Ants: coming to a restaurant near you
A pair of Canterbury entrepreneurs are putting ants on the menu at restaurants around the country.
We spend much of summer trying to keep ants out of our food; yet they might be what's missing from it, say a pair of young Kiwi entrepreneurs.
With their start-up company Anteater, Canterbury University students Peter Randrup and Bex De Prospo are trying to drive in New Zealand what's become an emerging industry in Western countries, called "entomophagy", or insect consumption.
Anteater, a University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) student company that just scooped the university's 85K Challenge, is now working with high-end food producers to make dishes from insects to be served in restaurants throughout the country.
Their product range offers wild ants and huhu grubs, harvested in Canterbury, locusts farmed in Otago and cricket powder imported from Canada.
"We view this as a first step toward mainstreaming these products as a viable, sustainable alternative to factory-farmed meat," said Randrup, an insect biology student searching for more efficient, sustainable ways to produce high-quality protein sources.
"My favourite statistic is that if you swapped out just one serving of conventional protein for insect protein once a week, over the course of a year you would free up 100 to 150 square metres of land somewhere on the planet."
Randrup, a vegetarian, got the idea after reading an article about entomophagy and then pitched the idea at an entrepreneurial event at the university in April.
His now-business partner, De Prospo, initially reacted: "Bugs, really?"
But, seeing the potential, jumped on board and helped grow the business, also losing her taste for meat in the process.
She's now focused on finding out how to best use the business model to help feed people around the world, and hopes to adapt existing insect-farming models to produce kitset farms which can be sent to residents of impoverished regions.
"The statistics on how much grain is produced to feed livestock, while the human population in many of these places are left starving, are absolutely staggering."
People with a taste for bugs can find their offerings at Roots Restaurant in Lyttelton, Vault 21 in Dunedin, Antoine's Restaurant in Auckland and Mexico restaurants in Britomart, Takapuna, Ponsonby, Ellerslie, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.
Meanwhile, the Government has announced $3 million will be poured into two programmes sitting within the "High-Value Nutrition" National Science Challenge.
"The research into high-value nutrition is hugely important in moving our food production from volume to value," Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said.
"These projects will help product development that brings maximum returns for New Zealand food exporters."
The "Consumer Insights" research programme has received up to $1.5 million has been allocated to research the science of consumers, with a focus on health and wellness needs of Asian consumers.
Joyce said it would explore what was needed to establish a habitual consumption of high-value nutritional foods, something vital in ensuring investment was directed in areas that will resonate most with consumers.
The completed first phase of this work studied the information currently available to New Zealand businesses, and their knowledge gaps in understanding consumers' needs and behaviours.
The programme, led by Plant and Food Research's Dr Roger Harker, would ultimately provide direction to clinical research supporting the development of high-value foods and beverages for the Asian market.
The other programme, dubbed the "Science of Food", would receive $1.5 million to address the technological challenges in protecting the health promoting compounds in food during the journey from raw ingredients to finished food products, through to digestion.
A team, led by Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh of Massey University's Riddet Institute, would design ingredients and processes that kept the compounds in top condition within food products, so that when eaten, they were released to the body at the right stage of digestion needed to deliver their identified health benefits.
by Jamie Morton
How do I get rid of ants?
Although ants generally don’t cause harm to people — they don’t carry disease, like some other pests — an infestation can be a major nuisance.
“Ants can be extremely persistent creatures, seemingly coming from nowhere and can be difficult to entirely get rid of,” says Kelly Garvin of Greenix Pest Control in Dublin, Ohio.
Fortunately, DIY and professional pest removal options are available.
REASONS FOR ANT INFESTATION
Ants typically invade your home for one reason: food. Most feed on sugary or greasy items.
Sugar ants — also called odorous house ants — are one of the most common ant invaders and among the first pests to show up in the spring. They’re about one-eighth of an inch or smaller and are attracted to food sources.
The common pavement ant, which is brown to black and about 1/10th of an inch long, will set up colonies near driveways or patios and then send out scouts to search for food in your home. They eat meat, grease, seeds, dead or live insects, and can sting and bite if disturbed.
Argentine Ants — about 4 to 4.5 mm long ONE size. Usually come into your house for food. Loves protein and fat, often found in your dishwasher or pantry.
Coastal Brown Ants- two sizes. Dark brown, loves protein often found in dishwasher. Two sizes one has a BIG head.
Knowing what type of ant you’re dealing with can help you prevent or combat an infestation.
KEEPING ANTS OUT
The first step to prevent an ant infestation: clean house. If you see scout ants in your home, kill them immediately. Make sure you don’t leave any food out and keep all kitchen surfaces clean.
If you continue to see ants, make sure you’ve closed off possible entry points, including sealing small cracks in your walls or under windows. Start by caulking potential entry points, such as window casings.
