Stephanie Greenman Stone (415) 379-5121
The California Academy of Sciences Presents
ANTS: Hidden Worlds Revealed
New Exhibit Opens at 875 Howard Street May 1, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO (April 27, 2004) - May 1, 2004, the California Academy
of Sciences will open its new facility at 875 Howard Street, and audiences
everywhere are ANTicipating the arrival of the fANTastic new natural history
exhibit that will be featured at the downtown facility - ANTS: Hidden
Worlds Revealed. Curated by Academy entomologist Brian Fisher, this
exciting exhibit will showcase six colonies of live ants, each of which
will display distinctive nest building and food collecting behaviors.
Four of the species represented - Harvester ants, Carpenter ants, Honeypot
ants, and invasive Argentine ants - are commonly found in California.
The other two species, however, come from further afield. Leaf Cutter
ants, which cultivate gardens of fungus in order to ensure a steady food
supply, make their home in the tropical rainforests of South America,
while meat eating Army ants migrate through parts of Africa and the Americas
in search of prey.
Each of the six live ant colonies will offer visitors the chance to look
inside the chambers and tunnels of the ants' nests and watch them forage
for food. The most dramatic views will be of the Army ants, which have
never before been displayed in a large-scale exhibit. These amazing ants
build nests out of their own bodies by interlocking their tarsal claws
to form intricate, tunnel-filled cylinders that are over three feet wide.
The interior corridors and chambers of these living nests can be opened
or closed according to climatic need, and the temperature can be controlled
to within a single degree Fahrenheit. Army ants also display unique foraging
behaviors - they hunt by forming a fan-shaped swarm and devouring every
animal in their path. In the ANTS exhibit, the Academy's Army ants will
march across a bed of sand three times a day to prey on live crickets.
The feeding show will feature live narration from an Academy biologist
and up-close footage from two video cameras within the enclosure.
The ANTS exhibit will also teach visitors about the highly complex social
structures of the various ant colonies. At the Harvester ant display,
visitors will be able to discern the detailed division of labor within
the colony: some worker ants husk, clean and crack seeds, while others
chew kernels into a soft pulp called "ant bread." Still others
store sun-dried seeds in large nest chambers or apply a chemical germicide
to prevent seeds from sprouting. The Honeypot ants display yet another
specialized behavior - some individuals are designated as living refrigerators
that are responsible for storing excess food in their stomachs. These
"honey pots" hang from the ceilings of cool nest cavities, holding
fast by their claws until their precious stores are required. As the desert's
food supply dwindles seasonally, nest mates will stroke the antennae of
a storage ant, causing it to regurgitate some of the "honey"
into the supplicant's mouth.
In addition to the live ant colonies, ANTS will also feature cutting edge
research by Academy scientists, including Dr. Brian Fisher's work in Madagascar.
In the past few years, Fisher has discovered over 600 new species of ants
in Madagascar, including the Madagascar Dracula Ant - a find that will
help scientists to understand the evolution of ants from wasps. Named
because of their grisly feeding habits, during which they cut holes into
their own larvae to extract colorless insect blood, Dracula Ants have
wasp-like abdomens and stinging behaviors.
The exhibit will also feature Academy research that is occurring closer
to home, including the Bay Area Ant Survey, which will give visitors the
opportunity to contribute to an ongoing Academy research project. Almost
nothing is currently known about the species diversity or distribution
of ants in the San Francisco area, so the Academy is embarking on an effort
to create a detailed ant map for ten Bay Area counties. Visitors who wish
to participate can pick up an ant collecting kit from the Academy's Naturalist
Center (located on the second floor of the Howard Street facility). After
collecting specimens and returning them to the Academy along with geographic
data, each participant's results will be added to the project map and
Web site, which will be available online at www.antweb.org.
The California Academy of Sciences,
including Steinhart Aquarium and the Natural History Museum, is open to
the public at 875 Howard Street. Admission to the Academy at 875 Howard
Street is: $7 for adults, $4.50 for youth ages 12 to 17, Seniors ages
65+ and students with valid ID, $2 for children ages four to 11 and children
ages three and younger will be admitted free of charge. Hours are 10 a.m.
to 5 p.m. everyday. www.calacademy.org (415) 750-7145.
The California Academy of Sciences,
the fourth largest natural history museum in the United States, is home
to Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and the Natural History Museum.
The Academy is beginning an extensive rebuilding project in Golden Gate
Park. Pritzker prize-winning architect Renzo Piano is designing the new
Academy, which is expected to open in 2008.
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