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

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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