International Rock Flipping Day: The Ants

Sunday (September 9) was International Rock Flipping Day, hosted by Wanderin’ Weeta.

What is International Rock Flipping Day? It is a blog carnival to celebrate all those critters that live under rocks, as well as the naturalist spirit that drives us to look a little deeper.

How to participate? Basically you go outside and look under a rock or two. Record what you see by drawing, painting, or taking photographs. When you are done, carefully return the rock to its original position. Then report your findings to Wanderin’ Weeta.

I usually post the bulk of my finds at my children’s science blog, Growing With Science, because this is a great event to share with children.

Looking under rocks is also a fantastic way to find ants. Rocks absorb and radiate heat and/or retain moisture underneath, creating an ideal microhabitat for ants.

I sampled a suburban area near Phoenix, Arizona. I wish I could report something new this year, but no luck. It is still good to see some of the same old friends as last year.

I didn’t even have to flip this rock to know there were southern fire ants (Solenopsis xyloni) underneath. Normally you might not even notice a southern fire ant nest because it is largely underground. When it has been raining, however, the fire ants tend to announce their presence with small mounds of dirt particles. Characteristically these mounds will have multiple entrances to the nest.

Southern fire ants seem to coexist with the other main ants we find here,

the rover ants, Brachymyrmex patagonicus. Aack, they are everywhere.

The sidewalk ants (Forelius) are still doing fine. These weren’t nesting under the rocks I flipped, but were foraging there.

Also, still seeing these rove beetles associated with southern fire ant nests.

Maybe I’ll have to find someplace more exotic to visit for next year’s event.

How about you? Did you participate this year? What did you find?

The Great Bee Count This Weekend

We have another opportunity for citizen science this week, this time with bees.

In conjunction with the ongoing Great Sunflower Project, researchers are looking for volunteers across the country to participate in  The Great Bee Count on August 11, 2012. All it requires is to spend 15 minutes on Saturday August 11, 2012 counting bees on flowers. If possible the flowers should be sunflowers (preferably, Lemon Queen), bee balm, cosmos, tickseed, or purple coneflower.

To participate, login or register at the Great Sunflower Project website. You will be asked to download a data sheet with detailed instructions to record your results. After you count, you return to the website and click on the “Report your bee count” link to input your observations.

Just to be clear, you don’t have to have participated previously. This is a special, one time count. Also, if you can’t count on Saturday, you can also report results from another day.


School of Ants Essay Contest for Students

Do you remember School of Ants?  It is the ongoing citizen science project where participants can collect backyard ants and send them in for identification.

Now School of Ants is sponsoring a writing contest for students, with the deadline coming up soon.


  • Open to any student studying ants
  • Essay should be between 300 and 600 words in length
  • Be sure to include a short biography of author with photo
  • A photograph illustrating the essay topic may also be added (optional)
  • Multiple submissions are accepted
  • First prize is $500
  • Runner-up essays may be published on website
  • Deadline is Sept 1, 2012

See School of Ants for submission guidelines. Be sure to spread the word to your starving students!

The School of Ants is still accepting ant samples, as well. It is definitely a child-friendly project. This video shows you how to get started.

Have you sent in an ant sample already? What did you find out?

Post about my participation