Ep5 - Digging for Ants in the Brazilian Cerrado with Ted Schultz

Photo by Jeffrey Sosa-Calvo / Smithsonian

Brazil is one of the most biologically diverse nations on Earth. In the center of Brazil, between the Amazon Rainforest and the Atlantic Coast Rainforest is an ecosystem found nowhere else on Earth– a savanna known as the Cerrado. The Brazilian Cerrado is home to more than 11,000 species of plants, 800 species of birds, and 200 species of mammals, and an unknown number of insects. Yet, much of the biological diversity of the cerrado is hidden underground.

In this episode, Scott speaks with his former research advisor Dr. Ted Schultz, Curator of Entomology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Dr. Schultz describes his lifelong fascination with ants, particularly a group of ants that live in the Cerrado and engage in a form of agriculture by cultivating fungi deep underground. To study these fascinating ants– which have been living as farmers for 66 million years– Scott and Ted share stories of their expeditions to the Brazilian Cerrado. 

But finding the ants is only half the battle. To learn about their underground farming practices, they have to dig deep pits while carefully tracing the ant’s narrow tunnels– all in the sweltering, tropical heat. But, with much of the Cerrado being lost to agriculture and urban development, it’s a race against time to learn about these species before they disappear. 

Photo by Scott Solomon

Photo by Scott Solomon

Ted Schultz (right) with South American colleagues Cauê Lopes (left) and Jeffrey Sosa-Calvo (center). Photo by Scott Solomon

Photo by Scott Solomon

Smithsonian Ant Lab website: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/research/entomology/collections-overview/hymenoptera/antlab 

More about the Brazilian cerrado: www.worldwildlife.org/places/cerrado

Follow Wild World on social media: @wildworldshow 

This episode of Wild World was produced by 3WireCreative

Photo by Scott Solomon