Next, you can lay down barriers like salt or talc under doors to turn ants away, or apply scents such as vinegar, peppermint oil or cinnamon. Bear in mind, however, that anything you put down will also be of interest to pets and children, so be careful what you use.
DIY METHODS FOR ANT REMOVAL
If ant explorers have morphed into a full-on colony, then you need a plan.
Start with soap and water. This will not only kill chemical trails, but any ants it touches. Add citrus to the water to increase its effectiveness.
You can also purchase pest sprays and baited ant traps from local grocery and hardware stores. These use a mixture of sugars and ant poison, such as boric acid to attract, trap and kill ants. Proceed with caution when using poison.
Bear in mind, too, that these traps won’t work on protein-feeders like Coastal Brown or Argentine Ants, since the sweetness won’t interest them.
In addition to trapping ants inside, you can also spray around the exterior of the home where the house meets the pavement or ground to prevent more ants from infiltrating, says David Anderson of Eastside Exterminators in Woodinville, Wash.
Garvin recommends spraying problem areas with a mixture of Windex, vinegar and water. She says spreading Diatomaceous Earth in carpeted areas around the bathroom is a safe and natural way to kill ants because it’s a food source.
“The Windex or vinegar is really a quick fix and not really that effective, but it will remove the immediate ants and wipe away their pheromone scent they use to follow trails,” Garvin says.
Dan Miles, owner of Total Exterminating in Indianapolis, suggests spraying all cracks around the baseboards and the base of the toilet if the infestation is in the bathroom.
HIRE A PEST CONTROL PROFESSIONAL
Large-scale infestations require assistance from a pest control professional.
Pros address ant problems by locating the colony itself; typically this starts by laying bait traps, which contain poisoned food taken back to the nest. Once found, exterminators can use a variety of techniques including chemical sprays to totally eliminate the ants in your home.
Modified from Tom Moor Article
Pest ants in Auckland are sometimes hard to control. Why? Because as this article says they are smart enough to farm. Which often means they come into your house the materials for this job!
Please find below an article from IFLscience.com about smarts ants farming!
Humans only invented agriculture some 10,000 years ago, but ants have been doing it for millions of years. New analysis indicates that, although ants operate farms in many environments, true domestication occurred 30 million years ago, in desert or near-desert conditions.
Attine ant species form a symbiotic relationship with fungi. The six-legged farmers propagate the fungus, providing it with nutrients and protection from other animals that might consume it more recklessly. In return, they get to eat the fungal growth.
Like bakers' apprentices taking precious starter dough to found their business, attine ants carry a small amount of fungus when they found a new colony. As with human agriculture, this has shaped the genetics of the species they farm, since varieties of fungus that best suit attine needs are more likely to be farmed.
Smithsonian Museum entomologist Dr Ted Schultz compared the DNA of 119 ant species, 78 of which are farmers. reporting his findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. He mapped the timing of when species diverged, using fossils for confirmation, to locate those closest to the trunk of the ant farmers' family tree.
The 250 known species of fungus-farming ants are divided into those that practice what is called "lower" and "higher" agriculture. Lower agriculture uses fungal species that can live without the ants' protection. Sometimes the fungus will spread beyond the colony to grow in the wild, becoming a resource for the ants to draw on if their crops fail.
Higher agriculture involves fungi that, like many human crops, have been so modified by the farmers as to be unable to survive independently. Since the ants cannot survive without their fungi, the two species are locked in mutual dependence.
Lower agriculture has previously been estimated to have begun in South America 55-65 million years ago. Schultz's work indicates higher agriculture dates back around 30 million years and began in a dry climate, contradicting previous assumptions of a wet origin.
Global climatic changes at the time dried much of South American out. Suitable ranges for rainforest fungi would have contracted, and Schultz thinks some were saved by ants that provided them with reliable moisture, collecting water for humidity-controlled fungal gardens.
"These higher agricultural-ant societies have been practicing sustainable, industrial-scale agriculture for millions of years," Schultz said in a statement. "Studying their dynamics and how their relationships with their fungal partners have evolved may offer important lessons to inform our own challenges with our agricultural practices. Ants have established a form of agriculture that provides all the nourishment needed for their societies using a single crop that is resistant to disease, pests, and droughts at a scale and level of efficiency that rivals human agriculture."
Given our own disastrous experience with monocultures, we've much to learn.
original articale by Stephen Luntz
"ACES pest control sees how smart insects are, in particular ants on a daily basis.
In fact Universities once pondered why an ant would slave and give its life for the colony or nest when they get nothing in return. The answer was to be found in looking at the nest as a single organism. This maybe why ants seem so smart, because its the collective thinking of the nest we are seeing.....here an article on just how smart ants are. "
"The brain of an ant is the size of a pinhead"
Ants are even more impressive at navigating than we thought.
