Nicholas Hanley

Nicholas Hanley
– Precious Jewels –

Department – Biological Science (Undergraduate Alumni) –
Research Field – Animal Behavior –
How image was captured – Digital Camera –

Research Impact & Significance – An ultraviolet light illuminates fluorescent-dyed seeds in an artificial Florida harvester ant nest (Pogonomyrmex badius). Harvester ants forage for seeds and store them in chambers below ground. We conducted this experiment in which we dyed seeds of four different sizes (from smallest to largest: orange, green, yellow, and blue) to trace their movement and use within the nest. We presented the seeds to the ants and watched as, within minutes, they were taken into the nest and placed as shown. As time proceeds, these seeds will be rearranged into one large pile. Our conclusions reveal that smaller seeds, the orange and green, are more likely to be opened and consumed by the ants, especially by larvae.
Animal Behavior is a field that speaks to the non-scientist; it is a science that sparks curiosity, which can lead to inspiration, research, and knowledge. The public generally is fascinated by the creatures we share our life with and it is a more personal and relatable field compared to one that is virtually invisible without the proper equipment. Why do we need to know what ants do with their seeds? For one, these ants are directly interacting with their environment: gathering seeds from whatever ecology is present in the area. This direct link gives us insight into how both the environment and the species coexist. This concept stretches beyond ants and is critically important in conserving endangered species and ecosystems. Also, gathering, storing, and using seeds is a highly collaborative effort, as is almost everything in a eusocial species. Understanding how ants work together to complete a complex task has implications for understanding how and why other species work together, even humans. In order to understand the world as an entire organism, we need to start, literally, from the ground up.

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