This August, whilst those back in Auckland endured the worst of winter, I popped over to Portal, Arizona, to participate in the one and only Ant Course. The 10 day course, run by Dr Brian Fisher from the California Academy of Sciences, is a workshop designed for those researching various aspects of ant biology. Run at the Southwestern Research Station in the Chiricahua Mountains, the area boasts the richest ant fauna in North America. Although Ant Course focuses on the evolution, classification and identification of ant genera, a broad range of ant biology was taught, meaning I came back home with a new myrmecologist skill-set.
One of the first tasks we were given was to dissect an ant, which is, well, about just as difficult as dissecting an ant sounds. Fortunately microscope work was broken up with collecting trips in the field which also demonstrated various sampling methods as well as a seminar series covering topics from systematics to ant behaviour and invasive ant research. As such, we covered many different aspects of ant research and were introduced to some amazing people conducting exciting research in the ant world. Some of the attending students even worked together under the guidance of Dr Adrian Smith to create videos on various research areas of ant biology, which you can view here.
Although the work at Ant Course was hardly tiresome (I do wish every day was Ant Course), we had time to relax in the pool and were even fortunate enough one night to visit a local rodeo and meet up with some real-life cowboys. And ants aside, the area is host to a diverse range of animals (native mammals!, snakes and other neat reptiles, birds the size of moths, bats all over the place), which I took great delight in spotting. Perhaps my favourite activity was turning over rocks at night looking for vinegaroons.
I’m back in Auckland now and waiting for the weather to buck up a bit, so I can putwhat I learnt to practise with my upcoming field season!
Oh, and I’m now signing off as Anna the Antbassador. Cheerio!
Anna Probert is a PhD student in the Centre for Biodiversity & Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. She is using ants as a model to assess the risk posed by exotic invertebrates to native ecosystems. She is supervised by Margaret Stanley, Jacqueline Beggs, and Darren Ward.