has been interviewed by Stephen Colbert (in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011), Conan O’Brien, and NPR, among others I’m sure, and therefore should already be primed for the public eye.

But with or without copious ant-facts and myrmecameos, I can’t wait to see this film, which will surely be the greatest thing since the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Because could the fusion of ant and man on film be anything else?

File:Ant-Man logo.jpg

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Turns out that even ants are being swept up by the NSA. Well, at least their name.

According to a Der Spiegel article from the end of last year, the NSA created an “ANT catalog” that apparently allows NSA employees to “order technologies from the ANT division for tapping their targets’ data”. However, these revelations seem to come from an “impression gained from flipping through the 50-page document”, with even the meaning of the acronym only “presumably” standing for “Advanced or Access Network Technology”.

Regardless of the true name and nature of the division, the most appalling fact from this report is the NSA’s practice of tapping into the wonderful world of ants for its secretive ends. However, it should be noted that the NSA chose to name seemingly omnipotent hacking powers “ANT”. Not “FLY”, or “GRASSHOPPER”, or “BEETLE”, but “ANT”. So, although appalling, it is at least encouraging that the NSA understands a bit about the true nature of the ant.

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See here for a nice video from NASA on the space ants I mentioned a few days ago, as well as other information on the launch’s purpose. The article proposes the name “ant-ronauts”, but I’m partial to “antstronauts”. I think it flows better.

Image from the article.

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Since learning about the Fort Wayne ‘Mad Ants’ NBA D-League team last year, I occasionally check in on the team, and it seems to be doing well. Last season, Tony Mitchell was the D-League Rookie of the Year (Are we surprised he was a Mad Ant? No.), part of an effort that brought the Mad Ants to the playoffs for the first time. Well, he then decided to do something different. Which, according to this article in The Journal Gazette, turned out to be going to China for 2 1/2 months to play with the Jilin Northeast Tigers. He also has been drafted by the Detroit Pistons, and, according to Wikipedia, is playing with the Mad Ants “on assignment” from the team.

I find this particularly notable because Mitchell’s trajectory has been Detroit -> Ants -> China, which essentially mirrors my own. Perhaps there is some fundamental property of nature that follows: (Detroit metro area) + (Ants) = (China).

File:Large Detroit Landsat.jpg + Fort Wayne Mad Ants logo =  

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