**A guest post by Lauren Nichols about the School of Ants project**

Though you might hear about fungus farming ants and rampaging army ants in the wild jungles of the tropics, they are a far cry from the simple critters living around your house, right?  Think again!

If you’re willing to look, you can find the most amazing ants –with some incredibly ingenious and astounding life strategies – living right in your neighborhood.  In cities and forests along the East Coast we have army ants (Nievomyrmex texanus) that storm and pillage the nests of other ant colonies; we have pavement ants (Tetramorium caespitum) that wage epic sidewalk battles against other colonies to try to claim their turf; and ants (Crematogaster cerasi, for example) that herd aphids and milk them for the sweet sap they excrete, much like humans tending cows.  Then there are the harvester ants (Aphaenogaster fulva) that disperse the seeds of native plants, such as ginger root and trillium, and slave maker ants (Formica pergandei) that raid the colonies of other ants, kill their queen, and then use the host workers as forced labor.  And any of these could be living in your neighborhood!

So, what IS living in your backyard –or under your doormat, or on the median strip along the boulevard, or even in the ally behind your favorite Chinese restaurant?  Are you curious?  We certainly are!  Over the past year, our School of Ants project has recruited folks from over 110 cities across the United States to send us samples of the ants living in their neighborhoods.  We have received hundreds of samples! From the 230 samples we have processed so far, we have found 70 different species!

We are creating an interactive map of ant distributions across the United States.  Using the links on the map, you can see what species a collector found, learn more about each of the individual species, and see the species’ currently known distribution.  There is still so much to learn about what is living right here in our cities!

This Spring 2012, School of Ants is targeting three major Urban Areas:

  • Chicago
  • New York City
  • Raleigh-Durham

If you live in one of these areas, we need your help!  Visit the Get Started Link on the School of Ants Website to get instructions for creating your own collecting kit.