Behind the Science: Painting ants and cracking acorns

Stepping into the lab last week, you would have no idea that the summer — for our undergraduates, at least — is winding to an end and that the academic school year is about to start. Last Tuesday I found Joe Karlik and Hanna Moxley, both rising seniors, busy running research trials and starting new experiments in the lab.

Joe Karlik has been trying to figure out why Temnothorax curvispinosus (also known as acorn ants) often stick their larvae and pupae, known as “brood,” to the roof of the acorns nuts in which they live. Why hang your babies from the rafters? One possibility is that there is a temperature gradient within the acorn and the ants are pushing their brood up to the top of the acorn where the air is slightly warmer and the brood can develop faster. To test this, Joe artificially creates controlled temperature gradients in the acorns. I watched as he put acorns full of ant colonies in a temperature device that cooled the lower surface of the acorn and used a heat lamp to warm the top and then carefully monitored the activity inside the acorns.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the lab, Hanna Moxley was busy painting the rear ends, also known as “gasters,” of Formica pallidefulva ants with white paint. Hanna has spent part of the summer studying the immune response of these ants and is now trying to figure out how pathogens and immune response might affect how ants interact with each other. By video-taping the painted ants she will be able to use special tracking software to follow the ants and record their interactions.

To see more photos from the lab this week, visit the Your Wild Life Flickr page.

Joe Karlik holds up an acorn containing a colony of Temnothorax curvispinosus ants.

Entire Temnothorax ant colonies live inside a single acorn.

Joe Karlik checks on his acorn ant experiment

Joe Karlik checks on his acorn ant experiment.

Hannah Moxley carefully paints the rear end of a Field ant so that she can track its interactions with other ants.

Hanna Moxley carefully paints the rear end of a field ant so that she can track its interactions with other ants.

Field ants that have been painted so that Hannah can track their interactions.

Field ants that have been painted so that Hanna can track their interactions.

 

 

 

By | 2016-11-22T13:46:57+00:00 August 19th, 2014|

About the Author:

Leave A Comment