Bourne Goes Badgering

Howard Bourne has been out filming badger activity at night. Here's a clip, just in case you ever doubted the cuteness of either Howard or the Badgers.

... Erm click on the movie to watch in Youtube if you'd like to see the whole frame


Dirt Box Ants

Two days on, the dirt box ants have put most of the soil where they want it and have created a wonderful array of tunnels, chambers, trash heaps and new fungus gardens. They are adapting their deep urge to dig within the confines of a few plastic boxes and a couple of plastic tubes - and seem very happy. When offered fresh rose leaves, they immediately set about cutting them into little semi-circles before carting them off to the fungus gardens (see image). There, the leaves are cut into yet smaller semi circles, dosed with a bit of anal secrection, chewed a bit and applied to the ever growing mass of fungal hyphae.

The details of this process are only now being worked out. Michael Poulson, Cameron Currie and the team at the Currie lab are discovering that the ants are manipulating various kinds of bacteria to aid the fungus and increase its nutritional value in a complex 4 (or more) way symbiosis.


Leaf Cutter Lab Ants

After an arduous journey consisting of at least 20 different queues, three different airports, and a bomb ‘scare’ (nobody seemed very scared) we finally arrived in Madison Wisconsin. We’re here at the Cameron Currie lab to film the internals of leaf cutter nests that would be impossible to see in the wild without digging up the whole enormous colony and destroying it. Luckily for us, leafcutters are easily kept in captivity and are the focus of much research on how exactly they manage their crops of cultivated fungus.

The ants here live mostly in plastic boxes of various sizes, and their beautiful sponge-like fungus gardens are easy to see. (Alex Wild was here a couple of weeks ago and took these pictures

As we need to film these ants in a more natural situation, we’ve given them some real dirt to play with. They haven’t seen soil since they were collected from Costa Rica a couple of years ago, and they are loving it. Yesterday morning, they started excavating some new chambers for fungus gardens, and we’ve managed to film some close up digging, and spectacular tracking shots of them carrying the soil down tunnels to the soil dump.


...And They're Off!

Howard Bourne, William Dohrn and Martin Dohrn are on their way to Wisconsin, USA to film leafcutter ants.

Dispatches arriving shortly


Ant Intelligence

Not content with simply going around the world to film diverse colonies of ants for The Incredible Film About Ants (title tbc). We have now travelled right across Bristol to visit Professor Nigel Franks, a world expert on social insect behaviour.

The ant's sophisticated communication and decision-making systems are key to their global success, Professor Franks has a colony of rock ants each with a tiny chip on their back, participants in an experiment demonstrating how ants make choices between prospective nesting sites more details of this work here. We had a busy day filming the ants as they moved around the set activating laser-controlled doors on their way to different sites, we also interviewed Professor Franks for the film.

We have two more filming trips to make before we can hand the material to the editor, stay tuned...

Howard Bourne filming in the lab with Professor Franks (Nad├ęge Laici)
Chipped rock ants - Temnothorax albipennis (Ammonite photography team)


Hangers on

The mystery skin disease turned out to be 'cutaneous larva migrans', a kind of worm that burrows into the skin and intends to enter the lungs where it lays eggs, which get coughed up and swallowed - to pass out in the animals faeces. Thankfully in humans this hanger on lacks the necessary enzymes to penetrate the body, and can only meander aimlessly just under the skin until it runs out of motivation. It can be treated with a drug called Albendazole.

The army ants have their own hangers on. In the photo, what appears to be an ant is in fact a small beetle, dressed up to look like an army ant, which lives its entire life in the mobile ant colony, feeding on the plentiful prey that the army ants bring back to camp.