Waters Lab

Strobing in Opisthopsis

Exploring the natural history and biomechanics of a fast moving australian ant

With co-author Terry McGlynn, we published our natural history and biomechanics mash-up describing a spectacular behavior, the high-frequency strobing by Opisthopsis ants, in Myrmecological News.

A year’s worth of tropical rain falls over five months in the Top End of Australia’s Northern Territory. The wet season had not yet exhausted itself, and during a brief respite from the torrents, the strobe ants burst from their nests fitfully. A glance at their stunning staccato motion, distinct from other more continuous movements of ants in the undergrowth, calls the attention of the observer. Before the rains chased the strobe ants underground, we took the opportunity to bring some of them into the laboratory, to understand how they strobe.

Waters, J.S. & McGlynn, T.P. (2018). Natural history observations and kinematics of strobing in Australian strobe ants, Opisthopsis haddoni (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological News 27:7-11.

There’s a lot about this paper that we’re proud of and that was fun and exciting to pursue. Without time to write about it all, here are a few major take-aways:

  • Strobe ants (Opisthopsis sp.) can move with a high frequency (~5-7 Hz) start and stop walking gait.
  • We were able to successfully film high-speed video (240 Hz) of ants in the field and automatically track them relatively effortlessly with the freely-available Physlets Tracker.
  • This paper is the fortuitous result of Terry and James chatting about recording high speed video on twitter and then keeping in touch. We actually only met in real life for the first time after doing the research!
  • Not every reviewer was fond of our introduction prose style (see quote above), but we’re grateful that the Myrmecological News editors supported our attempt at a scientifically accurate, but still captivating narrative.
  • Future research questions begging to be addressed include the comparative and evolutionary implications of extraordinarily large eye size and the ecological or neurophysiological basis for strobing behavior.

Check out a video summarizing the data we collected and showing the high frequency start-and-stop strobing behavior: