Getting Antsy About Hand Collecting

Fundy had finally given us clear skies and sunlight; with an optimistic feel in the air we decided to take advantage of the weather, and do some terrestrial hand collecting on the East Branch Trail.  The trail was beautiful, with moss blanketing the forest floor and high evergreens scattering shade on the ground.  Sunlight peaked through and showered the ground, highlighting the bright greens and making it a perfect site to collect.  We used an aspirator and forceps to collect the insects found by disturbing leaf litter, peeling away bark and decaying material, sweeping the air with nets or looking under rocks.  We all encountered fast moving ground beetles that eluded capture by scurrying quickly through their habitat and we all found many larval forms of insects we did not readily recognise upon collection.

Katelyn Lutes using an aspirator to capture some ants on East Branch Trail in Fundy National Park.
Katelyn Lutes using an aspirator to capture some ants on East Branch Trail in Fundy National Park.

Through my searching and collecting, I found many ant colonies that scattered in panic as I disturbed them.  After aspirating some of these Formicidae, I noted that many were using their mandibles to transport and congregate small larvae together; I was subject to the exceptional social skills and collaboration the insects exhibit.  The ants I witnessed scurrying on the underside of an infested log were legless larvae and worker adults.  The adults tend to and feed the juveniles, which are confined to the interior of the nest and are immobile.  Observing all the ants in my vial, I noted that those collected (and likely the whole colony) is comprised of all females.  This is because males are produced occasionally from unfertilized eggs and are only used for reproduction.  Once a male has mated with the female queen and immediately dies, she is equipped to produce a lifetime of offspring with stored sperm from that male.  This also explains why ants aide each other and work together within the colony; sister ants are more closely related to each other than they are to their daughters.  The queen produces offspring giving them half of her DNA and half of the father’s stored DNA.  The offspring receive the same set of paternal genes, and another differing set of maternal genes.  Thus, half of the genes that the sisters are given are guaranteed to be identical.  Their daughters receive a different set of paternal genes, and are not as closely related.  This helps to explain the social behaviour of the ants.  If an ant aides the growth and development of her sisters, there is a greater likelihood of her genetic information being passed on and succeeding in the future.

– Katelyn

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