New paper published: Potentials of micro CT for ant taxonomy

In the paper we explore the potential of x-ray micro computed tomography (μCT) for the field of ant taxonomy and use it intensively for the descriptions of two remarkable new species of the genus Terataner from Madagascar. In addition to the traditional way of presenting new species with stacked montage light photography, we also provide 3D models based on μCT data and make the whole 3D datasets available online through Dryad.

One important aspect of the study is to assess how μCT can improve collections-based research of ants and other insects. Our μCT-based 3D models can be virtually rotated, sectioned, measured, and dissected, thus allowing a wide range of analyses of the anatomy and morphology of the studied organisms. By generating and presenting virtual 3D models of ants (or other animals) we support the establishment of virtual natural history collections that permit rapid and free access to anatomically correct and permanent digital reconstructions or avatars of physical specimens. Another great advantage is of the technology is the ability to print physical models of the scanned specimens, which can be used for a variety of research, museum, educational, and outreach purposes.

New paper on the GABI database

Image by Georg Fisher & Aina Urano

A new paper describing the GABI (Global Ant Biodiversity Informatics) database has recently been published in Myrmecological News. The GABI database is the first comprehensive global database of ant species distributions and is created from the compilation of 1.72 million records extracted from over 8811 publications and 25 existing databases. It is a major step towards the inclusion of invertebrate taxa in large-scale analyses of biodiversity patterns, and it opens up new possibilities for macroecology, macroevolution, and conservation research on ants.

See here for the original publication.

The Wonder of Ants and the OKEON Churamori Project – Open Campus 2016

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On Sunday, November 27th, guests from all parts of Okinawa gathered at OIST to attend the Open Campus Science Festival. This event was OIST’s biggest Open Campus to date, with over 5200 attendees, 250 volunteers, 20 food vendors and 35 booths featuring hands-on science activities.

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The arilab booth attracted many visitors. Per usual, the Wonder of Ants is an essential part of the exhibition: there were ant specimens displayed, microscopes set up that allowed visitors to look at macroscopic ants, 3D-printed ants, 3D ants and ant structure that can be visualized by wearing 3D glasses, and an educational video about ants.

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On top of that, the OKEON project had its own area, with various posters set up about the project, a SLAM trap and a camera trap set up as demonstrations, a video created by Nick that documents various sounds recorded from acoustic traps at OKEON sites, and finally the famous Okinawan ant specialist Takamine san was also present to educate people about ants.

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Prince Akishino Visits Arilab

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Image from QAB

On November 14, 2016, His Imperial Highness attended the Joint Meeting of the International Congress of Zoology and the Zoological Society of Japan and visited the OIST campus, including the Economo Lab. Evan gave an overview of our lab research, including ant phylogenies, GABI/antmaps.org, the OKEON Churamori project, studying ant morphology with micro-CT, invasive ants and ant projects in Madagascar. The Prince has a PhD in molecular phylogenetics (!), so he understands our research very well and asked terrific questions.

Several media outlets broadcasted the visit, including NHK, OTV and QAB.

Rare ant found in OKEON sample

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A rarely-collected ant species, Protanilla lini, has been identified from a SLAM trap sample that was collected from Hentona High School (site04) between September and October last year. Protanilla lini belongs to the subfamily Leptanillinae. All members of the family are small, subterranean and often blind ants that are very rarely collected. We know very little about their biology, but we believe they are predators of larger prey such as centipedes or earthworms. It is likely that they perform some form of “dracula ant feeding behavior”, where the adults hunt large prey, but instead of feeding on it themselves they take their larvae to the prey, the adults then drink the haemolymph (or “blood”) of the larvae without causing any physical damage.

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Distribution of Protanilla lini, image from antmaps.org

 

This species has been recorded only in Taiwan and Okinawa. It has been collected only once before in Okinawa, and a couple of times in Taiwan.

The information and the specimen images were provided by our staff scientist Paco Hita Garcia.