1610: "Fire Ants"

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1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Reecer6 » Mon Nov 30, 2015 12:13 pm UTC

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Title Text: "Here in the entomology department, we have a simple two-step formula for answering any question: (1) ants are cool, and (2) we forgot the question because we were thinking about ants."

Ants ARE really cool, when they're not just weird. Like, they've got such perfect organizational skills and they still don't function democratically? At some point an ant has GOT to have thought about revolution, but no, science has never recorded any such incident.

At least they're communist. It may only work on paper, but ants are small enough that they can live on top of paper, so everything's fine.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby cellocgw » Mon Nov 30, 2015 12:19 pm UTC

Fire ants? I'd rather hire ants!

(Hey, it's early Monday after a lot of Thanksgiving feasts and staying up too late to watch the Pats choke. I'll try to do better next post.)
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby kasmeneo » Mon Nov 30, 2015 12:26 pm UTC

On first glimpse I read the title as "Fine Arts".
It's cooler up here.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby puppysized » Mon Nov 30, 2015 12:45 pm UTC

Yep, I saw "Fine Arts" too. Woops.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Xenomortis » Mon Nov 30, 2015 1:00 pm UTC

Reecer6 wrote:Like, they've got such perfect organizational skills and they still don't function democratically? At some point an ant has GOT to have thought about revolution, but no, science has never recorded any such incident.

Revolution is the product of idle minds; ants are too busy getting shit done.
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby moody7277 » Mon Nov 30, 2015 1:34 pm UTC

The lesson is, unless you are that fascinated by ants, entomology grad school isn't for you.
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Kit. » Mon Nov 30, 2015 2:08 pm UTC

Reecer6 wrote:At least they're communist. It may only work on paper, but ants are small enough that they can live on top of paper, so everything's fine.

"Wonderful theory, right species".

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Echo244 » Mon Nov 30, 2015 2:21 pm UTC

She's got a point about the ants. I wish someone had given me career advice like this.
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Mikeski » Mon Nov 30, 2015 2:31 pm UTC

Xenomortis wrote:ants are too busy getting shit done.

Nope, even something as programmable as an ant can't get theoretical communism/socialism right. They do it the same way humans do.

"They found that around 25 percent of the ants were inactive throughout the study. Differences in rest schedules and work shifts didn't explain the difference, because no matter what time the videos were taken, the same ants were still standing around."

"The situation remained the same when the researchers removed six busy ants from one colony [of 30 ants]; the busy ants that remained had to work even harder while the lazy ants continued to do little or no work."

However, "Hasegawa said the idle ants could be contributing something to the colony that they have not yet determined." So maybe they're ant bureaucrats, and human bureaucrats may be contributing something undetermined to human society in the same way...

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby terjung » Mon Nov 30, 2015 2:31 pm UTC

Living in Florida, I can assure you that fire ants are, in fact, not cool.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby commodorejohn » Mon Nov 30, 2015 2:31 pm UTC

Now I can't stop picturing a kind of ant D-Day with ants in landing craft made of ants.

Leiningen better look into air support.
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Nov 30, 2015 2:36 pm UTC

Mikeski wrote:
Xenomortis wrote:ants are too busy getting shit done.

Nope, even something as programmable as an ant can't get theoretical communism/socialism right. They do it the same way humans do.

"They found that around 25 percent of the ants were inactive throughout the study. Differences in rest schedules and work shifts didn't explain the difference, because no matter what time the videos were taken, the same ants were still standing around."

"The situation remained the same when the researchers removed six busy ants from one colony [of 30 ants]; the busy ants that remained had to work even harder while the lazy ants continued to do little or no work."

However, "Hasegawa said the idle ants could be contributing something to the colony that they have not yet determined." So maybe they're ant bureaucrats, and human bureaucrats may be contributing something undetermined to human society in the same way...
Oh ok, so you didn't read the rest of the study, that specifically addresses the advantage of having an inactivate labor pool?


On another note - yes, doubts about grad school.
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Mikeski » Mon Nov 30, 2015 3:15 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Oh ok, so you didn't read the rest of the study, that specifically addresses the advantage of having an inactivate labor pool?

I would have thought that the Japanese study (removing "active" laborers) would "activate" the inactive ones. They're apparently not just "inactive reserves" waiting for their turn...

