State -- Spiders may have webs, but the ants of the Southeast have something that lasts a little longer than spun silk – their own Web page.
Joe MacGown, ant curator of the Mississippi Entomological Museum at Mississippi State University, built the page to make information easily available on different ant species found in southeastern states.
“There had been no common way to catalog information that was scattered across several platforms and in different locations,” MacGown said. “Putting this information together in one place seemed like a logical idea.”
The Web page, Ants (Formicidae) of the Southeastern United States, was funded through the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station with the support of several state and federal agencies, private groups and individuals.
MacGown compiled information from scattered sources and his own observations. He created lists of species for each state and he also formatted identification keys, or sections, based on written descriptions in question-and-answer format. Included with this information are photographs, a glossary of scientific terms and a list of the museum's ant publications.
Selecting the correct couplet, or description, in the keys eventually leads to a species name. The name links to a page about that species with photographs and pertinent data.
“I used scientific names for each species, rather than common ones, because the scientific names are universally understood and used,” MacGown said. “This greatly helps the researcher in searching for information and correctly identifying the species of ant they are looking for.”
The site allows open dialog between researchers, which has resulted in collaborations with more than 100 researchers at 75 different institutions in 24 states and 12 countries. The Web site also has led to MacGown's involvement with other ant sites, such as Ant Web, a national site about ants. MacGown is curator for the site's Mississippi and Alabama pages.
“I started the Web site five years ago as part of my work designing a site for the museum,” MacGown said. “This initially started when I began putting together information on ant species in Mississippi and Alabama, and then branched out to include species in the Southeast.”
The popularity of the site has grown tremendously and it now averages 10,000 hits a day, MacGown said.
“We have some information gaps in the site because it is a work in progress and the taxonomy of ants is constantly changing,” MacGown said. “A time goes by, we'll update the site and make it more complete.”
Find the Southeastern ant page online at the museum's Web site, http://mississippientomologicalmusum.org.msstate.edu, and click on the photo of the ant.