Ants in Action

Muse Science Magazine for KidsJuly/August 2020

Ants in Action
A world behind glass at the National Zoo
By Kathiann M. Kowalski

You don’t have to travel to South America to watch leaf-cutter ants at work. Museums and zoos help people take a close-up look at these amazing insects. A large leaf-cutter ant colony lived at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo Invertebrate Exhibit until it closed in 2014. At least 10,000 ants can live within a chamber roughly the size of a shoebox. Large colonies— like the one that was housed at the Invertebrate Exhibit in Washington, DC—often have 15 to 20 such chambers.

Today Alan Peters is in charge of the Reptile Discovery Center. Previously, he was the zoo’s curator of invertebrates, animals with no backbone. Ants are invetebrates.

“I think of [the leaf-cutter colony] as a body, and each ant has a different function,” explains Peters. Just as different organs perform functions in our bodies, ants have particular jobs. “If those workers don’t do their job, then the colony starts to fall apart in the same way our body starts to fall apart when different parts don’t function properly,” he notes.

All Hail the Queen


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July/August 2020