The tropical fungus-growing ants of Madison, Wisconsin

I apologize for the slow blogging this weekend. We took a little road trip up to beautiful Madison, Wisconsin and were too busy with bratwurst, cheese, beer, and roller derby to bother with the internet.

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Atta cephalotes in the fungus garden

The University of Wisconsin is home to Cameron Currie, whose lab is at the cutting edge of insect-fungus-microbe evolutionary biology. Cameron is one of the people who first realized that the classic ant/fungus mutualism was more complex than just the insect and the fungus, involving all sorts of microbes, including some that live on the ants' exoskeleton.

While we were in town, Cameron was kind enough to give me and my bag of camera gear access to his ant room. This is, as you might imagine, a room full of ants. Dozens of large tupperware containers stacked several high, each holding a thriving colony of leafcutters and their spongy fungus gardens.

I've only just now started processing the photographs, but here's a teaser. I'll be posting more in the coming weeks:

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Acromyrmex echinatior

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Acromyrmex octospinosus

photo details (top photo):
Canon EOS 50D camera

Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens

ISO 200, f/8, 1/125sec

Indirect strobe bounced off a white board




photo details (middle and bottom photos):

Canon EOS 50D camera

Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens

ISO 100, f/13, 1/250sec

Diffused MT-24EX twin flash



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That Acromyrmex echinatior shot is amazing.

These are great. I look forward to seeing your other pictures. As for Madison, sorry we couldn't have given you better weather. It hit 75+ for a few days back in March and the past weekend was the first stretch of cold, rainy weather that we've had this spring.

Ted: that's a keen insight. Attine ants have lost their sting and, unlike most stingless ants, haven't compensated by stepping up with chemical weaponry (perhaps it might complicate the delicate ecological balance of their fungus gardens?). So they are heavily armored instead.

Wow, you made our ants look great. I wish I would have gotten the chance to meet you while you were in Madison. I've been a big fan of your photography ever since I started in the Currie Lab.

Ah fantastic Alex, Martin and Howard will be filming them in a couple of weeks! I love your blog, I come here all the time!

Nadege, the researcher at Ammonite