And the "rest of the study" consisted of what I'd call guessing and speculation, not scientific observation. (Which is, of course, the first part of the scientific method.) I'm willing to read a study that does the rest of the work and shows that the inactive ones have a real purpose...

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Kit. » Mon Nov 30, 2015 3:26 pm UTC

Mikeski wrote:So maybe they're ant bureaucrats

Maybe they have ants skills.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby ucim » Mon Nov 30, 2015 3:40 pm UTC

Mikeski wrote:"The situation remained the same when the researchers removed six busy ants from one colony [of 30 ants]; the busy ants that remained had to work even harder while the lazy ants continued to do little or no work."
What happened when they removed the lazy ants? That's what I would have tried.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Nov 30, 2015 3:51 pm UTC

Mikeski wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:Oh ok, so you didn't read the rest of the study, that specifically addresses the advantage of having an inactivate labor pool?

I would have thought that the Japanese study (removing "active" laborers) would "activate" the inactive ones. They're apparently not just "inactive reserves" waiting for their turn...

And the "rest of the study" consisted of what I'd call guessing and speculation, not scientific observation. (Which is, of course, the first part of the scientific method.) I'm willing to read a study that does the rest of the work and shows that the inactive ones have a real purpose...

Presumably you're talking about the most recently circulated report on colony activity levels, which was published by Daniel Charbonneau and Anna Dornhaus at UofArizona, and makes a number of well supported suggestions for why a significant pool may appear inactive?
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Mikeski » Mon Nov 30, 2015 3:54 pm UTC

ucim wrote:
Mikeski wrote:"The situation remained the same when the researchers removed six busy ants from one colony [of 30 ants]; the busy ants that remained had to work even harder while the lazy ants continued to do little or no work."
What happened when they removed the lazy ants? That's what I would have tried.

That would be a reasonable first cut at testing the "do these ants have a job we can't identify" hypothesis. Do other hard-working ants turn "lazy" to do that work if all the "lazy" ones go away?

Unfortunately, I have clickbaity web articles, and not an entomology department, so I don't know. (I'm also unsure about my "ant paint disrupts ant chemical signaling" hypothesis, or anything else that might break their theories.)

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Mikeski » Mon Nov 30, 2015 4:03 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
Mikeski wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:Oh ok, so you didn't read the rest of the study, that specifically addresses the advantage of having an inactivate labor pool?

I would have thought that the Japanese study (removing "active" laborers) would "activate" the inactive ones. They're apparently not just "inactive reserves" waiting for their turn...

And the "rest of the study" consisted of what I'd call guessing and speculation, not scientific observation. (Which is, of course, the first part of the scientific method.) I'm willing to read a study that does the rest of the work and shows that the inactive ones have a real purpose...

Presumably you're talking about the most recently circulated report on colony activity levels, which was published by Daniel Charbonneau and Anna Dornhaus at UofArizona, and makes a number of well supported suggestions for why a significant pool may appear inactive?

For that comment, I'm talking about the Japanese study mentioned here, and linked in my original post (there were 2 links there.)

My other link is to an article about your study (which has your springer.com link embedded in it). It says "Why do so many ants dedicate themselves to doing so little? Charbonneau and Dornhaus’ study didn’t try to figure that out, but they suggest plenty of ideas that can be tested." (emphasis mine.) i.e. they only have hypotheses, even if "well-supported" ones.

Though they're using different species of ant, both studies say about the same thing (20-33% of ants do nothing, but we haven't tested why... other than the Japanese study taking a stab at the "reserve ant" hypothesis.)

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby rmsgrey » Mon Nov 30, 2015 4:09 pm UTC

Maybe the idle ants are the red-spider defense force?

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Nov 30, 2015 4:11 pm UTC

Mikeski wrote:For that comment, I'm talking about the Japanese study mentioned here, and linked in my original post (there were 2 links there.)
Right - this is a pretty old finding. What is new here is another species being confirmed as engaging in this behavior. EDIT: And, another confirmation that the reservist model is not what is going on in this situation. Which is, mind you, not a a perfect examination of the hive at large, since it's taking 30 ants.

Mikeski wrote:My other link is to an article about your study (which has your springer.com link embedded in it). It says "Why do so many ants dedicate themselves to doing so little? Charbonneau and Dornhaus’ study didn’t try to figure that out, but they suggest plenty of ideas that can be tested." (emphasis mine.) i.e. they only have hypotheses, even if "well-supported" ones.
I didn't say they 'tried to figure it out'. I said they made a number of well supported suggestions for why there would be an inactive labor pool, including the possibility that they're not actually inactive, either because of the observational paradigm (5m videos every 4 hrs) or the ants actually engaging in other behaviors we cannot observe.

