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Check our latest article on the structure of compound eye and ocelli in the Banded Sugar ant, Camponotus consobrinus. Emphasis is on the differences driven by locomotion and task specialisation .

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Longitudinal section of alate female (left) and male ants of Camponotus consobrinus

Reference: Narendra A, Ramirez-Esquivel F & Ribi WA. 2016. Compound eye and ocellar structure for walking and flying modes of locomotion in the Australian ant, Camponotus consobrinus. Scientific Reports 6: 22331.

We have a new story published on tandem running in the Australian ant, Camponotus consobrinus. Here is a short clip I put together explaining its significance.

Schultheiss P, Raderschall CA, Narendra A. Follower ants in a tandem pair are not always naïve. Scientific Reports 5: 10747. [pdf]

Day active jack jumper, Myrmecia croslandi has three spectral classes of photoreceptors.

Day-active jack jumper, Myrmecia croslandi has three spectrally distinct types of photoreceptors

Bees and wasps are known to be trichromats (three classes of photoreceptors). Ants were thought to be the only hymenopterans to be dichromats, being sensitive to UV and green wavelength of the spectrum. Several behavioural experiments have suggested that ants do use colour vision, but it has been unclear whether ants are dichromats, trichromats or tetrachromats. Teaming up with electrophysiology experts Yuri Ogawa, Jan Hemmi, Marcin Falkowski at UWA and visual ecologist Jochen Zeil at ANU we show from intracellular and extracellular recordings that ant photoreceptors have three spectral sensitivities, sensitive to UV, blue and green wavelength – that allows for trichromacy. Interestingly, this holds good for ants active during both day and night. We argue that colour vision may have evolved in the context of landmark guidance, since the evolution of trichromacy in insects predates the evolution of flowers.

See: Ogawa Y, Falkowski M, Narendra A, Zeil J, Hemmi JM. 2015. Three spectrally distinct photoreceptors in diurnal and nocturnal Australian ants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282: 20150673.

We are seeking expressions of interest for two postdoctoral positions to examine the neurobiology of insect navigation. Both positions are for three years and will be based at Macquarie University, Sydney.

A section through the brain of a nocturnal Queen Bull ant, Myrmecia pyriformis. Ca: calyx, Pe: peduncle, Cb: central body; Lo: lobula, Me: medulla, La: lamina; Al: antennal lobe

Cross section of the brain of a Bull ant queen, Myrmecia pyriformis. Ca: calyx, Pe: peduncle, Cb: central body; Lo: lobula, Me: medulla, La: lamina; Al: antennal lobe

1. Postdoctoral Research Associate (Macquarie University salary Level A6, three-year position): The role will involve development of a research program in electrophysiology and neuropharmacology of ants to determine the brain regions involved in navigation. It will require skills in intracellular recording, and/or calcium imaging, brain morphometrics, extracellular recording, and the creative capacity to develop electrophysiological and neuropharmacological methods in a new system. The position would allow for associate supervision of graduate students.

2. Postdoctoral Research Assistant (Macquarie University salary Level H6 step 1, three-year position at 0.8 full time equivalent): The role would involve conducting experiments in ant behavioural pharmacology in both the laboratory and the field. It will require skills in field research, quantitative analysis of animal behaviour, neuropharmacology, insect brain histology and 3D reconstruction. The position would be funded at 80% of full-time equivalence (four days a week), with an additional opportunity to take up undergraduate teaching duties to supplement the salary. The position would allow for associate supervision of graduate students.

If this sounds intriguing, fun and fascinating, contact me: ajay.narendra [at] mq.edu.au. More details on these positions are available on our lab page.

Macquarie University, Sydney, is offering two PhD scholarships to study ant vision and navigation. If you or anybody you know of, find this interesting, please get in touch with me.

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Effects of miniaturisation on visual information processing capacities of ants

Project: Size is thought to dictate the performance of sensory systems and through this the lifestyle and the information processing capacities of animals. Ants exhibit dramatic differences in body size both within and between species. Irrespective of size, all individuals have to be competent navigators, pinpoint goals, detect polarised skylight, estimate distances, view landmarks, memorise and recall crucial information. This project will identify the behavioural costs and neural adaptations for navigating at the limits of size.

The project will involve state-of-art ant tracking techniques (Differential GPS, high speed videography), video analysis and insect view reconstructions. In addition, there will be opportunities to learn histological, neuroanatomical and micro-CT techniques to measure, map and reconstruct the sensory and information processing structures in ants. This research addresses many fascinating areas of biology and offers tremendous scope for students to pursue their own interest in the field of insect navigation.

We are looking for students enthusiastic about experimental research, are self-driven, and fully dedicated to work on an exciting project in a vibrant and stimulating environment alongside a team of international researchers. Candidates with experience in video and image analysis and/or working with social insect behaviour are particularly encouraged to apply. Start date is negotiable, but must be before October 2015. Project will be suitable for candidates with a background and an interest in evolutionary biology, neurobiology, computational biology and myrmecology.

Closing date: May 31, 2015. If interested, contact Ajay: ajay.narendra [at] mq.edu.au

More information on how to apply here.

Myrmecia haskinsorum, Canberra

Myrmecia haskinsorum, Canberra

Jack Jumpers are ants well known to most people in Australia. Due to dramatic interspecific similarity, specimens have often been identified as Myrmecia pilosula. In his latest work published in Zootaxa, Robert Taylor reviews the present status of Myrmecia pilosula complex and describes 4 new species bringing the species tally of this charismatic group to six: M. banksi, M. croslandi, M. haskinsorum, M. imaii, M. impaternata and M. pilosula.

Myrmecia croslandi, Australian National University, Canberra

Myrmecia croslandi, Australian National University, Canberra

Myrmecia impaternata, Canberra

Myrmecia impaternata, Canberra

Taylor RW. 2015. Ants with attitude: Australian Jack-jumpers of the Myrmecia pilosula species complex, with descriptions of four new species (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmeciinae). Zootaxa 3911: 493–520.

A new beginning

A view inside the nest of Myrmecia croslandi, Black Mountains, Canberra

A view inside the nest of the jack jumper ant, Myrmecia croslandi, Black Mountains, Canberra

I am pleased to let you know that I have accepted an offer of a faculty position at Macquarie University, Sydney. Just completed all the paperwork and will be joining the Department of Biological Sciences at MQ. The Department’s strength and diversity in insect ecology and behaviour is perhaps the best across any Australian university. Will shortly be advertising for PhD positions on ant navigation and sensory systems, to work with the ever so delightful Myrmecia and more  – keep an eye out!