Ants get their place in Smithsonian exhibit

Running a museum is no picnic, but the Smithsonian is attracting ants anyway.

A new exhibit, "Farmers, Warriors, Builders: The Hidden Life of Ants," opens Saturday at the National Museum of Natural History and continues through Oct. 10.

The display will include a live leaf-cutter ant colony from the lab of Ted Schultz, the museum's curator of ants.

And there will be a 6-foot-tall cast of an underground ant colony that was collected by Walter Tschinkel, who studies ant-nest architecture at Florida State University.

In addition, the museum will display 39 close-up photos of ant activities around the world.

Mark W. Moffett's photos include a weaver ant scouting the tree canopy in search of food, marauder ants overwhelming and killing a frog for food, a fire ant and an Argentine ant fighting over a dead grasshopper and a bulldog ant tending larvae.

"I use my camera as a microscope to watch ants," Moffett said in a statement. "The trick is not to be seen, to catch the ant in everyday behavior. You may only get one chance. Like any animal, ants are easiest to photograph when preoccupied."

On opening day visitors to the exhibit will have the opportunity to talk with Smithsonian scientists about their ant research and see a slide presentation by Moffett about ants and macro-photography.

Also on display will be a new portrait of biologist Edward O. Wilson, showing him in his office at Harvard University, surrounded by items symbolic of his research- microscope, magnifying glass, books and a large, wooden ant model.

The Natural History museum is also home to the National Collection of Ants, a reference collection launched in 1881 and now containing more than 1 million specimens representing more than 5,000 ant species. The collection covers ants worldwide in coverage and is especially strong in North American, Central American and South American species.

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