The Science of Sustainability

Producer's Notes: Ants: The Invisible Majority

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Ants used to creep me out. But over the last few months, I and several other QUEST producers have definitely become ant-lovers.

Ants used to creep me out. But over the last few months, I and several other QUEST producers have definitely become ant-lovers. The study of ants is called “myrmecology” so perhaps we could be considered “myrmecophiles”. Whatever it’s called, we can’t get enough of them. Ever since a story meeting with the California Academy of Sciences in November 2009 when they told us about their “amazing” ant researcher, Brian Fisher and the work he’s doing locally as well as in Madagascar with ants, we’ve been smitten with the Family Formicidae.

Since that Cal Academy meeting, QUEST has created six distinct ant-related pieces of content. Lauren Sommer decided to do a radio report right away. I distinctly remember the excitement on her face when she came back from her first meeting with Brian Fisher. She stopped at my desk and said, “…you guys HAVE to do this story! The ants are SO AMAZING!” She especially liked their “little faces”. I have to admit, up to that point, I hadn’t really thought of ants as having faces. You need only check out Ant Web to see that not only do they have faces and hairdos, the world’s ant species have incredible morphological diversity.

Lauren produced a great radio report, “Bay Area Ant Invasion” about the invasive Argentine Ant “super-colony” in California that has pushed out most of the native ant species here. She also published a slide show along with her Producer’s Notes about “Coping with Ants at Home”.

And just in time for the broadcast of my TV story, “Ants: The Invisible Majority”, Lauren’s made a beautiful map that features some of the top Bay Area ant researchers’ favorite native ants and personal notes about why they love them.

During the production of my TV story, we contacted the world’s foremost expert on ants, E.O. Wilson, on the off chance that he might be in the Bay Area during the time when we were shooting. To our delight, his answer was ‘yes’ and although we were not ultimately able to time it for inclusion in the QUEST segment, I was able to shoot an produce an interview segment with him for the KQED TV series, This Week in Northern California, in which he talks with me about his lifelong fascination with ants, his new novel, “Anthill” and what we can all do to save the natural world.

Finally, Lindsay Kelliher produced a short but sweet TV segment with E.O. Wilson called “Why I Do Science” that focuses on how he first started studying ants. Look for that in QUEST episode 412 which airs on August 24th, 2010. I also want to mention the very first piece of ant content from QUEST Education Supervisor, Jessica Neely. Back in January 2008, she took a group of science teachers out ant pooting as part of our QUEST Science Education Institutes. Check out her blog post called, “Never Used a Pooter?

So, what is it about ants that warrant all this QUEST attention? As Brian Fisher points out, we depend on ants for the health of terrestrial ecosystems. They are key players in the recycling of organic matter and without them, most ecosystems would collapse. But also, ants are just plain weird. They communicate with chemicals, live in complex social systems and do things like farming, herding and slave-making. And did you know that all of the ants in a colony are female? Yep. The males are bred up and live only long enough to mate and die.

Obviously, I could go on. But I’ll restrain myself and let you peruse all the amazing ant materials that QUEST has created and compiled in the last few months and let you explore for yourself the wonderful world of ants.

Watch the Ants: The Invisible Majority television story online.

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Category: Biology, Environment, Partners, Television

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Amy Miller

About the Author ()

Amy Miller is the Supervising Producer and Partner at Spine Films, a boutique independent production company specializing in hard science factual television. Prior to joining the Spine team, Amy worked for six years at KQED (PBS) in San Francisco as the Series Producer of QUEST, a multimedia science and environment series. It was at KQED that she was finally able to merge her lifelong passions for science and storytelling. Originally from Iowa, Amy grew up in Colorado then landed in San Francisco in 1991. She studied biology and film production at University of Colorado and San Francisco State University, and since graduating in 1995, she has worked as a camera assistant, documentary filmmaker, TV producer and correspondent on a variety of cable and public television shows including two other KQED series, "Spark" and "Independent View". For her work in television, she has earned ten regional Emmy awards, two AAAS Kavli Science Journalism awards, and a Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism Feature Writing award.