Scientists say they can follow a compass route, regardless of the direction in which they are facing.
It is the equivalent of trying to find your way home while walking backwards or even spinning round and round.
Experiments suggest ants keep to the right path by plotting the Sun's position in the sky which they combine with visual information about their surroundings.
"Our main finding is that ants can decouple their direction of travel from their body orientation," said Dr Antoine Wystrach of the University of Edinburgh and CNRS in Paris.
"They can maintain a direction of travel, let's say north, independently of their current body orientation."
Ants stand out in the insect world because of their navigational ability.
Living in large colonies, they need to forage for food and carry it back to their nest.
This often requires dragging food long distances backwards.
Scientists say that despite its small size, the brain of ants is remarkably sophisticated.
"They construct a more sophisticated representation of direction than we envisaged and they can incorporate or integrate information from different modalities into that representation," Dr Wystrach added.
"It is the transfer of information aspect which implies synergy between different brain areas."
UK and French researchers came up with their findings by studying desert ants.
Experiments suggest the ants kept to the right path by following celestial cues. They set off in the wrong direction if a mirror was used to obscure the Sun.
If they were travelling backwards, dragging food back to their nest, they combined this information with visual cues. They stopped, dropped the food and took a quick peek at their route.
Scientists say the work could have applications in designing computer algorithms to guide robots.
Prof Barbara Webb of the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics said the ant can navigate much like a self-driving car.
"Ants have a relatively tiny brain, less than the size of a pinhead," she said.
"Yet they can navigate successfully under many difficult conditions, including going backwards.
"Understanding their behaviour gives us new insights into brain function and has inspired us to build robot systems that mimic their functions."
She said they have been able to model the neural circuits in the ant's brain.
The hope is to develop robots that can navigate in natural areas such as forests.
The research is published in the journal Current Biology.
By Helen Briggs
Bizarre ant colony discovered in an abandoned Polish nuclear weapons bunker
Scientists describe workers trapped for years in "a hostile environment in total darkness."
For the past several years, a group of researchers has been observing a seemingly impossible wood ant colony living in an abandoned nuclear weapons bunker in Templewo, Poland, near the German border. Completely isolated from the outside world, these members of the species Formica polyctena have created an ant society unlike anything we've seen before.
The Soviets built the bunker during the Cold War to store nuclear weapons, sinking it below ground and planting trees on top as camouflage. Eventually a massive colony of wood ants took up residence in the soil over the bunker. There was just one problem: the ants built their nest directly over a vertical ventilation pipe. When the metal covering on the pipe finally rusted away, it left a dangerous, open hole. Every year when the nest expands, thousands of worker ants fall down the pipe and cannot climb back out. The survivors have nevertheless carried on for years underground, building a nest from soil and maintaining it in typical wood ant fashion. Except, of course, that this situation is far from normal.
Polish Academy of Sciences zoologist Wojciech Czechowski and his colleagues discovered the nest after a group of other zoologists found that bats were living in the bunker. Though it was technically not legal to go inside, the bat researchers figured out a way to squeeze into the small, confined space and observe the animals inside. Czechowski's team followed suit when they heard that the place was swarming with ants. What they found, over two seasons of observation, was a group of almost a million worker ants whose lives are so strange that they hesitate to call them a "colony" in the observations they just published in The Journal of Hymenoptera. Because conditions in the bunker are so harsh, constantly cold, and mostly barren, the ants seem to live in a state of near-starvation. They produce no queens, no males, and no offspring. The massive group tending the nest is entirely composed of non-reproductive female workers, supplemented every year by a new rain of unfortunate ants falling down the ventilation shaft.
Like most ant species, wood ants are tidy animals who remove waste from their colony. In the case of the bunker ants, most of this waste is composed of dead bodies. The researchers speculate that mortality in the "colony" is likely much higher than under normal circumstances. "Flat parts of the earthen mound [of the nest] and the floor of the adjacent spaces ... were carpeted with bodies of dead ants," write Czechowski and colleagues. This "ant cemetery" was a few centimeters thick in places, and "one cubic decimeter sample contained [roughly] 8,000 corpses," which led the researchers to suggest that there were likely 2 million dead ants piled around the nest mound. The sheer numbers of dead bodies suggest that this orphaned wood ant nest has been active for many years.
The ant graveyard is also host to a tiny ecosystem, where mites and a few other invertebrates feed on the bodies of the dead wood ants. The question is, what are the wood ants eating? It's possible they have figured out how to eat the creatures who feast in their cemeteries, essentially making them cannibals at one remove. But Czechowski and his team dismiss this as unlikely. It's also possible that there are nutrients growing in the bat guano from the ants' only living neighbors in the bunker. But in their years of observation, the scientists still haven't figured out for certain what the ants' source of food is.
