HBM098: Feed the Queen

The Victoria Bug Zoo is home to dozens of species of insects and arachnids, and two leaf cutter ant colonies.

There's the new colony, with a three year old queen whose kingdom grows every day. If all goes well, she is expected to live to the age of fifteen, laying an egg approximately every three seconds. Her colony is teaming with a healthy population of soldiers, gardeners, and foragers with the potential to reach more than a million ants. There is a constant stream of activity; the soldiers patrol the tunnels to keep the queen and colony safe, the foragers trek back and forth retrieving leaves for the gardeners who busily chew the leaves into substrate.

Leaf cutter ants don't actually eat the leaves they cut down. Instead, they use chewed up leaves to build nurseries for the hatchlings, and to grow fungus gardens. The fungus produces a nectar, and that's what everyone eats. These ants have farmed and domesticated this fungus for many millions of years, long before humans discovered agriculture. This special relationship is called “mutualism”.

The second ant colony -- the old colony -- is not a robust as the first. At thirteen, almost fourteen years old, the old queen recently passed away. In fact, Bug Zoo tour guide Ash Bessant discovered ants dragging dismembered parts of her body to the ant graveyard as HBM producer Bethany Denton was interviewing him.

From: Ants! Natures Secret Power A giant ant colony is pumped full of concrete, then excavated to reveal the complexity of its inner structure.

According to Ash, some of the ants continue to try feeding and cleaning the queen even after she’s died. Without a queen to lay eggs, the colony population will eventually dwindle and die out.

Can’t get enough leaf cutter ants? We recommend the 2013 BBC documentary Planet Ant: Life Inside the Colony

Bethany Denton produced this episode, with editing help from Jeff Emtman. Nick White is our editor at KCRW, and Kristen Lepore is our manager at KCRW’s Independent Producer Project.

Music:  The Black Spot   |||    Serocell


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HBM072: Ant God [Explicit]

As far as gods go, Jacob Lemanski is more tepid than most.  Despite his omniscience, he feels unequipped to deal with the ethical decisions required of him.

Jacob is the owner of AntLife, a company that makes large ant farms.  In one of his prototype farms, he was experimenting with different soil types.  One of his formulations caused a problem: tunnel collapse.  And during a cave-in, one of his ants became trapped in a small underground cavern, just inches from the surface.

Jacobs ants live in an environment lit by programmable LEDs

Jacob’s newest ant farms have photos of nebulae as their backdrop.

In this episode, Jacob recalls his personal history with both passivity and intervention, and tries to figure out what’s best for his ants.  

Please Note: this episode contains a description of a violent assault.

Jeff Emtman produced this episode with help from Bethany Denton and Nick White.

Music: The Black Spot

HBM067: Dispatches From PestWorld 2016

Feeling anxiety about the American presidential election, HBM host Jeff Emtman took a trip to a place he hoped to be insulated from politics: PestWorld 2016, the largest American gathering of pest management professionals. Jeff has always liked bugs and pest animals, so it was a miniature vacation.

He talked with the following attendees about the tools and the philosophy of pest management:

Rose Eckhart of ZappBugg bed bug heaters
Carlita Turk of
TAP Pest Control Insulation
David Walters of
HY-C Home Solutions
Evan Bruce of
Heat Assault glycol bed bug products
Roger Johnson and
Evan Church of Pest Routes
Sheree Swindle of Bed Bug Mutts with Lily Loo
Bill Robinson of
B&G Curtis Dyna-Fog sprayers and foggers
Alan Huot of
Wildlife Control Supplies outfitter for wildlife professionals

Rose Eckhart of ZappBug explains the basics of bedbug infestations.

The Golden Eagle mosquito fogger from Curtis Dynafog.

Alan Huot of Wildlife Control Supplies demos wildlife baits.

Jeff Emtman produced this episode with help from Bethany Denton and Nick White.

Music: Serocell | | | Flowers