In the Kingdom of the Ant, a Mighty Curiosity Rules

Dr Andersen, of the CSIRO, took out a prestigious prize at the Charles Darwin Symposium for his hard work, his leadership - and his dedication to the humble, but rather incredible, ant.

He likes to point out how much the ant punches above its weight.If you put all the Earth's land animals on a giant scale, he says, ants would comprise 30 per cent of the load.And for every hectare of Australian bush there would be up to 20 million ants in residence.

Forget the 'roo - Dr Andersen says it's ants that put Australia on the map."We're the kingdom of the ant. The sheer abundance of ants here; it's mind-boggling both in numbers and in different types."Dr Andersen - who has built the world's largest collection of Australian ants - is a world leader in using the ant as a "bio indicator" for land management.

"(They) are so important in the environment and to the health of it ... because they're so well connected with all other things in the ecosystem," he said.His work has been instrumental in ant-monitoring programs used by anyone from mine operators and graziers - even to South Africa's Kruger National Park.He has done much to bring ants to people's attention - spending many a night in bed staring at different species."The insect world in general is not familiar to people and a lot of that is because they don't have common names," he said.

So he came up with a list of common names, which does much to de-mystify an ant previously only lumped with a Latin name.There's the Michelin ant (which is "fat-waisted"), fierce gremlin ants (that look like "aliens"), Snuggle-pot ants ("cute" and uniquely Aussie) and the buck-toothed bull ant (needs a dentist).Dr Andersen last night received the Charles Darwin Research and Innovation Medal in recognition of the contribution his work has made to the Territory and its people.

Fire and Ants

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Kruger National Park - South African Safari