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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.

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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!

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Sensilla ampullacea and sensilla coeloconica in the bull ant, Myrmecia pyriformis.

Sensilla ampullacea and sensilla coeloconica in the bull ant, Myrmecia pyriformis. (A) External structure of sensilla ampullacea (white arrows) and coeloconica (black arrow). (B) Cross-section through the antennal cuticle shows the peg of a sensillum coeloconicum within the chamber. (C) Detached ampoule of the sensillum ampullaceum reveals no porosity, but a single large opening (white arrow). (D) Micrograph of an uncoated specimen reveals the sensory peg within the enclosing ampoule of sensilla ampullacea (white arrow). (E) Cross-section through the cuticle shows a sensillum ampullaceum hanging within the antennal lumen by a slender tube (white arrow) connecting to the external opening. (F) Detached sensilla ampullacea showing opening for neural innervation (white arrow). Scale bars = 1 mm.

In an ant society, olfaction and mechanoreception plays a big role for communication, recruitment and for identifying nestmates from non-nestmates. An ant’s antennae is packed with a number of detectors, sensilla, that capture different kinds of information. While ant sensilla have been previously described, there have been huge discrepancies with sensilla often being misidentified or given different names. Together with Fiorella and Jochen, using high quality scanning electron microscope images we described a range of sensilla on the antennae of the the now famous bull ant, Myrmecia pyriformis. Given the inconsistent use of sensillum nomenclature and difficulties associated in reliable identification we consolidated the ant sensilla literature to make possible interspecific comparisons in the future.

Read more here: Esquivel FR, Zeil J & Narendra A. in press. The antennal sensory array of the nocturnal bull ant, Myrmecia pyriformisArthropod Structure and DevelopmentDOI: 10.1016/j.asd.2014.07.004

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Worker of the leaf cutter ant, Atta colombica, return home with a leaf it has cut. Barro Colorado Island, Panama

Worker of the leaf cutter ant, Atta colombica, returns home with a leaf it has cut. Barro Colorado Island, Panama

Its been an extremely packed last few weeks and for very good reasons. I was just awarded the Future Fellowship, one of the highly sought mid-career fellowships offered in Australia. This now is a great opportunity to address the neurobiology of ant navigation.

On the trail again..

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Ok, Canberra is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2013 and for that a couple of blokes have put together a hilarious clip with a list of things ‘one  would never say in Canberra.

If you have ever ever been to Canberra you will know exactly what they are talking about!

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To mark my 51st ant genus on Flickr, I have selected Opisthopsis, the strobe ants.

The ground nesting strobe ant, Opisthopsis haddoni. Location: Pallarenda, Townsville, QLD

The ground nesting strobe ant, Opisthopsis haddoni. Location: Pallarenda, Townsville, QLD

I am processing (read=deleting ~70% of Opisthopsis images!) pictures of the really cool large-eyed ants. I saw them the first time in Alice Springs in 2003, then in Kings Canyon and subsequently in Brisbane, Gilgandra and all the way up north to Cape Tribulation and Townsville. They are unusual among ants, because of the placement of their eyes towards the posterior region of the head. Typically in ants, eyes are placed laterally and/or frontally. This peculiar placement of the eyes gives Opisthopsis ants a very unique visual field that includes areas even behind them. More about these cool ants when I update the Flickr gallery.

The ground nesting strobe ant, Opisthopsis haddoni. Location: Pallarenda, Townsville, QLD

The ground nesting strobe ant, Opisthopsis haddoni. Location: Pallarenda, Townsville, QLD

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Cerapachys singularis.  Scotia Sanctuary, NSW

A worker of Cerapachys singularis about to head out of her nest entrance. Scotia Sanctuary, NSW.

Mention army ants, and one immediately thinks of the legendary Eciton or Labidus roaming around the forest floors in the New World. Army ants are found even in the Old World, and one of the most common ones are Cerapachys. These ants hunt either individually or in small groups in loose columns. They are thought to be specialist predators of other ants.

In the context of visual system, Cerapachys ants present an interesting case. While some species have compound eyes and three simple eyes called ocelli, others are completely blind. Why is that so and how does it reflect on their individual foraging capacities?

Cerapachys singularis. Scotia Sanctuary, NSW

A worker of Cerapachys singularis carries a pupae while moving nests. Scotia Sanctuary, NSW

Cerapachys edentatus. Canberra, ACT

Workers of the blind ant, Cerapachys edentatus. Canberra, ACT. What are the ants doing?

More pictures here.

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