Don’t get these ants in your pants

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From the [u]Biology is Cool[/u] division at the Thumb. According to [Enable javascript to see this email address.]:

Canopy-dwelling ants in the tropical forests of the Americas have adopted a neat way of averting disaster should they fall from their perch. They glide to safety, steering towards their home trunk rather than plummeting to the ground, where they might never see their nest-mates again.[Enable javascript to see this email address.]

If you don’t believe it, read the news article, the far-too uncreatively-named Nature paper “Directed aerial descent in canopy ants”, or better yet, watch the video.

How was this fascinating discovery made?

The discovery was an accident, [Stephen] Yanoviak recalls. “About two years ago I was climbing trees to collect mosquitoes when I was attacked by these ants. I brushed 20 or 30 of them off; they fell down and made a nice J-shaped curve back to the tree.”[Enable javascript to see this email address.]

Thus a Nature paper was born…

Since you asked, Stephen P. Yanoviak is indeed a Project Steve Steve.

10 Comments

Someday, someone should do a sociological study on serendipity (wow, that is some cool unintentional alliteration!). I know that the Fleming and penicillin story, along with the Newton’s apple story, is probably apocryphal, but my experience working in the lab (no papers in Nature, that’s for sure!) is that serendipity plays a big role in the course of science. Monod, I think, said “chance favors the prepared mind”. It would be interesting to find out just how big a role chance plays in the course of inquiry in general. I’m not sure that is a well formed question, but cool stuff like this brings these sorts of thoughts to mind.

And just when I thought ants couldn’t possibly get any cooler than they already are…

Anyway, here’s a photograph of Cephalotes atratus, the beast in the study.

That’s not flying: that’s falling with style.

Paul Orwin Wrote:

…my experience working in the lab (no papers in Nature, that’s for sure!) is that serendipity plays a big role in the course of science. Monod, I think, said “chance favors the prepared mind”. It would be interesting to find out just how big a role chance plays in the course of inquiry in general.

But there’s no way random chance can play a role in furthering our understanding of nature! Intelligence doesn’t happen by accident! You learn things because The Designer allows you to.

;^)

It was Pasteur, not Monod: Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés. In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind. Lecture, University of Lille (December 7, 1854)

Thanks! I’ll try to stop misattributing it now. I beg only deference to the Designer to allow me to keep learning these things…(especially the flying ants!)

But what good is half a wing? ;-}

Alex, that link you provided is excellent. Great photographs. I love insects, especially nasty big ones like the “toe biter” water bug. Have you ever been bitten by one of those? Sucks. Literally.

Quite a few such studies of the role of chance have been done, both specifically for science and more generally. I recently read a study of people’s perception of “luckiness”, which found that “lucky” people generally have different habits and attitudes than “unlucky” people – differences that enable them not only to take better advantage of opportunity when it occurs, but to actively seek out or create opportunity.

Here’s a useful attitude adjustment – abandon a self-centered view of the scope of human activity. Specifically, rather than assume that no one has done a study just because you are unaware of one (“Someday, someone should do a sociological study” makes that assumption), recognize that there are billions of busy people all over the globe engaged in activities that you are unaware of, that some of them share your curiosity, and that, if you have imagined a study that someone should do, there’s a good chance that someone has actually done it. This change of attitude will lead you to actively look for such studies, rather than passively dream of one being done “someday”. Here are a few things that a search turned up:

http://www.westminstercollege.edu/m[…]content=2846 http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/ge[…]i=019928038X http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/ge[…]i=0192805673

This last one is particularly relevant to the discussion:

Here is a catalog of myths debunked and icons shattered. We discover that Louis Pasteur was not above suppressing “awkward” data when it didn’t support the case he was making. We also learn that Arthur Eddington’s famous experiment that “proved” Einstein’s theory of relativity was fudged And while it is true that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by lucky accident, he played almost no role in the years of effort to convert penicillin into a usable drug. Einstein’s Luck restores to science its complex personalities, bitter rivalries, and intense human dramas which until recently have been hidden behind myths and misconceptions. This richly entertaining book will transform the way we think about science and scientists.

Of course, I was just lucky to find that.

That’s not flying: that’s falling with style.

Reminds me of what someone said about planes landing: It’s a controlled crash.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on February 9, 2005 11:09 PM.

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