Lake Forest College students hunt for Chicago ants

July 27, 2012

Download Story

Two Lake Forest College students and their biology professor wrapped up a search for ants Friday, and they're inviting Chicagoans to continue the hunt. 

For the last two months, Dr. Sean Menke and his students, Jeremy Boeing and Gabe Trujilo, have worked their way down the Union Pacific North Metra line, hunting for Chicago ants. 

According to Menke, research on the wildlife in urban areas is scarce.

"If you go to any park or prairie in Illinois, we can give you a species list, but we know nothing about cities," Menke said.

Their work is part of a national study out of North Carolina State University that is tracking ants in urban areas across the country. 

But it's not just for scientists -- the research calls for city dwellers to send in whatever wildlife is around their own homes, too. And according to Menke, ants are perfect for that. 

"They’re small, and very easy to capture, and something everybody can see everyday, most people aren’t scared of or worried about grabbing a sample," he said. 

But to get those samples, Chicagoans have to use very specific bait: pecan sandies. 

"Pecan sandies are a sugary, fat food source that ants really like," Menke said. 

Interested amateur scientists just have to place the cookies on index cards outside in green spaces or paved places for an hour on a warm day, freeze the results, and ship them off to North Carolina. According to the website for the study, researchers will be accepting Chicago ants through the end of this summer.