The research of ants in the Microbiology lab.
A portion of the lab's research is devoted to a group of ants that grow and farm fungi, as well as the microbes associated with them both beneficial and harmful. This is an ant garden attacked by the parasitic fungus Escovopsis.
The lab is also sequencing the genomes of a number of the players in the fungus growing ant system. They're analyzing multiple species of ants, the fungi they grow, the fungi's parasites, and antifungal bacteria that grow on the ants. In this photo, the shaking incubator is growing a parasitic fungus.
Atta cephalotes, better known as leafcutter ants. These were kept sealed away, due to their rather vicious nature. See that behemoth in the center? That's the queen. Atta cephalotes is known for significant size differences between the castes within the species.
Here's the queen that is pinned to Nancy Lowe's wall.
Because we had disturbed the nest, the ants moved quickly to protect the brood (those squishy white sacks). The big-headed ant in the middle is a large worker, called a major.
More brood carrying.
One of the smaller ants escaped. We caught her with forceps, which she proceeded to attack with all her might. She has a death grip on these pieces of metal.
Trachymyrmex zeteki are generally friendlier and less scary than the leafcutters. They too are attempting to hide their brood, which are the white forms you can see in the mandibles of two of the ants.
In this photo, just about every ant is carrying away a precious payload.
are symbiotic bacteria that help protect against parasitic fungus that attack the garden.
Ants are very particular about organization. On the right is a pile of food, and on the left is their dump. All waste products and corpses are dragged here, away from the main nest. colonies of Atta colombicai – another leafcutting ant–, waste dumps can become sizeable mounds in their own right, and are sometimes thrown into streams or down banks to clear them away.
Apterostigma dentigerum lives in fungus that grows from the ceiling.
In the top right corner is a sexual adult. From this angle we couldn't tell the sex, but the wings give it away as either a future queen or drone.
As we disturbed the nest, one of the scurrying ants hooked part of the fungus on a rear leg, and closed the opening that we were peering through. This may have been accidental, but for all the world looked like they were closing the door on our face, asking us to leave.