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Most of us dread the sight of an ant in the kitchen, and might squash it without pause. But what if we knew that a single ant is just one part of an ‘individual’, that individual being the ant colony as a whole? What if we truly understood the social complexity, diversity, and evolutionary success of ants? What if we knew that an ant queen can live up to 29 years?

Tune in to enter the life of an ant, and discover:

  • Why ants in warmer environments tend to be pale in color, and ants in colder environments tend to be dark in color, and how this is linked with body size
  • How certain types of ants use leaves as fertilizer by growing fungus on them, which they feed on
  • How pitfall trapping is used to collect and study ants from various habitats

Tom Rhys Bishop is an ecologist and Extraordinary Lecturer at University of Pretoria, South Africa, whose research is focused on trying to understand the factors that drive the distribution and diversity of different ant species, both on a small and large scale. His primary field site is in the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains of Southern Africa, where he samples ants up and down the mountain range to determine how and why different types and quantities of ant species live in different locations and habitats along the mountain.

The second component of his research is larger in scale, aimed at uncovering patterns of ant diversity globally—which includes the potential study of all 15,000 species of ant that have been described to date. With a dataset containing incredible details—including leg length, size of mandible, and broadness of shoulders—on about 4,000 of these ant species sampled from every continent, Bishop and other researchers are trying to better understand evolutionary and ecological convergence.

In describing the scope of this research and more, Bishop touches on a number of interesting topics, such as the different caste systems within an ant colony, how colony lifespan differs between species, environmental factors that impact the distribution of ant species, how ants stay warm without much hair, the ecological role of ants, ant colony structure, techniques for trapping ants from their natural environment for study, surprising ant abilities, and more.

For more information about Bishop’s research, visit

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