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Falling ants glide back to trunk to avoid dangers of forest floor

st intriguing elements of the story is that so many ants jump voluntarily," Kaspari said. "The last view of a lizard chasing a Cephalotes ant may be that ant dropping toward the ground and spiraling back to the tree, safe from both the litter below and the predator above."

All told, Yanoviak has dropped about 60 species of ants from the treetops, and has found some form of gliding ?what he and his colleagues call directed aerial descent ?in 25 species representing five separate genera. It is the norm in only two groups, however: the Cephalotini tribe, which includes Cephalotes atratus, and the arboreal Pseudomyrmecinae ants.

"It turns out that every species in the genus Cephalotes that I've dropped so far shows this gliding behavior, and they are by far the best gliders," Yanoviak said. But the long, cylindrical wasp-like Pseudomyrmecinae ants are also pretty good at it, as are several species of carpenter ants he recently dropped.

"There are three species of Cephalotes that also occur in the States ?one in Arizona, one in Texas, and one in the Florida Keys," he noted. "I'd like to get up there and drop those to see what they do."

"Steve's first observation may be leading to a whole Pandora's Box of gliding arthropods," added Kaspari. "Steve, Robert and I right now are exploring how pervasive such directed descent might be ?we are, in fact, finding it in a variety of wingless arthropods that glide in using a variety of techniques. Plummeting to the earth may be the exception, not the rule."

Yanoviak is in Iquitos to explore how deforestation affects the mosquito transmission of Venezuelan equine encephalitis. In hopes of establishing a mosquito colony in the laboratory, he goes in search of mosquitoes and larvae in the canopy where they live, mostly above private land around the city. Using ropes and cave-climbing equipment, he ascends trees and collects mosquito larvae from water-filled tree cavities and also collects adult f
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Source:University of California - Berkeley


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