Why is my logo a weird-looking ant?
This baby is an illustration of "Ectatomma metallicum," a misnamed ant featured in W.W. Froggatt's 1907 Australian Insects. (This is the same unfortunately-named Walter Wilson Froggatt known for such popular works as Sheep-maggot Flies and Their Parasites and Insects Living in Figs, with Some Account of Caprification.) Ah, anyway, the species is now properly known as Rhytidoponera metallica or by its logically consistent common names: the green-head ant or the metallic pony ant.
Although I have nothing against R. metallica, I'm much excited about its amazing New World cousin, Ectatomma ruidum. But since they look so similar—and since ole Froggie's illustrations are in now the public domain... No one needs to know, okay?
What research am I doing at the moment?
I am interested in many different things, but most of my current research falls under the umbrella of "grocery shopping for ants."
What's happening during collective vertical transport?Aside from humans, ants are the only organisms that regularly cooperate to move loads that are too heavy for one individual. (Imagine helping your friend drag a heavy sofa into her new home.) Although we've known about this sort of behavior for years, ants can ALSO carry massive loads straight up walls! (Now imagine moving that heavy sofa up 40 flights of stairs to your friend's new high-rise apartment.) Is this difficult for the ants? Do they even adjust their behavior on a vertical surface?? As of yet, no one knows!
Why are honeypot ants so... weird?!Honeypot ants are incredibly charismatic yet incredibly unstudied. For some reason, unrelated ant lineages across the globe—in Arizona, Australia, Europe, etc.—keep evolving similar abilities. How can they accomplish this fantastic distension? What environments encourage its evolution? How delicious and unique do they each taste?!
Although this isn't the main focus of my PhD research, studying the various honeypot species is a career goal. So if you're an interested PI/collaborator/funding agency/literally anyone, hit me up about future research!
How do ants manage family meal planning?Listen, we ALL gotta eat, but if we're going to try and be healthy, we can't just eat anything. Regardless of what they tell you, there is no single perfect food. (Not even cheesecake.) We need to eat some of this, a little of that, and balance our proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and more. Ant foragers need to do the same thing, but just the few of them are responsible for gathering all food for their entire, thousands-strong family. How do they know what nutrients everyone is hungry for? How do they strike a healthy balance?