Teens & Scientist Talk Ant Larvae

Teens & Scientist Talk Ant Larvae


I’m Adrian Smith, I’m a biologist at the North Carolina Museum Natural Sciences and NC State and I’m going to be talking to a couple teens today about my new research on ant larvae. We’re going to three, two, one, clap. Oh, yeah! You have to do the hands… Hannah. Yes. let me show you this. Have you ever seen an ant that looks like that? No, that is disgusting. Yeah, so believe it or not that is an ant. That is so creepy. This is a picture from my new study and it’s a study describing the developmental stages of an ant, of three species of ants actually. We did this study because there are like 16,000 described species of ants. Like ants that have a name, right. We only know how many developmental stages an ant goes through before it becomes an adult for about sixty of those. So less than half of a percent. So what we did to actually do the study was make images like that it’s a scanning electron microscope image to sort of figure out if there’s certain body parts on larvae that distinguish developmental stages from each other. Very cool. Okay, so here we go. Oh my god. Yeah! So that, believe it or not, is larvae hatching from an egg. So we start with the egg and then we hatch into this. So, this is the first instar larvae. We call all the developmental stages instars. What we found is they’re actually three stages of larval development, so there’s three instars. So, this is a second instar the second stage of larval development. It looks sort of like the first but there’s more complex hairs. So all these little spires sticking out are hairs, and here’s what those hairs look like up close. Oh wow, they’re really wrinkly. At this stage of development do they… what are they doing? Are they just sitting there and growing or until they do a do they move around or something? Yeah, so they are growing and they’re eating. So larvae are the one things in an ant colony that can eat solid food. They actually get their food placed like right on their stomach and then they just bend their neck and just start eating it right off their bodies. That is so gross, it’s really cool though. One of the cool things that we describe for the first time is actually in the first and second instar, those things on its back are, the term that’s actually in the scientific literature is “sticky doorknobs” So are they like a gripping mechanism of some sort? Yeah, exactly. Wow. Here’s a close-up of it. They almost look suction cup and shaped like and that’s probably the purpose then. Yeah, exactly. The adult ants will actually take and pick up these larvae and stick them to the walls and ceilings of the nest and they’ll actually just like suspend them. That’s crazy. They lose the sticky doorknobs at the third stage. The larvae sort of stretch out, they lay all the way flat and then they get buried by their nest mate workers. So the thing stretched out, it’s buried, and then what it does is it starts weaving a cocoon. Seriously? Yeah, yeah. I had no idea ants went through all this. Yeah, they actually produce silk. So they’ll actually produce silk and weave a cocoon. So here’s a close-up of what that looks like. This is ant silk Whoa, so like is an ant inside of one of these something? Yeah, exactly that’s what it looks like inside of it. That’s so creepy! It looks like a snake is taking off his skin but it’s… So that’s when they switch from that that sort of larval form to an actual thing that might start looking like an ant. Oh, wow. This is like the nicest and coolest pictures I’ve ever seen of ants! Yeah! So, that’s sort of what we found. Okay. But then I also try to think about like how is this sort of work, this basic biology, this descriptive biology, important for society at large. That’s what I wanted to ask you. Okay. What do you think? I mean, we see ants on like a daily basis. For most part they live pretty much in our habitat in a way. So I think being able to know so much about an animal that like you don’t have to go somewhere special to see, is pretty interesting for me. You know up close they look beautiful really, I think. Overall it would promote like um appreciation for these amazing things in the natural world. I see like looking through pictures of ants to be extremely interesting and it makes people who haven’t like learned about this stuff very… like they would be interested as well and then they want to be more interested in stuff pertaining to science and let us have more scientists, which will let us have a better capability of life, I guess. Awesome, this is great thanks for talking to me about this stuff. Thank you for asking me. Yeah, cool, I think we’re done.

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