Greenport Entomologists Ant Photos On Display

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1. Greenport entomologist's ant photos on display 10/8/10 2:59 PM The Arts Email Article Print This Page Posted: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 Previous Back to…
  • 1. Greenport entomologist's ant photos on display 10/8/10 2:59 PM The Arts Email Article Print This Page Posted: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 Previous Back to Articles Next Greenport entomologist's ant photos on display 0 BY JOYCE BECKENSTEIN | CONTRIBUTOR tweets Share | tweet Mark Moffett always liked bugs. But unlike lots of kids who stuff critters into bottles and forget about them, young Mark enjoyed just watching what they were doing. "I'm the Martha Stewart of dirt," quips Dr. Moffett, of Greenport, who is today a highly acclaimed entomologist and photojournalist for Smithsonian and National Geographic magazines. KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO Photographs from his new book, Tropical ecologist and author Dr. Mark "Adventures Among Ants," along with a Related News Moffett poses in front of a photograph he live ant colony, are on view this month at took in South America. Known by the The Sirens' Song Gallery in Greenport. Dinner theater performance to benefit nicknames ‘Dr. Bugs’ and the ‘Indiana Jones of Entymology,’ Dr. Moffett has traveled the SAVES The Midwestern boy who cloned Volunteers who spend most of their time rescuing world in pursuit of his passion. paramecia at age 10 dropped out of high homeless cats and kittens and arranging for... school at 16, then wiggled through academia in programs tolerant of his self- Southold grad making a name for herself directed way of learning. He earned a Ph.D. in ecology at Harvard under the on stage tutelage of Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward Wilson. "Are you still singing?" That's the question 31-year-old He and his wife live in Brooklyn as well as Greenport, where they went to look at Christina Cataldo gets most often when she... an amazingly inexpensive but charming old house he first thought was in Caution: Creepy characters ahead Greenpoint but he'd misunderstood. When the geographic issue was cleared up, Channel 13 recently showed "Arsenic and Old Lace" he went to look at it anyway and fell in love with the village. and there was cringing Peter Lorre doing... If you caught him as a guest on "The Peter Tork takes Greenport back to the 60s Colbert Report" in May, you know Woodstock was still two years away when "The ‘I’m the Martha Stewart of that he's a camera-gripping daredevil Monkees" became a cultural phenomenon, rising up... dirt.’ Mark Moffett who dangles from helicopters and charges up trees with Indian bull elephants in hot pursuit. He takes Most Read Most Emailed Most Commented these risks to capture images that reveal the few degrees of separation between us and the denizens of nature. 1. Three crashes leave one dead, seven sent to hospital "People bond with the natural world as they do with most things — through emotional connections and unexpected encounters," he said in a recent interview, 2. Southold Police make pair of DWI arrests and "they care more about relationships than conservation." 3. Greenport man killed in dirtbike crash In his book, Dr. Moffett's images work in tandem with his easygoing text, telling 4. Friday fire at Mattituck pub stories that portray ant relationships as microcosms of our own. To counter their minuscule size and to anthropomorphize their world, he enlarges his photographs: 5. Automobile crash in Peconic injures two A flake of food looks like a boulder being trudged back to the nest by an organized work force. The largest ant bears the brunt of the haul. The next in size picks up Related Photos and Videos: the rear and a third — poor gal — uses her body to plug a pothole, smoothing the way for those slogging home. And after all this, their offering may not be accepted Slide Shows Videos by the colony. Food gatherers return to the nest like vendors offering goods at Macy's. They present their stash — a cookie crumb, a cockroach — before critical sisters who pounce on what's fit for the queen and her brood, toss what they don't like and then dispatch the foragers back out for more. 2010 Teeny Awards "Ant colonies are tightly knit sisterhoods," explained Dr. Moffett. Females promptly jettison males — in the minority and lacking useful work skills — from the nest. See All Slide Shows and Videos Slaves to a pleasure zone that allows them an exhilarating but brief life, males have but one function: to mate with the queen. Then they die. The sisters live on, tenaciously tending to the queen mother and her young. Page 1 of 3
  • 2. Greenport entomologist's ant photos on display 10/8/10 2:59 PM "There is no ambiguity in ant colonies; no personal issues, no questions about who will do what," said Dr. Moffett, adding that "ants can teach us what it takes to run a city with a million or more citizens." They've evolved an elaborate infrastructure with a division of labor; beyond gathering food, they build roads and sanitation systems, defend territory and protect the nest. One image of a single ant attaching itself to about 30 nest-mates reveals how Panamanian army ants on the move will construct living structures to provide temporary housing for the entire family. They link themselves together to build a bivouac, or basketlike nest, forming a container that can accommodate hundreds of thousands of workers with the queen and her young hidden inside. Young ants are strong fighters. They'll battle to their deaths to save the nest and instinctively attack a perceived foe, an ant with a scent distinctly different from their own. But some species, like honey pot ants in the southwestern United States, find tactical deception more prudent than combat. Lacking the numbers to protect their territory, they behave more like leaders at peace talks than soldiers in trenches. They'll posture, circle one another, puff themselves up and even stand on an object to appear large and intimidating. Squeamish? Find comfort in knowing that ants are fastidiously clean. They've been composting and recycling for millennia. Some of the largest ant colonies have sanitation squads that remove debris, ferret out contaminants and bury them in garbage disposal areas that lie 20 feet beneath the nest. In Panama, leaf cutter ants raise a fungus on the leaves they collect to sanitize them. "It's not boring," said Melissa Wells, Dr. Moffett's wife, videographer and assistant, about her travels with her intrepid husband. There have been some scary moments, she said, "like the night in Botswana when Mark's camera flash caught the eye of a bull elephant. He came at me, ears spread and flapping wildly as he let out an earth-shaking growl. I froze. Mark came and stood behind me and the beast calmed down, then trotted off." Some episodes with ants are just as terrifying. In Ghana, Dr. Moffett blundered into a swarm of driver ants "moving at about 20 meters an hour with knife-blade mandibles." You don't want to be surrounded by a solid mass of them on the ground, a reason why African mothers carry their babies on their backs and do not place them in cribs. If aliens ever invade us, Dr. Moffett suggested we pray they are like humans, not mutations of the Australian bulldog ant, which can grow to be an inch long. "If one turns to look at you, run! They have stingers like syringes that pump poison into their victims." But mostly, ants are vital to our environment. They rotate soil and nutrients, move seeds around and discard the debris we leave on the ground. Dr. Moffett's beautiful photographs suck readers into the universe we all share with one of the world's most ubiquitous and intriguing species. Can we pull together to keep house in the cooperative ways that ants do? Caroline Waloski, director of The Sirens' Song Gallery, said she hopes so. She wants the show "to bring art and science together and create an educational experience families can enjoy." It's also a chance to get to know our neighbor, Dr. Bugs (as he is known on his website), a fascinating creature in his own right. Copies of his book are available at the gallery. Click here to see Dr. Moffett interviewed on The Colbert Report. Login Comments There are no comments posted yet. Be the first one! Post a new comment Page 2 of 3
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