Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ant-Agonism


I’ve gotten a late start on the Blogger Bioblitz due to a death in my family, and I’ve downsized my site to a small patch just outside my favorite library. Mike over at 10,000 Birds suggests “going for what you know,” but I’m not enough of a naturalist to have a good specialty. Instead, my family and I are trying to id a little of everything on our little spot.

Almost immediately, I ran into a potential roadblock: ants. They’re clearly the most numerous animal in the dry, compacted soil I’m examining. Based on probabilities, the ones I found so far are a native species, little black ants. But with over 11,000 possibilities, how’s a non-myrmecologist BioBlitzer to know?

Burning Silo has kindly provided links to many online ID aids, but she hasn’t posted any for ants (or insects) yet. Here, the brilliance of my plan to blitz by the library becomes clear. I ducked inside and, while no ant field guides popped into view, I found what I needed. First, I spotted The Ants, by Bert Holldobler and E.O. Wilson. I remember the hoopla in 1991 when the exhaustive treatment (it weighs 3.4 kgs!) won the Pulitzer, despite tables, figures, and a bit of jargon. Wilson, to paraphrase Aldo Leopold, loves all biodiversity, but he is in love with ants. Combine his passion for ants and his erudite prose, and you have a readable work of astonishing scholarship.


At 732 pages, though, it may be a little intimidating--and quite heavy to haul afield. I also found a more svelte ant book I hadn’t heard of before, Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration by the same authors. Journey more succinctly explores why ants are such successful creatures and how dramatically they have evolved. Thank heavens I’m not ant-blitzing in the Amazon! Most valuable to any fellow blitzers may be a brief section of advice on conducting ant surveys, which recommends techniques (such as carrying watchmaker’s forceps and searching at night for nocturnal foragers) that hadn’t occurred to me. It’s also worth noting that the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation is an international supporter of citizen science in general and bioblitzing in particular. While I still won't be able to id every ant, at least I'll have a good book to read while watching for fauna that's easier to id.

I’m happy to report that today I also discovered another blog BioBlitzing in my Maryland county over at Field Marking. Their blitz appears to be part of a serious effort to study the use of web technologies to support ecological research and education. They’re way ahead of me in terms of time spent and expertise applied to their blitzing site. But their first post, at least, still doesn’t talk about ants. . . .

5 comments:

Cyd said...

Heh, that's because I don't know anything about ants either (this is me from FieldMarking). I found five or so different kinds while BioBlitzing but the only one I can identify so far is carpenter ant (because they infest my house every spring). While "starting with what you know" is fine, I can't resist the challenge of learning something totally new. Or maybe I'm just too stubborn to admit when I'm in over my head.

Cyd said...

By the way, did we meet at the Environmental Film Fest at Mt. Pleasant?

pinenut said...

Hi Cyd,

Yes, we did meet at the film fest. Ned Tilman introduced us, and I see that he's enjoying FieldMarking, too. Thanks for your encouragement to study stuff I know nothing about. That should keep me busy!

Cyd said...

I'm working with your bioblitz data and see that you didn't submit a latitude or longitude. If you buzz over to this website you can go grab one: http://www.ccalmr.ogi.edu/nanoos/latlon.php

You can chop off a few digits off the end if you want to be approximate. I'm going to put something random from Columbia until I hear something specific from you.

Cyd said...

Oh yes, and I've got the date at April 25. Let me know if that isn't right.