Katherine Driscoll was still a high school student when she started working in the Dunn Lab. She was assigned the impossible task of collecting a colony of a rare ant, Discothyrea testacea, which appears to eat only spider eggs (though, truth be told, no one really knows). She was thrilled to find several individuals on NCSU campus (right behind the Biology Dept. building), but these were all dead. By using a simple technique she developed for collecting live ants, Katherine found a living specimen of Discothyrea testacea. This discovery made Katherine one of the first people ever to see this rare species of ant alive under the microscope! Katherine is now a sophomore at NCSU, and is continuing to conduct research as part of the School of Ants team.
The Bigfoot ant is North America's rarest ant species. Recently, it was seen for the first time in 70 years by an NCSU student. Benoit Guenard found two individuals of Amblyopone trigonignatha under a rock outside his apartment complex in Cary, NC. After photographing them, he released them, not realizing that they were such a rare find. These photographs have sparked fervor in the myrmecological world. This elusive ant was discovered in the 1940s, when it was first collected in Concord, NC; the Harvard biologist Bill Brown named it soon afterwards. It was never seen again. Specialists around the country agree that the photos do indeed show Amblyopone trigonignatha, North America's rarest ant. When will it be found again?
An unnamed species of ant was discovered in Durham by climate change researcher Lauren Nichols in her field plots. The ant was living inside an experimental climate chamber where ants are searched for every month. In seeing this ant, Nichols thought, at first, she was having trouble identifying a common species, but the ant turned out to be totally new! This species is now being studied and named by Harvard scientists. It is too soon to say so officially, but Myrmecina cryptica seems a likely (and reasonable) name. This cryptic species appears to be a parasite of the societies of the more common species Myrmecina americana. As of today, it is known from a small handful of individuals and sites.
The most common ant species on Broadway is new to NYC! Several years ago, James Danoff-Burg organized the entering freshmen at Columbia College (all of them) to go out and sample ants and plants around Manhattan. In doing so they discovered a new species for the city, Nylanderia flavipes. It was not, it turned out, rare. It was, instead, the most common species and yet no one had noticed it. All it took was looking.
What will you find living in your backyard?