By Margaret Harris (Mississippi State undergraduate student, student worker in the MEM)
When I first was hired to work for the department, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. All I was told is that I would be pinning ants and potentially taking pictures. The taking pictures part was what first drew me in because I had just gotten a new camera, but on my first day I learned that my definition of taking pictures was different than the departments. I will be honest, the idea of pinning ants for 2-3 hours a day did not make me jump for joy but after a month of working in the department, I have come to enjoy my 2-3 hours a day with the ants.
I have an assigned workstation in the museum which consists of a microscope and computer to type labels on. I also have my supply box that has all the necessary tools used to pin and point the ants. Supplies needed to pin are Elmer’s glue, pins (size 3), forceps, triangle shaped points that are about the size of my fingernail, and the box that hold the pinned ants.
The boxes that hold the pinned ants are placed in a special drawer that helps keep them from being obscured from outside objects. The drawers can hold 8 boxes. Once a drawer is filled, the boxes will then be sorted and placed in a special order. The drawers will then be placed in a specific category in one of the museum cabinets.
The job itself tends to be tedious depending on what needs to be done. Different sized ants have different levels of difficulty of pinning. The big ants are easy to place on the point but tend to slide off due to their large size, which can be annoying. Small ants tend to be the most difficult to place just because of their size. Most are usually less than half a centimeter in length. Because of this placing the point in the right position takes skill and patience. Medium ants are my favorite because they are literally just the right size and can be pinned quickly.
Once ants are pinned, they all must be individually labeled. This is completed using Microsoft Word. The labels are typed in Helvetica font, size 4. So yeah extremely small. Once the labels are typed, they are then printed with waterproof ink on a special sheet of paper that is alcohol proof. The labels are then hand-cut and placed under each individual pinned ant. Both jobs seem boring and time consuming, but I tend to find them relaxing. Mainly because even though my full attention is required to avoid mistakes, they are still simple tasks. The space where I work is relaxing as well because there is not much commotion or noise which helps me to focus, relax, and get the job of the day done.
That is the last step of pinning ants other than organizing them. The pinned ants are used for research in the department. After I started working here is when I realized the true importance of what I do. Ants can cause many problems including foundation issues. To help contain these problems, the cause of the problems (ants) must be researched and studied to produce a solution which is what the department is working towards.
(For more info on pinning ants: http://mississippientomologicalmuseum.org.msstate.edu//Researchtaxapages/Formicidaepages/Specimen.prep.htm)