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As anyone who's roamed the Chihuahuan Desert knows, ants do very well in our arid land. Some things they do are services to the desert ecology, such as penetrating the soil with their passageways, thus aerating the soil; or carrying organic materials underground where they increase soil fertility. We also know that they do less pleasant things, such as invade our houses or sting us and our pets. One thing that they're known for elsewhere, but that few people have investigated in our desert, is to present us with fossils.

Most of us picture dinosaur bones and the like when we think "fossil". But many of the most important finds are of tiny teeth, the size of a minute pebble. As anyone who's perused an anthill knows, ants specialize in excavating particles of soil and small pebbles to form the ant mound. Ants whose passageways intercept a buried fossil deposit don't distinguish between rocks and fossils. Take a close look at the next anthill you run across. You just might find a tooth or two out of the past.
pen and ink



Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.


drawing of ants

Ants, after Lutz (1921).



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