Today, we have a new challenge for you. It’s rather a fun one. If you don’t think so, then you can blame Dr. Eleanor (of the Common Book of Ants fame).

You see, as Dr. Eleanor was writing a new chapter about the ant, Forelius pruinosus, she took note that this very common, dare we say ubiquitous, ant had no common name. It lacked a snazzy moniker to set it apart from all the other common ants with interesting and descriptive names – ants like the big-headed ant, the carpenter ant, or the thief ant.

And while, yes, it’s the formal Latin name that is most important for discussing species in scientific circles, it’s really the common name that we use to chat about a species at cocktail parties and outreach events with public audiences.

So Dr. Eleanor has decided that we need to help this ant out. We couldn’t agree more!

Today, we’re launching a little contest. We want YOU to suggest a common name for Forelius pruinosus. Learn a little bit about this common ant by reading the poster and Dr. Eleanor’s chapter (excerpt below) and suggest a name in this blog’s comments. We’ll be asking visitors to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Darwin Day to do the same in person. Then, our School of Ants team will compile all the suggestions, select our top five, and the put them up for an online vote. We’ll submit the winning candidate to the Entomological Society of America (the organization that officially coordinates the common names of insects) to become the official common name of Forelius pruinosus.

We can’t wait to hear and read your suggestions!

An excerpt from Dr. Eleanor’s new chapter on Forelius pruinosus

The first time I ran into a Forelius pruinosus worker I’ll admit I was underwhelmed. I was ant hunting in a grassy park, laying bait to see which ant species lived in this anty jungle. I’d brought along the perfect enticement: tuna fish mixed with honey. I measured out this ant catnip onto an index card in a tiny spoonful, which I placed on a spot of bare ground under an oak tree. Then I lay in wait to see who would show up.

Before long, many of my old friends came nosing around. A rusty red field ant with speedy long legs was the first to arrive at the party, bending down, legs spread wide like a horse, to drink in the buffet. She was followed by a small flock of odorous house ants, who were chased away by a steady throng of shiny little black ants. A few acrobat ants briefly lurked around the index card’s borders, considering the feast and returning to their tree, evidently thinking better of it.

As the little black ants began to scatter, a collection of tentative ant workers I didn’t recognize loitered in a tidy line on the sidelines. Plain-Jane, brownish-red and about half the size of an apple seed, these ladies were otherwise unremarkable in appearance. Unlike the frantic field ants or the spirited little black ants, they were a bit boring.

Watching these austere, drab ladies as they efficiently carried off the remaining bits of index card bounty, I almost felt sorry for them. Where are the great spines of winnow ants? The gargantuan size of wood ants? The giant noodles of big-headed ants? The happy, heart-shaped bottoms of acrobat ants? Unembellished at best, Forelius pruinosus, very common ants with no common name (Klotz and Hansen 2008; Whitford 1999), don’t make a knockout first impression.

Read more

**UPDATE – 2/18/2013** WOW! We’ve been impressed with the MANY suggestions contributed in the comments of the blog and in-person by attendees at Darwin Day at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences this past Saturday (February 16, 2013). Here’s a pic of some of the suggestions – Keep ‘em coming here on the blog, on Facebook, or via Twitter (#namethatant) – We’ll post a compilation here shortly and work on selecting our five finalist candidates soon!

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