Myrmecos

Have an ant question?

You’re in luck! Antweb has added an excellent blog to handle submitted questions. The answer squad is headed by myrmecologists at the Chicago Field Museum, and so far they’ve fielded queries about what ants do in winter, whether fire ants will reach the northern U.S., the difference between ants and termites, and several others.

Send your questions to askantweb@calacademy.org.

Comments

  1. #1 Ted C. MacRae
    April 26, 2010

    Looks like a good resource for us non-ant specialists.

  2. #2 Cathryn Miller
    April 26, 2010

    About 20 years ago (or more!) I tried to find out why my cat was so excited by particular ant hills: her response was similar to inhaling catnip — licking, rolling, drooling.

    That cat doesn’t exist anymore, but subsequent felines continue the behaviour.

    I called various departments at the University of Saskatchewan and various research councils on campus. Everyone that I spoke to assumed that I wanted to kill the ants.

    No, I am quite happy that ants have lives too! I merely wanted to know what chemical these particular ants were exuding that made my cat a bit ‘wonky’, like she was on catnip. The usual formic acid doesn’t explain the behaviour.

    I still wonder: it’s Spring here and my most recent cat shows all the signs.

    The ants are very black (?) and very small, and the cat gets very excited when she finds them when the weather warms up. I am not a good enough photographer to get a really good shot, so I am hoping that you have some chemical info!

  3. #3 Joshua King
    April 26, 2010

    I’m wondering how one makes a career out of studying ants. I used to think that is what I did, but apparently now I just grade papers.

  4. #4 Alex Wild
    April 26, 2010

    Cathryn-

    That’s an intriguing observation. Ants in the subfamily dolichoderinae can produce chemicals (iridomyrmecin, for example) that are related to catnip. If you cat was indulging in ants, I’m guessing that’s the culprit.

    Given your location, the species is likely the Odorous House Ant (Tapinoma sessile), which per your description is small and normally dark in color.

  5. #5 Roberto Keller
    April 26, 2010

    Cool! Do you think I can ask them why does the latest paper about Dolichoderinae phylogeny in Systematic Biology did not include Formicinae among their outgroups? ;)

  6. #6 Jack Jumper
    April 26, 2010

    I see all the photo in that blog are yours.

    Those brown bull ants we have must rate as the longest ant they some 30-40mm in length.

  7. #7 Cathryn Miller
    April 27, 2010

    Thanks! Presumably the Odorous House Ant’s production of these chemicals is not continuous as the cat will sometimes ignore an ant hill that she previously found fascinating.

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