The Obstacles of the Ant Life

Hello, my name is Ainsley Springer and I am a 4th year Environmental Sciences major. For my survey, I focused on collecting and identifying ants within the Brown College location. While there were several anthills around, I came into some difficulty in trying to collect them. My troubles, just to name a few, were passerby unknowingly stepping on or riding their bikes over the collection cards, squirrels stealing the ant bait (figure 1), and wasps chasing me away. While I was sitting on a bench, waiting for the ants to be lured to my baits, I wondered what kind of obstacles researchers gathering ants and even ants themselves must come across on a daily basis.

Figure 1: Squirrel that stole my cookie bait.
Figure 1: Squirrel that stole my cookie bait.

A bit of research brought me to a blog written by Amy Savage, a Ph. D. student at North Carolina State University who is working on the School of Ants Project. Her blog listed the top five challenges of studying ant in New York City. Along with security cops and cars constantly reminding her that working on medians is dangerous, she soon learned that some medians are sprayed with rat poison! This was troubling news for Savage because she uses an aspirator to collect the ants. An aspirator is basically an ant vacuum that requires you to suck air through one tube and ants go into a bottle via another tube. This means that she could have been inhaling rat poison if she hadn’t have learned of this quickly. Another obstacle for researchers is the rats and other rodents that are local to the study area. As I learned myself, squirrels and rats can constantly disturb your ant traps.

As for the ants themselves, they can have many predators beyond the pesky researchers. Ant predators include several species of caterpillars, slugs, beetles, and maggots. Their greatest enemy, however, are ants themselves. Some smaller species of ants are able to sneak their way into the nests of larger ant species and steal their food by building connecting their tunnels. Other ants actually enslave other ants to work for their colonies and often even pre-chew their food for them.

It’s hard to imagine how the lives of these tiny little ants can be so complex, but when given some thought and research, it’s hard not to appreciate all that they do.

Post by Ainsley Springer, Fourth-Year, Environmental Sciences