My point is that you're sort of taking pop-science at face value. The finding isn't 'most ants do nothing AND NO ONE KNOWS WHY!' but 'there are interesting behaviors here that need to be studied, and etymologists have a number of hypotheses to test'. Which, for a one off comment is fine and all, I'm just trying to clarify that there's more to the story than either The Japan Times or Mental Floss are telling.
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Mikeski » Mon Nov 30, 2015 4:24 pm UTC

A difference in a production engineer's perspective vs. a scientist's perspective, maybe.

Nobody's going to let me spend millions to build a microchip based on "well-supported suggestions", so I consider "well-supported suggestions" to be on the "guessing" side of the "guessing" to "knowledge" spectrum.

Though with all the statistical techniques creeping in at sub-20nm technologies, I'm building things based on more and more guesses all the time...

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Neil_Boekend » Mon Nov 30, 2015 5:42 pm UTC

But the state "well-supported suggestions" is a solid step up from the state "We've got no clue what's going on" and that is a solid step up from the state "We've got no clue that there is something going on". There are just a couple of additional steps required before you want to do engineering with it as an input.

I'm an engineer too. IMHO a good engineer needs to be able to switch to the researcher/scientist perspective: you usually try to find all the applicable data before you start engineering. That "finding data" is more of a researcher/scientific perspective. Only what you do with it afterwards is what I consider the actual engineering. You first need to understand the problem, the whole problem with all it's nuances and boundary conditions, as best as you can find data before you can engineer a solution for it.
In this you, as an engineer, will probably have used the researcher perspective somewhere. Unless you've been either flying blind or you've had everything served to you on a silver platter. Even when you start a new job, there is usually a lot of figuring out involved: What is the exact task, what should I know for that task, where can I find that information. The basic perspective required to figure that out is a researcher perspective, albeit one that we all need to switch to once in a while.

AFAIK, part of being a scientist is preferring that perspective above all others. Trying to gather data on the world/universe, figuring out how the world works and how to predict it (mostly as a validation for theory). However, I am not an actual scientist an this forum is filled to the brim with actual scientists.
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Nov 30, 2015 5:45 pm UTC

Yeah, it's a semantics issue then - 'well supported suggestions' means 'what other experts in the field theorize may explain this phenomenon based on their expertise and understanding of the field at large'.

It doesn't mean 'wild unsupported speculation pulled out of their ass'. I suppose a good enough analogy would be if someone asked you if a certain machine you have lots of experience using could make thing x, and while you weren't sure if it could or couldn't make thing x, based on your experience with the machine, you could probably hazard a reasonable 'well supported suggestion'.
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby chenille » Mon Nov 30, 2015 6:15 pm UTC

Reecer6 wrote:At some point an ant has GOT to have thought about revolution, but no, science has never recorded any such incident.

I guess it depends what you mean by revolution – a whole new order or a coup. Colonies normally work as a unit but not necessarily when there are problems. In some social insects like bumblebees, you actually do get cases where workers start laying their own eggs and may even kill the queen. I don't know if there are cases like that among ants, but they tend to rely on worker policing to limit eggs and do sometimes have struggles for power, so it doesn't seem impossible.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Mikeski » Mon Nov 30, 2015 8:50 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Yeah, it's a semantics issue then - 'well supported suggestions' means 'what other experts in the field theorize may explain this phenomenon based on their expertise and understanding of the field at large'. It doesn't mean 'wild unsupported speculation pulled out of their ass'.

Yup, semantics. I put both "well-reasoned and widely-held beliefs" and "unsubstantiated ass-pulls" in the "believed/guessed/assumed" column, and not in the "known" column. (Granted, the former are much more likely to become "known" than the latter.) But for traditional science, especially something as testable as "ants", I think some repeatable experiments are needed for something to be considered "known to be true".

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Flumble » Mon Nov 30, 2015 9:03 pm UTC

Isn't this field called antomology?

(I can't believe no one made that pun yet; and I've only seen etymology once)

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby yakkoTDI » Mon Nov 30, 2015 10:58 pm UTC

terjung wrote:Living in Florida, I can assure you that fire ants are, in fact, not cool.


