First Hike of 2022

The year has started out on a positive note.  On our first hike of 2022 we saw several ant nests.

Getting closer…

we saw Veromessor pergandei workers actively foraging. The ants were carrying grass seeds.

These are such beautiful ants.

The middens appear to be mostly one type of grass.

This is a new hiking trail for me and I hope to return to it over the year to see how the ant nests progress (and carry my camera instead of just my phone).

Did you see any ants today? What kind?

Tribute to Ant Specialist E. O. Wilson

According to his obituary in The New York Times, Dr. E.O. Wilson passed away on Sunday, December 26, 2021. He will be greatly missed by myrmecologists around the world.

Anyone who is interested in ants has probably read at least one of Wilson’s books, including the groundbreaking tome The Ants written with Bert Hölldobler. The Ants won them a Pulitzer Prize in 1991.

(Cover images and titles are Amazon affiliate links.)

On a more personal note, my graduate advisor at Cornell University, Dr. William L. Brown, Jr. — Bill — was a close friend and colleague of Dr. Wilson’s. He told many stories about their adventures together while traveling the world in search of ants. Erich Hoyt chronicled some of their experiences in his 1996 book, The Earth Dwellers:  Adventures in the Land of Ants.

While I was at Cornell during the 1980s, Bill was helping E. O. Wilson with his work on bigheaded ants, the genus Pheidole. It is a large and complex group. According to Hoyt’s book on page 61, when Brown asked him when they would finish, Wilson said:

“We’ll probably go out on Pheidole.”


Public domain image by Alex Wild.

Bill passed away in 1997, several years before Pheidole in the New World: A Dominant, Hyperdiverse Ant Genus was finally published in 2003 by Harvard University Press. On the other hand, Ed Wilson had many, many more publications to go.


If you knew him, my condolences. If you did not and want to find out more about this man who was passionate about ants, you can read one of E. O. Wilson’s many books or the 2021 biography, Scientist: E. O. Wilson: A Life in Nature by Richard Rhodes.

The Beekeepers: How Humans Changed the World of Bumble Bees


If you are looking for a book about bumbles bees that the whole family might enjoy, check out the middle grade title, The Beekeepers: How Humans Changed the World of Bumble Bees by Dana L. Church.

Why bumble bees? Honey bees have gotten a lot of press lately, but bumble bees are also important pollinators.

Public domain photograph of a Solanum flower from USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab Flickr Page

In fact, bumble bees are much better at pollinating certain plants, especially tomatoes and other members of the genus Solanum.


After briefly describing the history of studying and keeping bumble bees, Church discusses the business of selling bumble bees to pollinate plants in greenhouses. She explains that the bumble bee you see in your yard may be a native one or may be an import that has escaped from a nearby tomato-growing operation.

Later chapters explore some marvels of bumble bee behavior, before revealing how some species of bumble bees are waning in numbers and on the brink of disappearing. The last chapter summarizes some of the things that are being done to protect and encourage bumble bees. The author also has a page of information for helping wild bees on her website.


Public domain photograph of Bombus huntii from USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab Flickr Page

Back Story/Discussion:

I have to admit, it wasn’t love at first glance with this book.  When I found it in the juvenile nonfiction section of the library, I didn’t know quite what to make of it. Written for middle grades (8-12 year olds), it stood out among the sea of picture books because it is 308 pages long. I thought someone had shelved it in the wrong place.

The title was also a bit confusing, too. Although it can refer to any bee, the term beekeeping usually brings to mind honey bees rather than bumble bees. But, who can resist a book with a bumble bee on the cover?

The Beekeepers would be of interest to adults who enjoy popular science. Because it was written with a younger audience in mind, it is a quick and enjoyable read.  It would also be appropriate for middle graders and young adults who are interested in science and nature, and especially insects. It would also be a great jumping off point for a research paper or science fair project on bumble bees. Check out a copy today.

Reading age : 8 – 12 years
Publisher : Scholastic Focus (March 2, 2021)
ISBN-10 : 1338565540
ISBN-13 : 978-1338565546

Disclosure:  I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and title links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Insect Architects: Mining iNaturalist for Information

You’ve probably all discovered the iNaturalist app years ago, but I just started playing around with some of its capabilities.

For example, I’m interested in ant nests. The shape of the nest can sometimes help with identification. It is also fascinating to see what insects are capable of building.

Check out this cecropia ant nest, Genus Azteca.

© Nelson Wisnik, some rights reserved (CC-BY-NC)

It does lead to questions, such as where are the ants  and what is the nest made of?

Here’s a similar public domain image from Wikimedia by Alex Wild. It is from from a guayaba tree in Archidona, Ecuador.

These nests are made of carton, which may be  either wood particles, soil, and/or trichomes mixed with fungal mycelium.  So cool!

Mayer, V. E., & Voglmayr, H. (2009). Mycelial carton galleries of Azteca brevis (Formicidae) as a multi-species network. Proceedings. Biological Sciences, 276(1671), 3265–3273.

AntWiki is a great place to start if you want to learn more about Azteca.

The next nest doesn’t look like an ant nest at all. It looks like a piece of pottery.

© Chief RedEarth at iNaturalist
Cc by nc nd small some rights reserved

It seems impossible that ants made this structure, but you can see ants in the photograph. They are tiny specks in the center opening. The ants have been identified as Pheidole sykesii or the Indian harvester ant.

This video shows how small the ants are relative to the structure.


Alex Wild at Myrmecos has a post about it, too (see the comments).

What do you think of iNaturalist? Do you use it regularly?

Below is a collection of amazing insect nests.