Not that ants ever really go away here, but it is nice to see such active ants this week.
The workers are removing soil from the nest.
In addition to the Ants of the Southwest Class, the California Academy of Sciences’ Ant Course is another great way to learn about ants.
This year it is being offered August 3 – 18, 2020 in Cameroon: Bouamir Field station, Dja Reserve. It costs $450 and is limited to 17 students.
Sponsored by California Academy of Sciences, US National Science Foundation, Congo Basin Institute, IITA-Cameroon, the Ant Course is intended to help both professionals and interested amateurs learn about identification, behavior, and ecology of ants. The website has more details.
It isn’t offered every year and the last time was in 2015 (although it looks like there are plans for 2021 and 2022). You can see previous faculty and students by visiting the Ant Course yearbook.
If you’d like to go, you will need to complete the application by April 1, 2020. Look for the “Apply Now” button near the top of the page.
Sounds like an awesome adventure. Let us know if you get to go.
Back in 2015, we asked why ants collect feathers. We suggested food, moisture, or that feathers are left behind by anting birds.
Now a recent article in Scientific American has another answer. Brazilian scientist Inácio Gomes, of the Federal University of Viçosa, suggests Pheidole oxyops surround their nests with feathers to lure other insects to the area, where they fall in. Thus, the decorated ant nests serve as pitfall traps.
Gomes discounted the moisture idea by adding wet cotton balls. The added source of water apparently did not change the ants’ behavior.
This is cool, but since ants also drag the feathers into the nest, it is likely there is still more to learn.
The original study was published in Ecological Entomology in Feb. 2019.
It’s National Pollinator Week (June 17-23, 2019).
Right in time to participate, I caught a pollinator on video last week.
As I was walking past a sweet potato bush (also known as blue potato bush, Lycianthes rantonnetii) I heard a familiar “bizzzzz” sound.
You may have to turn up your speaker because it isn’t very loud. I apologize for the background sounds. It is near a school.
Do you know why the bee is making that sound?
The answer has to do with the structure of the flower. At the bright yellow center are a tight bundle of anthers, the structures that make pollen. The visiting bee bites down on the anthers, curls her abdomen around them and vibrates. When she does this, pollen comes spilling out like when we shake salt from a shaker.
The pollen that falls onto the bee’s body goes back to the nest to be used as food. If any of the pollen brushes onto or hits the female parts of the flower (stigma), the flower is pollinated. Because the vibration makes a sound we can hear, it is called buzz pollination.
A number of species of solitary bees –including carpenter bees — and bumble bees will visit this type of flower, but honey bees do not. I’ve noticed that the smaller bees make a higher-pitched sound like this one.
If you have ever eaten a tomato grown in a greenhouse, it was probably thanks to buzz pollination. Growers use bumble bees to pollinate tomatoes indoors and ensure a healthy crop.
So, the next time you hear a buzz, look around. It might be a pollinator in action.
If you’d like to find out more about National Pollinator Week activities, visit their website.