I live in Florida as well. Ants are cool no matter where you live as long as they do not invade your sleeping space.


cellocgw wrote:Fire ants? I'd rather hire ants!

(Hey, it's early Monday after a lot of Thanksgiving feasts and staying up too late to watch the Pats choke. I'll try to do better next post.)


Made me laugh so you are good.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Feenicks » Tue Dec 01, 2015 1:12 am UTC

ants, wacky critters

Army ants use own bodies to build movable bridges
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-24/a ... es/6968276
http://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/ ... odies.html

Chris Reid shows that Argentine ants can solve Towers of Hanoi
http://sydney.edu.au/news/sobs/1699.htm ... oryid=6164

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby commodorejohn » Tue Dec 01, 2015 2:32 am UTC

Feenicks wrote:Chris Reid shows that Argentine ants can solve Towers of Hanoi
http://sydney.edu.au/news/sobs/1699.htm ... oryid=6164

Okay, now we just need some way to benchmark ant-based ToH solutions against existing implementations on different platforms.
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Tova » Tue Dec 01, 2015 4:35 am UTC

Thank you for subscribing to Ant Facts™.

It's interesting to reflect that you could make your very own hilarious custom xkcd by substituting your favourite topic and a random cool fact about that topic.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby keithl » Tue Dec 01, 2015 6:35 am UTC

The stationary ants referred to above perform a very valuable service to the colony. They attract scientists, who establish and feed more colonies in order to study stationary ants. Thus, standing still and puzzling the hell out of scientists confers a strong evolutionary advantage to ant colonies with the genes for it.

BTW, I am currently reading "Animal wise: the thoughts and emotions of our fellow creatures" by Virginia Morell. Popsci selective-attention journalism, but the previous chapter was about British scientists studying ants. This means the ants are not only exploiting scientists, they are controlling the minds of journalists and book readers, who will demand more government funding for myrmecological ethology. Soon, all of us will have rooms devoted to ant study, and spend our entire incomes on ant food. World domination!

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby orthogon » Tue Dec 01, 2015 7:36 am UTC

Artificial Intelligence or ant food: it's the question we all face.
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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby ps.02 » Wed Dec 02, 2015 5:24 am UTC

keithl wrote:This means the ants are not only exploiting scientists, they are controlling the minds of journalists and book readers, who will demand more government funding for myrmecological ethology.

Oh man, ever since I met a myrmecologist, and thus learned the term, I've had a sort of smug impatience with people who describe ant researchers merely as entomologists. One of my many failings. But if you're gonna use a nonspecific term, why not scientists or, better yet, natural philosophers?

Come to think of it, I wish the crackeds and buzzfeeds would go that direction. "6 Everyday Phenomena (That Natural Philosophy Can't Explain)."


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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby pogrmman » Thu Aug 31, 2017 3:26 am UTC



Fire ant rafts are pretty nifty. Aside from the fact that if you get in one, that's hundreds of stings. That's not fun. At all. Especially if the stings are under your waistband. And in your crotch. And if they are trapped down there..., well, you get the gist of it. It's not fun and it takes quite a while to heal.

Researchers take advantage of this rafting to collect mature colonies for study -- they dig up a nest and dump the dirt into a bucket with PTFE around the top (so they don't crawl out). They then slowly flood the nest, and all the ants and many brood float up in a big raft, which is scooped up and put into a nest for study. Or into a bin to breed phorid flies.

I wouldn't be surprised if these floods don't suppress the populations much, if any. They are native to a habitat that periodically floods, so they are very well adapted for it (unlike many/most native species in this area).

I hope people don't get bad stings from these rafts of them. A few stings hurt, but once you're are into the hundred+ range, it really is uncomfortable. At least when it happened to me, I felt really weird just all over -- even away from the stings. They also take a lot longer to heal en masse than individually, seemingly.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Mike Rosoft » Thu Aug 31, 2017 4:58 am UTC

yakkoTDI wrote:I live in Florida as well. Ants are cool no matter where you live as long as they do not invade your sleeping space.


Ants are cool if they invade your fridge, though.

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Re: 1610: "Fire Ants"

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Thu Aug 31, 2017 3:17 pm UTC

So Huston's fire ants all seem to be surviving the hurricane.

It turns out mother nature can be merciful, and that we really hate it when that happens.
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