Archive for June, 2009

A Wilson moment

Saturday, June 27th, 2009 | Ants, Personalities | 5 Comments
Book signing at the AMNH, June 14th, 2006. The happy fellow to the right is yours truly.

Book signing by E. O. Wilson at the AMNH. The smiling fellow to the right is yours truly.

Back in June 14th, 2006, Edward O. Wilson delivered a public talk at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (the transcript of which can be read here) on the occasion of his then recently published anthology Nature Revealed: Selected Writings, 1949-2006. I wasn’t going to miss the event, and went to the public section of the museum down from the Ivory Tower research floor of the Division of Invertebrate Zoology.

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Homology Weekly: Tentorial Pits

The anterior tentorial pits (arrows) in a <i>Tetraponera aethiops</i> worker (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

The anterior tentorial pits (arrows) in a Tetraponera aethiops worker (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

The head of an ant in frontal view has a couple of holes usually located in the area between the mouth and the place where the antennae are inserted. These holes look intriguing from the outside– Are they part of a sensing organ? Do they secrete a special chemical signal or defense substance through them? Are they use for breeding? The answer is more mundane than that. As I mentioned in an earlier post, most of what one sees in the outer surface of the arthropod’s exoskeleton does not have an external function, but is rather a symptom of the inside working in these wonderful machines. These particular holes mark the places where the cuticle invaginates to form the internal skeleton of the insect cranium known as the tentorium. The external holes produced by these invaginations are thus termed the tentorial pits.

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A Conversation With Bert Hölldobler – NYTimes

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 | Personalities | Comments Off on A Conversation With Bert Hölldobler – NYTimes


A Conversation With Bert Hölldobler

Insects Succeeding Through Cooperation

Published: June 16, 2009

At 72, Bert Hölldobler, a professor of life sciences at Arizona State University and a professor emeritus at the University of Würzburg in Germany, is one of the world’s great ant experts. Along with his collaborator, E. O. Wilson, Dr. Hölldobler won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for “The Ants.” The two wrote a second book in 2008, “The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance and Strangeness of Insect Societies.”


A. No, I don’t mind them. Listen, if you have ants in the house, you take a wet towel and detergent and you wipe over their trail. Do this a couple of times and they’ll stay out. People come up after speeches and say, “But what can we do, we have ants?” I say, “Buy a magnifying glass and enjoy watching them.”

Read the complete interview at the New York Time’s website here.


Monomorium ants in Andalusia

Friday, June 12th, 2009 | Ants, Behavior, Morphology | 3 Comments
The Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

The Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

I recently traveled to Andalusia, in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula, to meet fellow myrmecologists Christian Peeters, from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, and Alberto Tinaut, from Universidad de Granada. The reason for my trip was that I am fortunately enough to have been invited to collaborate in one of their ongoing projects studying the native ant species Monomorium algiricum. We set out to collect some colonies of this species as well as some others in the genus.

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Minelli on morphological homology

Thursday, June 11th, 2009 | Comparative Anatomy, Theory | Comments Off on Minelli on morphological homology

In the absence of specific arguments to the contrary, shared patterns of gene expression should not lead us, per se, to homologise organs that a comparative morphologist would never try to compare.[p.23]

Alessandro Minelli 2003. The Development of Animal Form: Ontogeny, Morphology, and Evolution. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.


Sunday’s reflection

Sunday, June 7th, 2009 | Phylogeny | Comments Off on Sunday’s reflection

Hennig fig 18bPhylogeny reconstruction, science in hindsight.

Homology Weekly: Petiole, Postpetiole and “Tubulation”

The isolated second abdominal segment constitute the characteristic petiole (blue) in ants. <i>Pachycondyla stigma</i> worker (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

An isolated second abdominal segment constitutes the characteristic petiole (blue) in ants. Pachycondyla stigma worker (Scanning Electron Micrograph, Roberto Keller/AMNH)

The easiest way to know you are looking at an ant is to pay attention to its waist: if it consists of one or two nicely isolated segments you can be sure you made a positive identification. The basal condition for the family, common to all ants, is to have the second abdominal segment in the shape of a node or scale and distinctly isolated from the rest of the abdomen to form a petiole (remember that the first abdominal segment is coupled to the thorax as the propodeum). The functional advantage of such novel architecture seems to be an enhanced articulation between body segments, and thus greater mobility for a posterior part of the body that bears the ant’s weapons in the form of a sting or other specialized chemical producing  organs like the acidopore.1
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  1. This post is dedicated to my long time friend and colleague Francisco Vergara-Silva

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And as we discussed last semester, the Army Ants will leave nothing but your bones.
- Tom Waits