November Science Café: The Secret Life of Fire Ants
By Kathleen Laufenberg
Posted: Oct. 23, 2012
Contact: Amy Mast, firstname.lastname@example.org
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Youve scowled at their mounds on your lawn — and probably destroyed them. But if you come to the MagLabs Nov. 7 Café, you just may decide not to. At least, not all the time.
November Science Café
Who: Biology professor Walter Tschinkel
Topic: The Secret World of Fire Ants
When: Wednesday, Nov. 7 (the day after Election Day), from 6:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rays Steel City Saloon, 515 John Knox Road, Tallahassee
Thats because the next Science Café features Walter Tschinkel, a biology professor at Florida State University and an expert bar none on fire ants. Tschinkel will share his perspective and knowledge of these tiny creatures and the amazing city-like structures they build beneath our feet on Wednesday, Nov. 7, from 6:15 p.m. to about 7:30 p.m. at Rays Steel City Saloon, 515 John Knox Road.
Youll learn things about fire ants that will surprise you, such as why opting to live and let live with some fire ant mounds can make sense. When you attack a fire ant colony in an attempt to kill the ants, Tschinkel says, you often dont kill off the colony. But you do succeed in getting it to relocate — which only allows a new fire ant colony to move into the emptied spot. The end result: You may have two fire ant colonies in an an area where you previously had only one. So if the original colony doesnt pose a danger, learning to avoid it may be the best option.
Walter Tschinkel, a biology professor at Florida State University, will speak at the November 2012 Science Café.
Ant colonies have other intriguing attributes, too.
Ants are part of a larger functioning entity which we call a superorganism but most people would call a colony, Tschinkel says. Thats why he and other ant experts often treat a colony and its many thousands of inhabitants as functioning more like one large organism.
In his 752-page book The Fire Ants (Harvard University/Belknap Press, 2006) — which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize — Tschinkel pauses between scientific chapters to reflect on the interplay between humans and ants and to offer up playful narratives and anecdotes. He calls these essays interludes, and at the Café, he may offer some similar insights on ants and people.
There are some interesting common threads, he says. For example, its fairly obvious that the ant colony is a self-organized entity — that is, there is no leader, there is no hierarchy. The ants are behaving according to a set of rules embodied in each individual ... and actually, human society has a lot of self-organized features, too.
In most human organizations, the expertise isnt at the level of the directors or bosses, its actually at the worker lever, just like it is in an ant colony. So a lot of the products of human teams or groups are also self-organized.”
Click image to download event poster (PDF).
Tschinkel will show images of the intricate and sometimes huge structures ants build below the surface. Even if you had an ant farm, youve never seen anything quite like these hidden cities. So mark your calendars and bring all your fire ant questions to the Nov. 7 Café. Arrive early to grab a good seat and order something tasty!
The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory develops and operates state-of-the-art, high-magnetic-field facilities that faculty and visiting scientists and engineers use for research. The laboratory is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the state of Florida. To learn more visit www.magnet.fsu.edu.