Big Eyes on Little Worlds
Ants are wee and hard to see. Paint dots make the single ant stand out. Lean in close to learn more about an ant's place.
My gig is to write about individual animals. I like to look at an animal's own, private world, to imagine and get others to think about what these alternative lives are like. I am not just interested in the life of any old bat or bat species (bat behavior) but rather, in the life of Chester the brown myotis bat (bat 256 to a researcher). To understand animals, it is just as important to understand an individual animal is it is to understand the behavior of a whole species.
Scientists call an animal's perspective on their world their “umwelt”. In German, “um” means around or surrounding. “Welt” means world or environment. Umwelt, literally means “the world around”. The umwelt includes the way a species perceives all the sensory, physical and emotional information in their environment. I like to think of what it must be like to be another kind of animal, like a blue bird for example. What is the umwelt of a bluebird like?
More so, I'd like to know what it's like to be the mother blue bird in my bright red bluebird box. What does she worry about? Does she worry? Can bluebirds worry? Does she have a favorite chick? Is their favoritism in the bluebird world? In the bird world?
My curiosity in this small life brings up all kinds of questions about her, her species and birds in general. But for me the curiosity is always born from the individual life. What's it like to be them?
As the bestiaryist, I tell the tales of individual animals, to lend thoughts and insight on them. To share this information with others who are also curious. This blog is about my musings about individual animals. Unfortunately their is an under-representation of fish and insects as they are less well known to us as individuals. Fish and Insects have been studied and written about far less in this way than birds and mammals have.
Insects are mostly small and hard for the human eye to identify and track as individuals. Then along come paint and microscopes and increased funding and soon the individual ant marches forth. It has long been known that ants form emergency rafts out of their bodies. To make them, they hold on to each other with mandibles and limbs. These composite structures are capable of floating a colony of as many as 8000 ants safely through a flood. What wasn't known, was the role individual ants played in these rafts.
Enter individualizing paint dots. Researchers placed paint dots on the backs of ants so they could identify individuals. They learned that when ants create emergency rafts, they don't take random positions. Each ant has an assigned place and occupies it when a raft is needed. (see video here)
I find this fascinating. I would also find it fascinating if one day some one were just to film the day in the life of a formica selysi ant. What is their umwelt like? What's it like to be ant 4566, who wears the yellow dot on his head the green dot on his mid-section and the white and blue dots on his hind end? Ant 4566 whose position on an ant raft is along the side, what else do we know about his individual umwelt, his “bug's life”?
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