AntWeb To Catalogue Ant Species In 3D
June 11, 2012

AntWeb To Catalogue Ant Species In 3D

Brett Smith for

A biologist from the California Academy of Sciences is leading the effort to create an online catalogue of ant species in the form of high resolution, three dimensional images.

In building the catalogue, Brian Fisher, the self-described “ant guy”, and his team have been creating high definition mosaics of every ant species they could get their hands on. After starting the database with 8,000 species in the U.S., the team has kicked off their “world tour” of ant collections with a stop at the Natural History Museum in London.

There are an estimated 30,000 ant species in the world, of which 15,000 have been formally inventoried, complete with an individual specimen housed in a museum.

"Our goal is to image 10,000 a year," Fisher told the BBC News. He added that they began with the Natural History Museum because it has “the most diverse, best curated ant collection in the whole world."

In addition to cataloging individual species, the team is taking several images of examples of both sexes and all the different ant castes, including queens, soldiers, and minor workers. They use a photography technique that takes dozens of highly magnified pictures on different planes of focus. These images are then stitched together into high resolution mosaics that show finer details with extreme clarity.

The goal of the project is to provide a tool for scientists as well as anyone else by putting all the images in an online catalogue called Antweb. The project´s website notes that as of May 2012, AntWeb contains “77510 ant images, of 18508 specimens representing over 8304 species.”

Fisher describes Antweb as an open resource that can help to bring museum specimens to life.

"This project will mean that anybody, anywhere at any time will have access to these specimens that we hide in museums,” he told BBC and PressTV. “You can zoom in and see fine hairs, the eyes, all of this detail, and all of this, under a microscope, is not in focus.”

"So this is actually the first time, as a scientist, I get to see this ant in 3D. It's very useful for scientists."

The website also includes a way for people to submit information on the many different kinds of ants, including natural history information and field images. After verification, this information is then linked directly to taxonomic names.

Another important section of the Antweb site is the page on “introduced ants” or ants that have been transferred from one region to another. The site contains a list of species that have been introduced into areas outside of their native region.

The goals of the introduced ant page on the Antweb site is to collect information on where introduced ants are found, and help provide taxonomic resources for introduced ants, a statement on the website says.

Through collecting this information, the group led by Fisher said they hope to achieve two goals: establish a “biogeographic patterns of invasion including the identification of regions that may either produce many invaders or be particularly prone to invasion” and understand “taxonomic perspectives on invasion success.”