Ant face patterns like swirls and stubble might have practical value

National Harbor, Md. — Looking at face patterns in photos of more than 11,000 kinds of ants struck entomologist Clint Penick as a fine pandemic-lockdown project for his students.

From that socially distanced slog came the idea that the texture patterns might offer practical benefits, says Penick, of Auburn University in Alabama. For instance, some soil-dwelling ants with raised, swirling facial ridges — “almost psychedelic,” he says — could be getting extra protection from abrasion. The ridges lie so close together that sand grains can’t fit in between, he reported at the Entomology 2023 meeting in November.

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