Mini Ant Mystery- SOLVED!

Greetings from the Field Museum Chicago!

I have solved the mystery of the mini ants seen in Echinacea heads in the common garden. Below is a picture of the specimen. Those tic marks indicate mm and those small, yellow grains are pollen (Echinacea, I presume):

photo (1).JPG

These ants have been identified as… drumroll please…

Photo courtesy of Alex Wild

Brachymyrmex depilis! Well, perhaps. This species is in need of a taxonomic revision as currently any yellow Brachymyrmex in North America are likely to be classified as depilis. This is one of the smallest ants in North America and usually subterranean.

Sara Z’s Project Data


Attached is the data that I collected this summer observing ants on Echinacea. The metadata is as follows:

Date- The date on which the observation was made
Site- The site at which the observation was made, abbreviations are the standard for the projects sites
Initials- Initials of the individual making the observation (SZ= Sara Zufan)
PlantID- The tag number of the plant being identified
Aphids- Whether or not aphids were observed (Y= Yes, N= No)
VialNo- The number of the vial which the ant samples were collected in
SpecNo- The number the specimen were given when transferred into collection tubes
MorphoID- The identification of the ant to Genus species
MorphoCt- The number of ants counted on the plant of that morphological identification
AntCt- If more than one species was on the plant this shows how many total ants were present during the observation
Est- Indicates whether or not the count was estimated (Y= Yes, N=No)
NearbyFlPlants- The identification of plants that were in flower at the time of the observation within one meter of the plant being observed

Ant Collection-Observation Data 2013.csv

Saturday (On Sunday)

Well, this Saturday was so un-noteworthy that I forgot to flog it. Oops.

Some of us started Saturday morning with phenology in the common garden. Sarah B went out afterwards to do phenology at her sites. There are so few flowering now that she can visit all of her sites in one morning.

We all learned something new at the expense of Dayvis. Never take out the batteries in your Visor. You will lose all of your data. 🙁

The rest of the day was spent running errands in Alex, looking at data, and relaxing.

Reina, Mike, and Ilse are out this weekend so Town Hall feels very empty. We did, however, start a community puzzle. Can you guess what it will be?


Super Sciencey Saturday

Today was a busy day for Team Echinacea. The morning started off with phenology in the common garden. We have a lot of flowering Echinacea and many of them are far along! It was a nice, cool, dewey morning, a pleasant change from the heat and humidity this week. Too bad the dew didn’t stick to the spider web so that this poor fella’ may have avoided being breakfast…


Afterwards, Lydia continued her aphid addition and exclusion experiment then gave Hattie a hair wrap.

Marie finished scanning her plot. Now she has much analyzing to look forward to! Dayvis and Marie also report gopher sightings at Hegg Lake.

Sarah and I worked together on our projects. Sarah continued her phenology at the Landfill sites while I followed looking for ants on Echinacea. It was a cool and wet morning so the ants were not very active. We did have several close encounters with an electric fence at Around Landfill, but no on-the-job accidents today.


Currently, Mike and Reina are at the Grant County Fair. Lydia (with the help of Sarah, Dayvis, and Marie) polished off leftover pizza that Marie made. It was Marie’s rendition of dining hall pizza: buffalo tofu; to which Lydia says, “I think it tastes fine.” It’s finally gone, now we are looking forward to Marie’s next culinary creation.

Ilse is camping this weekend and Kory is in IL with family. We miss them dearly and await their safe return tomorrow.

-Sara Z

Week 1 With Team Echinacea

What a week it has been! I arrived last Sunday to Kensington, MN and moved into the Town Hall. It’s no longer used as a public building, it was converted into a residence and is holding 9 Team members this summer. My room is a newly added loft space overlooking one of the basketball nets in the main room.


I started my first day on the project learning the ropes. I had a great introduction with “searching forStipa”. What does that mean? Well, looking for a specific grass in the tallgrass prairie. It was difficult to spot at first (and still kind of is) but it is a very distinctive grass. Not much is known about the biology of this grass which is why it was planted in the experimental Common Garden so that it could be observed and recorded. Can you find the Stipa in the picture below? Follow my Twitter feed @summerofscience for the answer (posted July 2).


I have travelled outside of the Common Garden to Hegg Lake twice, once with Marie and once with Kory. I helped Marie measure her F1 (first generation) hybrid Echinacea. I went with Kory and visiting scientist Jennifer Ison to learn how to capture and identify pollinators. I also visited Staffanson with Sarah B and Stuart. We tagged and flagged flowering Echinacea and Stuart gave us a tour of the prairie.

I am learning lots of new science and gaining valuable field experience. A typical day starts around 7 AM, I don’t need to get up this early but it lets me take my time getting ready and having breakfast. We carpool to work which starts at 8:30. Stuart gives us the run down for the day and we usually start off with Stipa or Echinacea searches in the morning until lunch. After lunch, we work on our individual projects until the end of the day around 4:30. Since I do not have a project yet I spent this week learning about current projects and visiting the other field sites.

Conditions in the field are, well…different from the classroom or a lab. Mornings are nice and cool, but if it is damp the mosquitos are swarming. Since insects are of interest in this project we cannot wear repellant in the field. The skies have been clear lately, so as the day goes on it warms up quite a bit and the rays from the sun are pretty strong. We have to wear long pants because we are in a tall grass prairie with insects, snakes, and prickly plants. If we don’t want to get our arms scratched or bit we should wear long sleeves. Long sleeves + long pants + sun = sweaty scientists. I’ve ditched the long sleeves but I have paid the price with a few scratches here and there.

Since it was a big and eventful week for I treated myself to a Saturday getaway to hike at Maplewood State Park about 70 miles away. I have never been to a forest that remote before and although I stayed on the trails I still saw a lot of wildlife. Turtles, dragonflies, birds, muskrats, and maple trees, of course. Even with a map and compass I still managed to get lost but I was able to admire the beauty of nature until I found my way back.


After the hike I was starving and craving Thai food, something you can’t get near Kensington. So I drove to Fargo, North Dakota (yes, like the movie) and is the largest city within 100 miles of Kensington. I didn’t see much to do after lunch and was getting tired after hiking all day so I made the 93 mile trip back to Kensington.

Don’t forget to check in for daily updates from the rest of the team on the flog and stay tuned for my next post.

-Miss Z