Steve Yanoviak tosses ants from very high places: tropical forest canopy trees. In the 10 February, 2005 issue of the journal, Nature, Yanoviak, ant biologist, Mike Kaspari, and biomechanics expert, Robert Dudley, publish an amazing observation: canopy ant workers (Cephalotes atratus L) jettisoned from branches 30 m above the ground, glide backwards to the trunk of the same tree with incredible accuracy. This is the first published account of directed gliding in wingless insects.
Eighty-five percent of falling C. atratus workers glide back to their home tree. Marked ants often came right back to the branch where they started within ten minutes of falling or being dropped off! "I first noticed directed descent behavior on BCI [the Smithsonian’s Barro Colorado Island field station in Panama] in 1998 while working on a canopy ant project with Mike Kaspari. Some spiny C. atratus workers got stuck in my hand while I was sitting in a tree crown. When I brushed them off, they appeared to glide rather than fall haphazardly," Yanoviak recalls.
"Early on, when Steve was dropping ants from the radio tower on BCI I got really excited because I could see their very clear ’J’ trajectory." explains Kaspari, zoology professor at the University of Oklahoma and Research Associate at the Smithsonian. Kaspari introduced Steve to Robert Dudley, physiologist at the University of California, Berkeley and also a Smithsonian Research Associate.
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