An enthusiast attends the Ant Course


[The following contribution is by Ant Course participant 'Harpegnathos']

I am not a professional myrmecologist and have had no formal education in entomology, but after I obtained a copy of Hölldobler and Wilson's The Ants in 1994, an abiding interest in ants turned into a passion. Over the years I acquired a microscope, a camera for photographing ants, every ant book Amazon sells, a better microscope, better camera gear. I became a participant and eventually a moderator in the American ant enthusiast internet site, The Ant Farm and Myrmecology Forum (antfarm.yuku.com). I studied ants in the field while living in Europe and several American States, with further travel to Africa and the Middle East. I learned how to collect and preserve specimens, some of which found their way to university collections. But my skills are self-taught, and with no face-to-face interaction with real myrmecologists, I missed the benefit of professional feedback, advice, and direction. Reading books and papers has its limits.

Of course when I heard about Ant Course, I had to apply. Of course seats are limited and priority goes to university students and researchers who need the course for their work, so I didn't get in. So I applied again. And again. And again. After applying five times (or six?), I finally was accepted to attend this year's iteration in Kibale Forest, Uganda. So now I'm here, surrounded by real myrmecologists and students of myrmecology, with an opportunity to learn all the things that I could never learn from books, like how to actually pronounce all those crazy Latin and Greek names, such as clypeus, pygidium, Pachycondyla, Odontomachus, and Dolichoderinae!

Except it turns out no two myrmecologists pronounce these words the same way. O-dont-o-MOCK-us, o-dont-o-MAKE-us, to-MAH-to, to-MAY-to. Still, I am learning plenty of other skills I would never have figured out on my own, and I'm meeting some great people. Plus the ants here in Kibale Forest are amazingly diverse and endlessly fascinating. Here are a couple of photographs from the first few days in Uganda:

king3.jpgCamponotus tending scale insects, Entebbe Botanical Garden.

king2.jpgStrumigenys rescuing brood from intrusive myrmecologists.

king1.jpgA new species of Tetramorium, nicknamed the "Teddy Bear Ant," carrying a termite.

- Harpegnathos@antfarm

[update 8/10: ant expert Barry Bolton emails in identifications for the species pictured above as Camponotus probably brutus, Strumigenys probably lujae, and Tetramorium pulcherrimum.]

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