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Cane toad, Bufo marinus, are large toxic animals that are native to Central and South America and were introduced to Australia in 1935 to eradicate sugarcane beetles. These toads however have had detrimental effects on native Australian fauna – including marsupials, snakes & lizards. Checking the spread of these toads has been a task next to impossible. Recent work from Rick Shine’s lab shows that the diurnal toads somehow fail to detect approaching Iridomyrmex reburrus ants, and the ants kill and feed on the toads. Read more about this latest research where the authors report their findings and discuss the possibility of using these ants to control cane toad spread.

Reference: Ward-Fear G et al., 2009. Maladaptive traits in invasive species: in Australia cane toads are more vulnerable to predatory ants than are native frogs. Functional Ecology: DOI 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2009.01556.x
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In some ant species males are known to aggregate and wait to attract females, while in others females stay put at a particular place & attract males. However, there is surprisingly little known about where and when ants prefer to mate and hence this recent article is a welcome addition. In this article Noordijk & others set up window traps in 3 locations: open field, forest edge and in the forest to capture flying ants. They set up pitfall traps to identify the ants that occupy these 3 regions. They studied six ant species Lasius umbratus, Lasius niger, Myrmica rubra, Myrmcia ruginodis, Stenamma debile and Temnothorax nylanderi. By regularly checking the window traps from April to December, they were able to identify specific duration of nuptial flights for each ant species. 

The really interesting bit is that though nesting habitats of Temnothorax nylanderi, Myrmica rubra & Myrmcia ruginodis were located in forests, maximum alates were captured in the forest edges. Though nesting locations of Lasius niger was in the open field, alates were captured not only in the the open field, but also along forest edges & in the forest. The pitfall traps failed to capture Stenamma debile and Lasius umbratus, but alates of these two species were captured in the window traps. And guess where the maximum alates were found – forest edges! The authors suggest that preference of forests edges might have something do with specific micro-climate the ants require. But they think it could be more to do with the edges acting as a conspicuous landmark which ants use to find mates. For now, I am leaning towards the second possibility.

Read this article here:

Noordijk et al. How ants find each other; temporal and spatial patterns in nuptial flights. Insect Soc. DOI 10.1007/s00040-008-1002-9

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For all of us who are unsure if the ant we have in hand is the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile or not, Alex Wild gives us a clear idea of what to look for. Even if you do not have this ant in your hand or where you come from (lucky you!), give it a read to see its distribution and key morphological features.

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Lighting plays a crucial role in making an picture look presentable both technically and aesthetically. So what if the animal is nocturnal and hates light but is loved by the camera??
Here is a ant called Rhytidoponera which I found while I was at Nadgee nature reserve, a few kilometers south of Eden on the east coast of Australia. I found a nest of these ants so close to where my tent was pitched that I could watch them by actually lying down on the sleeping mat with half of me jutting outside the tent! One of those days, by late in the evening, after finishing off some experiments with solitary wasps, I set up the sleeping mat, flicked on the torch and lay there watching these fellows go about their work. They became active just before sunset and continued activity all through the night, till sunrise. They regularly returned to the nest with dead insects. I tried taking some pictures but with light levels being very low, it was proving to be a challenge. The twin lite flash I use comes with a lamp but the light was just too bright and almost always scared the ants away. So after having taken pictures for a couple of hours with no luck, I gave up and decided that just watching them may be a better option. Soon I realised that I could predict where an ant returning to its nest would be say after 5 secs. I decided to see if this would allow me to take some pictures which meant clicking in completing darkness. It turned out that in a matter of 30 mins I actually had a few nice pictures [see one below]. A gentle drizzle in the night led to a rain drop on the ant also being captured.
More and some new images of Rhytidoponera here.
A Rhytidoponera species returns to its nest carrying parts of a bull ant, Myrmecia pyriformis.
Photographed at 0215 hrs; Nadgee Nature Reserve, NSW, Australia

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Back from Alice

Been absconding for almost a month now! The most significant bit during this period was a visit to Alice to watch Melophorus bagoti. Here we began an ambitious project of trying to determine what is that the ants see while returning to the nest. While watching Melophorus, by sheer luck I ended up finding the Muscle-man ants Podomyrma species (pictured) in this site, a species which I hadn’t seen here since 2003! So, yes in short that was really exciting!

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Asian Myrmecology

Just heard from the Editors of the Journal, that all articles in the first issue of Asian Myrmecology are available for free download. Kudos to them!

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Measuring Science

Answer from the hero in Leo Szilard’s 1948 story “The Mark Gable Foundation” when asked by a wealthy entrepreneur who believes that science has progressed too quickly, what he should do to retard this progress:


You could set up a foundation with an annual endowment of thirty million dollars. Research workers in need of funds could apply for grants, if they could make a convincing case. Have ten committees, each composed of twelve scientists, appointed to pass on these applications. Take the most active scientists out of the laboratory and make them members of these committees. First of all, the best scientists would be removed from their laboratories and kept busy on committees passing on applications for funds. Secondly the scientific workers in need of funds would concentrate on problems which were considered promising and were pretty certain to lead to publishable results. By going after the obvious, pretty soon science would dry out. Science would become something like a parlor game. There would be fashions. Those who followed the fashions would get grants. Those who wouldn’t would not.”


Read more at:
Lawrence PA, 2007.
The mismeasurement of science. Current Biology 17 (15): R583-R585

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