Myrmecos’ Alex Wild pays a visit to Italy

Hey, apparently a while ago Alex Wild of Myrmecos visited Parma, an Emilia-Romagna city not too distant from where I live! But what was he doing there? He was in collaboration with local researchers to start a project in which the local population (in this case, elementary school kids) would be directly involved into ant research, which is totally awesome. I was really envious when I read on Wild’s blog of similar projects that took place in America, because this kind of things both help researchers collect data on large territories and manages to sparkle more interest and understanding for science and biodiversity in non-scientists; since here in Italy there’s basically no real support for scientific research, I thought we would never start something like that, which would have been a pity because our nation, thanks to the enormous diversity of geographic and climate conditions, has the richest biodiversity in all Europe. Well, apparently (and fortunately) I was wrong, since this new initiative follows the american model: it consist in leaving open vials containing a bait (usually a piece of a cookie) in various places with different conditions (grass, concrete…), wait for local ants to enter them, then capture the insects. At this point, the citizen can attempt an identification, but more importently can record data on when, where, etc… the specimens where captured, then freeze the ants, pack them with the data and send them to experts, helping them to study the distribution and ecology of these amazingly important organisms. So, overall, that’s great news for italian biodiversity research. One minor note to Alex Wild’s otherwise excellent article: I kind of rolled my eyes reading “…the students went back inside to talk about what they had found and then, I assume, it being Parma, eat pasta and/or pizza for lunch…”. It’s a little bit weird. Yes, pizza and the pasta can be found everywhere in Italy, of course, but come on, you make me feel like this guy.

Videos about Hymenoptera

Just a couple cool videos I’ve discovered thanks to Science Memebase. In both cases, the protagonists are hymenopterans, the group of insects that includes wasps, bees and ants. Although there are many species of solitary hymenopterans (at least in the case of bees and wasps), these critters are of course mainly known for their complex and sometimes abnormally huge societies. And these videos really seem to highlight the importance of cooperation between the individuals of these colonies.

The first video shows an incredible behaviour of fire ants that create a nearly-impossible-to-sink raft – with their bodies. I knew they could make long bridges, but I had never realized how waterproof the structures they created could be. This incredible level of coordination shows how the use of the term “superorganism” to describe these colonies is not only correct, but also mandatory.

The second video shows a classic battle between two old rivals – with a musical twist. The main characters are the european honeybees Apis mellifera and the deadly Japanese Hornets Vespa mandarinia japonica, an Apoidea and a Vespoidea respectively (both part of the Aculeata). The author o the video added an epic music track for added spectacularity, and the results are awesome. Should epic soundtracks be implemented in nature documentaries? I don’t think it’s such a bad idea: life is epic, give it a proper musical score.

The Japanese Hornets prey the eggs and larvae of the bees, after finding their colonies thanks to scouts sent to explore the territory. One of the coolest facts of this eternal war is the way the bees can counter the presence of a scout: they swarm on it and start vibrating their bodies until the temperature gets so high that the hornet is cooked alive. Fuck yeah.