Ant Course

Applications now closed for Vietnam course

The 18th ANT COURSE will be held April 3 - 15, 2022 in Vietnam: Cuc Phuong National Park

Organizing institutions and sponsors – California Academy of Sciences, US National Science Foundation, Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, Hanoi

Course Schedule soon

Course Handbook soon

Bolton Morphology updated 18 April 2015

Participant Acceptance Criteria: ANT COURSE is open to all interested individuals (professionals, motivated amateurs such as citizen scientists, undergraduate, and graduate students, postdocs, and professors). Priority is given to applicants currently researching ants. An entomological background is not required. We aim to include students with diverse interests and experiences in biology, including systematics, evolution, ecology, behavioral biology, neurobiology, genetics, global change biology, and conservation. The high ratio of instructors to students allows all attendees to receive a great deal of individual attention. ANT COURSE is presented in English and limited to 25 participants. Photos from previous courses are available in the yearbook.

Cost: Course fees are estimated at $450.  The fees cover food, lodging, and local transportation to the Cuc Phuong National Park from Hanoi. Participants must also cover all transportation costs between home and Hanoi, and must cover the costs of a taxi from the airport, meals, and hotel while in Hanoi.


Brian Fisher (Coordinator), An Dang IEBR, Bonnie Blaimer, NCSU and Museum für Naturkunde, Michael Branstetter, USDA-ARS Utah State University; California Academy of Sciences; Flavia Esteves, California Academy of Sciences; Jack Longino, University of Utah; Andrea Lucky, University of Florida; Corrie Moreau, Cornell University; Phil Ward, University of California, Davis;


The ANT COURSE Program

ANT COURSE is a workshop that includes three modules: I. Phylogeny, Diversity, Classification, II. The Social Dimension, and III. Roles in Ecosystems and Sustainability.

Ant Course is a unique opportunity to acquire training that is unavailable elsewhere. Lectures and laboratory practice emphasize classification, identification of ant genera, social systems, and the diverse roles ants play in ecosystems. Field trips teach skills such as collecting and sampling, live colony capture, and biomonitoring techniques. Associated lab work focuses on specimen preparation, sorting, labeling, dissection, and monitoring analysis. Information on equipment, literature, and myrmecological contacts are also shared.

This course will provide students with an appreciation of the following:

  • Biological diversity and evolution of ants.
  • Diagnostic characteristics of genera and some species.
  • Field collecting and specimen preservation techniques.
  • Use of identification keys.
  • How ant societies function: division of labor, reproduction, communication, problem-solving.
  • Role of ants in providing ecosystem services.
  • Monitoring objectives and methods.
  • Online tools for ant identification, natural history, and scientific communication.


I. Phylogeny, Diversity, Classification

Module one provides the framework for exploring and understanding of sociality and the role ants play in ecosystems and communities.

  1. Phylogeny
  2. Morphology
  3. Classification
  4. Identification
  5. Curation
  6. Macroecology/Biogeography

Field trip: focused on collecting methods, diversity of collections.

II. The Social Dimension

Ants exist not so much as individual organisms but rather as elements within a colony (within a family unit). Understanding this idea is key to appreciating how ants interact with the world.

  1. Reproduction including dissection of ovaries.
  2. Dispersal and Colony foundation.
  3. Division of Labor: how are colonies organized? age and caste.
  4. Communication underlies cooperation.
  5. Colony members are not clones: Regulation of conflicts.
  6. Perennial nests. Benefits of food exchange and storage (trophallaxis, trophic eggs, repletes)
  7. A broad continuum between simple and complex societies.

Field trip: live colony capture for study.

Lab practical options with live colonies are done in groups of 3-4 students. Observations make it necessary to have a suitable container with fluon – note: each student should bring a plastic container.

  • If the live colony was located after baiting foragers (as opposed to accidental finding, e.g. inside a rotten log), make general observations about worker activity (around entrance) and prey preferences *before* collecting colony.
  • observe different brood stages (e.g. are pupae naked or enclosed in cocoon? how larvae feed?
  • mark (color codes) a small sample of individuals, and observe their activities.
  • how many queens?
  • Do the same workers forage?
  • Are there differences in behavior among morphologically distinct sub-castes?
  • list differences between queens and workers (and males!), and relate to distinct functions in colony (= functional morphology). Assess degree of dimorphism in body size.
  • dissect queen ovaries, check for developing eggs and "yellow bodies", check for sperm in spermatheca. Dissect the color-marked workers. If several queens, determine monogynous/polygynous?
  • dissect thorax of queen (in alcohol): are wing muscles present or resorbed? infer about claustral/non-claustral foundation of colonies.
  • Estimate/count colony size.
  • Use agar plates to see what bacteria grow from ant guts.

III. Role in Ecosystem/Sustainability

Since ants are so ecologically important, can we do good science but also do good for society?

  1. Community dynamics.
  2. Diversity of diet: baiting, isotopes, mandible shapes, gut symbionts.
  3. Invasive ants.
  4. What role do ants play in ecosystem services?
  5. Mutualisms with plants and insects.
  6. Can the study of ants play a role in achieving conservation/sustainability goals?
  7. How to design a monitoring program for ants and analyze monitoring data?
  8. Ecological tolerance and life history of indicator species.

Field trip: explore community dynamics/role of ants in ecosystem.

Field Practical options:

  • Student could be responsible for sampling in a specific quantitative manner (traps, winklers) and then compares diversity/occurrence before the end of the course. Students can sample diverse habitats or along disturbance gradients.
  • Focus on a few ant-plants and ask if the communities / inhabitants change in relation to land use change or abiotic gradients.
  • Investigate if introduced species are interacting with native fauna (behaviorally or in competition for next space or resources). This can be examined with baits.
  • Big baiting experiment where students measure discovery / dominance tradeoffs in relation to habitat (arboreal versus ground) or bait type (protein versus carbohydrate).
  • Students repeat the global picnic bait study to see which nutrients appear to be more limiting for different taxa or in different habitats.

Side workshops:

  • Science Communication
  • Conservation priorities for ants

Share This

Upcoming Courses

2021: August: Vietnam

2022 August: Australia or Cameroon

2023 August Australia or Cameroon


Ant Course Yearbooks

See photos, students, and instructors from past years.

Student Praise for Ant Course

Ant Course is an exceptional experience that has motivated me to pursue new avenues of research. I leave it energized and inspired. Great Work.
Emilio Bruna 2004

Fantastic Course. Best Field Course ever. The Ant Course has revitalized my research program and has positioned me to make lasting contributions to ecology, biodiversity, myrmecology and evolution.
Anonymous student 2004

Service Award

The Ant Course Distinguished Service Award honors a lifetime of achievement in the study of ants. 

Ant Course History

Read about the history of Ant Course from the perspective of one of its coordinators.