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Cool Science Job in Chicago: Studying Ants at The Field Museum

February 26, 2013

happy science chicagoChicago’s Museum Campus is home to one of the prettiest views of the Chicago skyline. It’s also home to the land of giant elephants and tiny ants…and the scientists who study them at The Field Museum. Did you know ants have “police”? Well, they do. And we know this because ant scientists (myrmecologists) exist.

Chicago’s premier myrmecologist started her career as a little girl on the sidewalks of New Orleans and eventually studied in the lab of world renowned scientist E.O. Wilson. It’s difficult to follow in the footsteps of greatness, but one day at the end of graduate school she called, “Dr. Wilson?” E.O. said, “You’re a PhD now. Please call me Ed.” This was her ‘I Made It!’ moment. Today she’s one of the world’s leading ant scientists.

Happy Scientist

Meet Corrie Moreau, PhD–world traveler, fan of tattoos, and student of ants.

Dr. Moreau  has been studying ants since childhood. Why ants? In an urban environment such as New Orleans, wildlife is difficult to find for a child. Unless…you want to spend time on the ground with a magnifying glass. That’s what Corrie did. On concrete, dirt, or grass, she was intrigued and made scientific observations of ants (as a 6-year old!). Eventually, she had to make a decision: hang out with the cool kids or hang out with the ants?

You can read about her path from adolescent outcast to loved & respected myrmecologist in the graphic novel: The Romance of Ants.

The Romance of Ants

Currently she holds a position as the Assistant Curator of Zoology at The Field Museum.

On some days she’s in the office studying ants on a computer screen. Some days she’s in the lab dissecting their stomachs. And other days she can be found traveling the world on scientific expeditions to collect ants. Her feet have touched 6 continents and her passport has been stamped by 13 countries, including: Peru, Ecuador, Madagascar, Venezuela, Australia, Borneo, China, Uganda, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Denmark.

Corrie Moreau, PhD Field Museum Scientist

There are many species of ants around the world. Dr. Moreau is working on organizing their tree of life –how are different species related and what makes each of them unique. She collects their DNA, performs science, and then the process results in a colorful display of the DNA on her computer screen (see the photo down below). She also spends time analyzing their behavioral habits, which is how we know that ants have “police”.

What else have scientists learned from studying ant behavior?

  • In ant societies, females don’t just rule, they dominate.
  • Ant queens are huge compared to the males they mate with. Imagine a 200-pound man. Now imagine a 4,000 pound woman.
  • Ants live in large, highly organized, cooperative societies—practicing activities from strategic army warfare to agriculture and livestock herding.
  • Some ants herd caterpillars, like cows.
  • Ants have been on this planet for at least 140,000,000 years. Our species (Homo sapiens) has only been here for about 200,000.

Ant scientist Chicago museum campus

As the human population grows towards 8,000,000,000 it is extremely important to study other organisms with large populations and structured societies. Luckily for humans, we have scientists like Dr. Moreau to help us understand the wealth of knowledge hidden inside the ancient societies of ants.

I hope you enjoyed your glimpse into the cool job of a scientist who studies ants. Thank you Corrie for letting me into your office. Enjoy the photos below. Peace!

Ruugy Media -Corrie Moreau PhD

The colorful and always smiling Corrie Moreau, PhD

Ruugy Media Photo

Part of her ant collection (click to enlarge)

Ruugy Media Photo

Ant DNA on a computer screen


Cytosine = Green, Guanine = Yellow, Thymine = Purple, Adenine = Red

Ruugy Media - Ant art

Old school printing

Ruugy Media Photo

Sausage ants meet sausage toes (aka arthritic toes)

Related Cool Science Jobs:

Studying Meteorites at The Field Museum

Discovering Stars at The Adler Planetarium

Lab Manager at The Field Museum

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