Dissecting Ants


– Hey, Corrie. – Hi, how are you, Emily?
[Dr. Corrie Moreau, curator/ants] – Good, how are you?
[Dr. Corrie Moreau, curator/ants] – I’m excellent.
[Dr. Corrie Moreau, curator/ants] – So, you called us into your office
because you have some ants. – I do.
– Live ants. – I have two species of live ants
[Bullet ant, Paraponera clavata] that I brought back from Panama
[Bullet ant, Paraponera clavata] for two different research projects
[Turtle ant, Cephalotes atratus] that I’ve been working on.
[Turtle ant, Cephalotes atratus] This one here is actually turtle ants, so I’ve talked a little bit
about those in the past, these are great, you can
grab some if you’d like. And these ants are really beautiful, both in sort of their
structure, their anatomy, also because they have this
really interesting sets of biology. So this is the species that glide. So when they fall out of trees, they use directed aerial descent
to grab onto the trunk of the tree, so that they don’t fall all the
way to the canopy floor. – WHAT?! So how do they like, steer their heads and
like pheeeeeeeewwww? – Yeah, they essentially use their heads and their bodies as like,
[Turtle ant, Cephalotes atratus] you know, sails,
[Turtle ant, Cephalotes atratus] and then use their ability to sort of
maneuver to like—as a rudder, but the reason I’m interested in them is they actually have
really cool gut bacteria, and so we’re starting to study
[Turtle ant gut dissection] the diversity of bacteria in the gut
[* bacterial cells, * host ant gut cells] and also the functional
role of those bacteria. One of the things that
we know about turtle ants is that they’re primarily vegetarians. We wanna answer the question
if they’re using their gut bacteria to upregulate their diet.
[* are turtle ants using their gut bacteria to upregulate their diet?] So I would say the turtle ants
are a really diverse group, there are about 120 species,
[* about 120 species of turtle ants] but this group here, this
is Cephalotes atratus, and it’s one of the earliest lineages
[* Cephalotes atratus scavenge prey] within the turtle ants,
[* Cephalotes atratus scavenge prey] and these actually do scavenge prey.
[* Cephalotes atratus scavenge prey] We know that the sort
of additional species that have diversified since
this group broke of, they actually almost
entirely are vegetarians, and one of the species
[Turtle ant, Cephalotes varians] that I’ve worked on for a very
long time in the Florida Keys, Cephalodes varians, eats only pollen and sugar water,
[* Turtle ant, eats only pollen and sugar water] so in that case, we
want to ask the question, are they using their gut microbes
to essentially translate that nutrition into all the essential amino
acids that they need. – Wow. So, so, is the reason that
they are primarily vegetarian, not these, but most of the other species, is that why they have small mandibles and I’m not worried about
it trying to bite me right now? – Yeah, that’s a great question. Yeah, maybe that’s why
they have small mandibles, I mean, that’s an interesting,
you know, conundrum. So there’s this question about where do you invest in defense,
[* where do you invest in defense] so do you invest in defense through
big mandibles [* big mandibles] or do you have spines
on your body, [* spines] which a lot of turtle
ants have, like these. Is it a trade-off? So, is it that you can’t
physically invest in all, so you pick which is the best strategy, depending on the natural history or
life history strategy of that species. – And their strategy is to have spines. – This species in fact, they
actually have spines on the top parts of their body,
[Turtle ant, Cephalotes atratus, * spines] so sometimes when you go to pick ’em up,
[Turtle ant, Cephalotes atratus, * spines] it almost feels like they bit you,
[Turtle ant, Cephalotes atratus, * spines] but it’s really just that
you grabbed the spine at exactly the right angle. We want to study the bacteria that
are living inside their bodies, and so, we actually need
to dissect them while they’re alive, which is unfortunate for them, but in that way, we can
actually culture the bacteria that are inside their
bodies alive now. So most of the time when
I take ants back from the field, I’ve already killed them in the field
and put them in preservative, and that preserves both the ant but also the bacteria
inside their bodies, where if we actually want to
grow up those bacteria, like on plates or in liquid media,
we need them to still be alive. – Gotcha.
– Yeah. – Alright, well, let’s—let’s see it happen.
– Alright. – Maybe not this one, though,
I’ve grown kind of attached to it. – So essentially what
I have is just a Petri dish with some preservative in it. What I want to do is
disarticulate parts of her body, and so for me, the parts
that I’m interested in is I wanna have an ou—I wanna have a leg just to sort of accommodate
for the bacteria that they’re encountering
in the environment, and then I wanna pull
off the abdomen or the gaster is what we
call it in ant morphology, pull that off and then
start to open that up to get to all the segments
of the digestive system, so here it goes. So first thing I’m gonna do is actually just pull off her abdomen or gaster,
[* abdomen or gaster] you can see there it
almost goes flying. Unfortunately, she’s
still moving around, and that’s the thing
that’s quite surprising, is sometimes after—if you
encounter ants in a battle, you will actually see
them still running around without their abdomens on, which is unfortunate, so she’s
obviously still running around a bit. And so now, obviously,
I’ve told you that there are specific body segments I want to have,
[* leg] so immediately I wanna
take that leg and preserve it. The other thing that I often want is I want the head or the mouth area, because I wanna have
some kind of understanding of what bacteria they’re ingesting, so what’s getting into
their digestive tract, which may not become a resident
member of their digestive tract. So in this case,
[* head] I can either try to dissect out the—
[* head] what we call the infrabuccal pocket, which is the sort of pouch
inside of their head, or I can actually just start
disarticulating the entire head. Keep the head in a separate
little container, oops. Now I actually wanna
get into that last cavity, which is the abdomen, to start of start pulling
out the segments of the— – So the bacteria in the abdomen
is still alive and that’s— – It’s still alive at this
point, right, so I mean, imagine that like, you know,
the second that we die, our gut bacteria don’t know
that we’re dead yet, right? So they have a bit of time before
they actually stop working. – I never thought about that. I mean, I know you—when you
think about the decay process, it’s just a continuation of life
in that you have all this bacteria that’s working on—on digesting and breaking down all
of your organic material, but it’s still—that’s—I mean, we’re—
we’re just bacteria colonies. – Yeah. And you know, the bacteria that are taking
advantage of us transition, right? So what’s living on
us while we’re alive and helping us process our food is gonna be a bit different
than what takes over once we’re dead, right? So now I’m inside the digestive tract,
[* inside the digestive tract] and so now what
I want to do is that there’s different
segments in the body, so just like we have our stomach
and then our large intestines and our small intestines, ants have similar
digestive compartments, and so I wanna sort of
tease those apart. In this case, I’m interested
in what’s found in what’s called their social
stomach, or their crop, and that essentially is
just a liquid food container, and that’s where they can,
if they find a liquid food source, they can ingest it and then if they find another
member of their colony, they can regurgitate it
mouth to mouth, so they can share that
liquid food source. Just to give you an idea of
what we’re talking about, you can see that it’s very small.
I sort of stuck it to the side of this. It just looks like a little,
like, white glob, right? Maybe with a little dark spot?
– Yeah. – So you can see that it’s actually quite tiny,
[* liquid food container inside social stomach] that’s one compartment
of her digestive system. And so then the other
part of the body, like the digestive tract we want is we want the mid-gut
and the hind-gut, because we actually know that that’s where food
processing starts to happen, and so in that case, we really wanna have
a clear understanding of what bacteria are there,
and so the work that we’ve done, myself and also a bunch
of my collaborators is we’ve been able to
document that a lot of the really interesting bacteria seem to be constrained
only to that region, and that they seem
to be codiversifying, or coevolving with their hosts.
– What? – So once they’ve gotten
into that segment, it’s essentially like, as the host is— you know, the new
species are forming, their bacteria are just tracking
right along with the—the hosts. – Wow. – Which is really cool, right?
– Yeah. – I mean thinking about evolution,
so essentially, you have, you know, multiple species all evolving
together, and you know, so it’s one of those, you know,
thoughts if we think about it, like, if we were to wipe
out any one species, there’s never just one
species, like, even humans, if we were to wipe us out, all of the mites that live in
our fore—our pores, right, they would go extinct too. Even—all of the bacteria that
are found only in human guts, those would go extinct as well, so we’re ecosystems
in and of ourselves. You’ve spent all this time
now in the rainforest. We’re just a giant rainforest
walking around, right? – Yeah. Now I feel like
I need to shower a little bit. – No, you wanna keep all those
things on you, they’re important. – Yeah. Or I get one of those worm
eyeballs, or eyeball worms? Worm eyeballs? Eyeball worms.
– Eyeball worms. The Brain Scoop is brought to you by the Field Museum in Chicago It still has brains on it.

