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Entomologist Corrie Moreau's passion for ants inspired her to dedicate her life to ant research and connect with other insect enthusiasts.

An ant hill of insect experts converge on Chicago

by Theresa Chong
Nov 01, 2013

ant nest

Theresa Chong/MEDILL

The beauty of an ant skyscraper underground.

Creepy-crawly creatures don’t need Halloween to draw an audience. Ant and insect experts from five different states will be attending the “Chicago Area Ant Lab Meeting” on Saturday. More than 50 scientists will be discussing their research at the annual event hosted by the Field Museum of Natural History.

“You name it, we talk about it,” said Corrie Moreau, associate curator of insects at the Field Museum. Presenters at the meeting will discuss their latest research findings from biodiversity in the tropics to ecological studies in the Midwest that show ants are diverse insects.

So what’s the big deal about ant research anyway?

Gaining a better understanding of ants reveals clues about one of the “most ecological successful creatures on the planet,” said associate professor Andrew Yang who teaches courses on biodiversity and engagement at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. For his PhD, he researched the evolution and ecology of ants. Although he won’t be presenting at the meeting, he's attending to keep tabs on local research and the latest developments.

Professor Andy Suarez and his team of students will also be traveling from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to attend the seminar. His lab focuses on biological invasions, which causes “economic damage in agricultural and urban areas.”

“Surprisingly, there is a remarkable diversity of ant species moving around the world as a result of human commerce,” according to Suarez’s lab website. Out of the top 100 invasive species in the world, five of them are ant species. His lab studies various ant types and their success or failure regarding the three phases of invasion: “opportunity, establishment and spread,” as described on his website.

By getting a closer look at how certain ant species survive and spread, they can help prevent future infestations. They also view ants as bio-inspiration. “We hope that by understanding the biomechanics of how insects do thing(s) we can inspire engineers to develop novel solutions as well,” Suarez said.

Moreau and Suarez started the annual ant meeting three years ago to create a community for ant researches to discuss their expertise. “This sharing of ideas and research avenues makes you realize how all the pieces contribute to the whole of our knowledge of biodiversity,” said Moreau.