Katie Brill has spent the past year researching an invasive species of ants that’s known for trying to attack power lines and marching in confusing zig-zag lines.
Brill, a senior biology major at College of Coastal Georgia, had the chance Friday to showcase her year’s worth of research at the college’s Coastal Science Symposium.
She set up a poster with information about the ant species, commonly known as “crazy ants,” and fielded symposium participants’ questions about her work.
“It’s an invasive species from Argentina,” Brill explained. “It came in through the ports of Texas and Florida and the one port in Savannah.”
The symposium included a panel discussion with coastal science experts, presentations of research and a student and faculty research showcase. Local groups, including Keep Golden Isles Beautiful and Glynn Environmental Coalition, also set up booths for an information fair.
Guest speakers at the event were Rachel Gittman, an estuarine ecologist at East Carolina University, and Dionne Hoskins-Brown, a fisheries biologist and director of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration program at Savannah State University.
“We had our guest speakers talk, and then the panel is new,” said Traesha Robertson, an assistant professor of biology at the college.
“The reason why we decided to try that was it allows the students to ask questions, either of the speakers or about grad school, and see where the discussion goes.”
A wide variety of research was on display as well, Robertson said.
“We’ve got some ant research, we’ve got some jelly ball research,” she said. “They’re also presenting their internships.”
Students need the opportunity to present their research, Robertson said, as it will help them later in their careers.
“It’s a great experience for our students,” she said. “It helps build up their résumés as well, which is very important in this competitive job market.”
Brill has worked with Tate Holbrook, an assistant professor of biology at the college, on the “crazy ant” research. Her research has aimed to detect where the colonies are based.
“They’re actually a very, very big nuisance species because they can cause power outages,” she said.
“Say a worker goes and starts chewing on wire … and that worker gets electrocuted. It sends out an attack pheromone to the rest of the colony, saying ‘Something just killed me, come help.’”
The colony of ants then attacks the electrical wiring. Massive mounds of dead ants are the result.
Their nickname — “crazy ants” — relates to the ants’ nature to independently roam, rather than walk in straight lines like most ants species.
“You’ll see them turn and turn and turn the other way,” Brill said. “So it just looks like they’re running around, like crazy.”
Brill will graduate in May but hopes to continue with the research. The symposium on Friday was her first time presenting her work so far.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “Of course, you don’t want to research something for a long time and then not show it to anybody.”