Ant farms

Biology student Aaron Robinson is focused on the shape of ants.

Aaron Robinson

Aaron Robinson is a curious individual. When he was young, nature documentaries piqued his interest in symbiotic relationships in animals. Now, in TU’s Department of Biological Sciences, he is actively exploring and expanding those interests.

Robinson came to Towson University as a thesis track graduate student in biology after graduating from Francis Marion University with a bachelor’s degree in biological science. He was particularly drawn to Professor John LaPolla’s research on species interactions among ants. LaPolla has a Ph.D. in entomology and is an expert on the symbiotic relationship among ants and mealybugs.

Thanks to a grant awarded to LaPolla, Robinson is working as a research assistant in the biology department, with time to focus on his own research. Robinson recognizes how fortunate he is to have LaPolla as his mentor, troubleshooter and adviser.

“It really helps that whenever I run into problems, he is willing to make time for me,” Robinson says.

At the Social Insects in the Northeast Region conference held at The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in 2018, Robinson presented his preliminary research data on the trophobiotic relationship between Acropyga ants and mealybugs.

Aaron Robinson

While it was already known these ants “farmed” mealybugs, fed on the honeydew mealybugs produced, and protected the mealybugs from predators, Robinson’s research investigates if the relationship between the ants and the mealybugs has resulted in physical changes in the bodies of the two partners. Specifically, he is examining if the shape of ant mandibles has evolved to the specific body shapes of the mealybugs they farm. More research is on the horizon.

Robinson shares this advice for prospective biologists: “The field of biology is massive with many different opportunities — microbiology, ecology, botany, to name a few. Do a little research and gain experience in the different fields because you never know what might pique your interest.”

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