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Is summer the best time for ant outreach? A Google-trends analysis

How popular is the word ‘ant’ in google searches from different countries? How does it change over time?

I used Google trends to check that. World wide, there seems to be a seasonal pattern in the search popularity.

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Note: Here 100 means the most popular (given the range of time, country, topic (Biological sciences etc). 0 means less than 1% popular relative to the most popular score (of 100).

Although it could be biased by the population who knows how to use internet and have access to it, North American countries like Canada and US follow a seasonal search pattern with summer periods getting more searches.

 

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The United Kingdom has a similar pattern too.

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Perhaps it could be to get rid of ants in their houses. (This is definitely a correlation and a speculation, but not causation). But not all ants are bad. Maybe summer time is the best to teach people about ants, organise ant outreach programs and school visits etc. Although any time is good time to teach anything (almost), making more online content during the summer months can be helpful for people and raising awareness about ants, diversity, conservation, pest control, and all the cool ant science!

I expected a similar pattern for most norther hemisphere countries, but it was not true for countries like Russia and Germany (although there seems like a weak pattern towards recent years in Germany). It could be due to various reasons like culture,and internet literacy/usage/availability.

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Souther hemisphere countries like Australia have a peak in its summer time (Dec-Feb). But this was not true for South Africa.

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So more ants for the summer. More ant searches. More ant content for the summer. That is what we need.

 

30 second video of my thesis

Ant walk 2016

Here is our recent science outreach ‘antwalk’ in Canberra. Although it is like science outreach every day I work outside collecting data on the ANU campus. There are always curious people asking about my work, learning  and getting interested in knowing more about  how f-ant-astic ants are! There are curious magpies and possums too (maybe they just want to eat the ants or the cookies that I give them).

Delectable weavers!

For Asian weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina), a tree is like a city. They run on their invisible pheromone highways on branches of the tree,  from one ‘room’ of their house to another. You just can’t help noticing their houses–leafy and silky–no less than any architectural beauty. Their nest making involves a team of ants pulling leaves together, while an ant squeezes a larva (an ant baby) to produce threads of silk which she uses to weave the leaves together (and thus the name, weaver ants).

 (not my video)

These master weavers are pretty aggressive and are good at biological pest control: they protect the host plant from many insects (studied here and a detailed review here). However, this also means that it decreases the flower-visiting rate of various pollinators.

“But the ants themselves can act as pollinators”, you might ask.

It turns out that it is rare. A possible reason can be the pollen inhibition function of antibiotics that the ants produce. These antibiotics are produced by them to fight pathogenic microbes. Unfortunately, this also reduces different functions of the pollen, leading to reduced percentage germination, short pollen tube formation etc. Furthermore, they are not aggressive towards all insects. In fact, they are ‘friends’ with a few. They interact with honeydew-producing scale insects, larvae of butterfly etc. In this interaction, ants get honeydew from them, and in return they protect them from predators. Ironically, sometimes they cannot protect themselves from hungry people!

Some people enjoy these ants and their larvae as a delectable dish. In fact, farming them is suggested to be highly profitable.

Have you ever tasted them? You might want to take a closer look at them, the next time you are in your garden.

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