Wood ants are known for surviving in harsh conditions, and they have been found on remote islands as well as living in small, closed boxes. And it's not impossible that this underworld colony could bloom into something more. In a previous experiment, Czechowski showed that orphaned wood ant colonies will adopt queens from related species. So if a queen ant fell down the pipe, she might join this colony and start reproducing. Unfortunately, however, without a steady food supply the ants probably wouldn't have enough energy to raise a new generation and keep the nest warm for them. So the only way this nest carries on is by waiting for a new rain of ants from the free colony above ground.
The paper's conclusion reads like a dystopian science fiction scene from the 1970s:
The wood-ant ‘colony’ described here – although superficially looking like a functioning colony with workers teeming on the surface of the mound – is rather an example of survival of a large amount of workers trapped within a hostile environment in total darkness, with constantly low temperatures and no ample supply of food. The continued survival of the ‘colony’ through the years is dependent on new workers falling in through the ventilation pipe. The supplement of workers more than compensates for the mortality rate of workers such that through the years the bunker workforce has grown to the level of big, mature natural colonies.
Life in an abandoned nuclear weapons bunker is nightmarish, even for the humble ant. It appears that the legacy of the Soviet occupation of Poland doesn't just haunt the country's human population. It has affected the social structures of insects too.
by ANNALEE NEWITZ
Finding new species may call to mind images of scientists tracking mysterious footprints in the mud or cutting paths through the dense jungle.
But sometimes, a discovery is as easy as getting a frog to open its mouth and say, “Ah.”
Such is the case for Lenomyrmex hoelldobleri, a new tropical ant species found in the belly of a diablito, or little devil frog (Oophaga sylvatica), in Ecuador.
The diablito, a kind of bright orange poison frog, is known for its love of ants, says Christian Rabeling, a myrmecologist at the University of Rochester, New York. The new ant species is named after Bert Hölldobler, a German evolutionary biologist and ant expert, for his 80th birthday.
Because ant-eating frogs go hunting for bugs in tiny and hard-to-access places, scientists use them as a tool to go where they can’t go. By capturing a wild frog and flushing their stomachs, the amphibians vomit whatever is in their bellies—revealing potential treasures, like the new ant.
“Sometimes people think that our world is very well explored. Nothing could be farther from the truth,” says Rabeling, who led a new study on the ant, published September 19 by the journal ZooKeys.
Because the only known specimen of L. hoelldobleri is a dead one from a frog's stomach, scientists know almost nothing about it.
A glimpse through a high-powered stereomicroscope at that ill-fated ant, however, has offered a few clues. (See "Watch: Ants Use Giant Jaws to Catapult Out of Death Trap.")
“The shape of the mandibles reminds me of forceps,” says Rabeling. This may mean that the ant, which is less than a quarter of an inch long, uses its mouthparts to pry even smaller prey animals, such as termites, out of tight crevices. “But I am just speculating,” he admits.
If the scientists could find living L. hoelldobleri in the Ecuadoran rain forest, the team they could submit the little guys to a “cafeteria test," which means offering an animal multiple prey items to see what it prefers. (See "Surprising Ant 'Mixing Bowl' Found in Manhattan.")
“The difficulty is finding the ants!” says Rabeling.
The little devil frog, obviously, has figured out how to locate them—and for good reason.
Poison frogs get their namesake chemical defenses from alkaloids found in the ants and other critters they consume, says Jonathan Kolby, a National Geographic grantee and director of the Honduras Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Center.
"Physiologists regard ants as mini chemical factories," adds Rabeling. The insects likely use the chemicals as signals to communicate with other ants in their complex societies.
As for where the ants get their alkaloids, Kolby says some species may acquire it from the plants they eat. But what role, if any, L. hoelldobleri may play in the poison game is anyone’s guess.
Belly of the Beast
Because many amphibians are endangered—the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists O. sylvatica as near threatened—any research with wild frogs must be done carefully, and only by trained experts, Rabeling notes. (Read more about why amphibians are vanishing.)
To flush the stomach, scientists insert a soft tube into the amphibian’s mouth and gently fill it with water, prompting whatever the frog has eaten recently to flow out of its mouth and onto a tray. The frog can then be safely returned to its natural habitat.
This is not the first time a new species has been found inside another animal’s stomach, by the way. Kolby points to the example of Dunn’s earth snake (Geophis dunni), which was found in the stomach of a coral snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus) in Nicaragua in 1932.
Furthermore, it seems L. hoelldobleri had some company in the little devil frog’s stomach. The research project that first identified the new ant also found several other as-of-yet undescribed insects.
It seems the little devil’s frog's belly might be the gift that keeps on giving.
By Jason Bittel