We skittered around Australia in 2015

We ventured out of our nest in Armidale in 2015 and skittered around a big part of Australia. The epic ant trail took me (Kirsti Abbott) and my family to rural and remote schools in five states, and regional festivals in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Kununurra SoA Collage
One of the aims of our School of Ants 2015 tour was to bring schools and individuals into a yearlong citizen science project, where participants agree to collect ants monthly on the same day. Synchronicity in ecology data collections is rare, typically because a small team of scientists just can’t be in too many places at once. But luckily for us, citizen science made this possible!

In 2015 School of Ants received 52 registrations across Australia, of which half of the participants agreed to collect ants at yummy food baits at the same time as each other every month. In addition to this data collection, this approach created a sustainable, real science enquiry project that inspires students to connect and learn about their planet. This is why our citizen science offering attracted so much interest and excitement.

That there are more insects than any other multicellular living thing is reason alone to get down and dirty with them. School of Ants invited kids all over the country to ask questions and tell us what they want to know about these little things that run that world. These conversations will inform how we design future education programs for School of Ants.

As part of my tour, I was privileged to meet with many curious and expanding young citizen scientists. Participating schools in rural, regional and remote Australia were treated to whole days of antics programmed around each monthly collection. In Lockhart (NSW), Brewarrina (NSW), Gympie (QLD), Longreach (QLD), Cairns (QLD), Alice Springs (NT), Kununurra (WA) and Kimba (SA), we covered topics from zombie ants to ant behaviour and diet. Students, their teachers and parents helped collect data and graph it. We used microscopes to look at the many bizarre features on ants’ bodies, and evens screen-printed ant t-shirts by hand!

Kirsti Lori nest and girls

School of Ants took citizen science into festivals too, appearing at The Planting at Woodfordia in southeast Queensland, and the Alice Springs Desert SMART EcoFair where the untapped potential for citizen science is enormous!  We returned to The Planting Festival in 2016 too, with great success.

In 2015 School of Ants identified 61 species of ants that came to the food baits within an hour, three of which are considered invasive species. Among the most common species were those that Australians commonly refer to as ‘little black ants’ – those dominant critters that you notice at your lunch when you drop it, or at the washing line as the humidity increases. These ants are performing jobs in our urban environments that we take for granted every day, and if recent research is right, there are literally thousands of species doing these jobs around Australia. Far more than we ever realised.

 

This post was first published on Inspiring Australia’s page here.


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