100 thoughts on “Dissecting Ants

  1. So…i thought dissection was to examine an already dead subject. this is mutilation…and it's rude. I guess we should do this people who have signed away their bodies to science before they even die, right? "it's just a bug, who cares?" well. I do 🖕🤘

  2. read this as "disrespecting ants" and immediately thought to myself, "FINALLY, justice!" FUCK ants man … I mean I understand their purpose but those shits are evil

  3. I don't know why, as a person who has had bad experience with and hates ants, but I think those turtle ants look so friendly and oddly cute.

  4. Is it even possible to explain to people convinced that ants suffer that ants evolved completely differently from vertebrates? They don't experience pain the same way we do? Because all it seems these people have are feelings on their side. Overactive empathy for things that don't deserve it.

  5. I don't know why I feel so uneasy about this when I literally kill hundreds of ants every year when I throw down ant killer powder in my garden ever summer!?

  6. What's the name of this "microscope " she's using? I know its not microscope but more like magnifying apparatus

  7. Kinda funny the people complaining about dissecting the ant alive when they probably step on and kill many more ants daily and don't even bat an eye

  8. The co-evolution of the microbiome that accompanies any animal raises interesting questions with regards to resurrecting extinct species. Say we were to bring back the wooly mammoth or a passenger pigeon. How could we recreate the intestinal microbe colonies that would be essential for the animals health and survival? Perhaps after going through all the trouble to resurrect the species we would find that it sickens and dies for the lack of a colony of gut bacteria that we are unaware of.

  9. I get it, and I understand why it's done but … well, you've actually succeeded in making me feel bad for an ant. 🙁

  10. So cool that ants puke on the ones they love just like we birds do! I am going to start calling my crop my "social stomach". Want some used berries? Mmmmm!

  11. Usually you dissect things that are already dead. Not here; they just take a specimen and murder the hell out of it.

  12. Question: how are you protecting the anaerobic bacterial samples? When I was in school
    (a long time ago) my teacher took samples from a sheep’s stomach
    that had a rubber cork in the side of it’s body. Then all bacterial
    procedures were conducted under strict CO2 cover gas. (It tastes just
    like coca cola, lol) . . . . . So wouldn’t the ant have a population of anaerobic
    bacteria in it’s gut too?

  13. Was hoping for the view DOWN the microscope, but watching an ant dissection from across a table is good too I guess…

  14. wow! thanks for the video! i just started learning stuff about ants, hemolymph instead of blood, no lungs, heart shaped like a tube, and a badass exoskeleton! facinating little alien creatures.

  15. We truly are the WORST species on the planet. Cut others and each other for research only and pollute the planet for our children. Only to leave with a TRASHED home. Women have become so heartless. 👎 #metoo

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