Preparing and Pointing Ants: A Crash Course

by Andy McCall

Note: to view larger pictures, click on the thumbnail

Step 1

First, one should postion the ant that will allow easy access to the second and third coxae. We ususally put the ant in one position every time we pin, just to eliminate confusion. The goal is to put a paper point on the right side of the ant (when it is dorsal side up), between the aforementioned second and third coxae. In this picture, the head is facing toward the myrmecologist, since he is right-handed and will be able place the point on his right-handed side. Note that the ant is fairly flexible because it has been stored in 95% ethyl alcohol (specimens stored in 100% alcohol are easy to position but brittle, while specimens stored in 80% alcohol are very flexible but difficult to position).

Step 2
Next, place a small (000, 00, 0) pin across the region connecting the head and the thorax. Be careful not to put too much pressure on the pin, as this will cause the head to fly away and thus make you an extremely bitter myrmecologist.

Step 3
Now you should place a larger (1,2) pin on the left side of the insect. This will brace the ant when you fool around on the other side of the body.

Step 4
Next, you may want to place another large pin on the right side of the ant. This makes a great "cage" for the long-dead formicine. This pin may cause problems in the process of actually placing the paper point on the coxae, as we shall see. To counter this, one can remove this pin before placing the paper point.

Step 5
In this step we have placed 3 pins: The two most important are spreading apart the second and third legs of the ant. The resulting position allows for easy access to the coxae. The third pin is placed to pull up the legs on the left side of the body. This is important, as one should have nothing obscuring the dorsal view of the body when the insect is pinned. You now need to wait a few hours for the insect to dry in its newly contorted position before proceeding.

Step 6
This picture illustrates the way to place glue on the paper point. This may seem pedantic, but we had troubles with this step -- superglue and fingers do not mix. In any case, use a water-soluble glue, as one might want to redo botched jobs later on. We use a neutral white glue from the Lineco Company. This is the same glue we use to mount plant herbarium specimens. After placing a drop of the glue on a piece of cardboard, grab a paper point with the tweezers and place a liberal amount of glue on the edge of the point.

Step 7
The exciting part! Now gently and with steady hands place the paper point slathered in glue on the region made by the second and third coxae. Leave the point in this position for a few seconds to let the glue harden a bit.

Step 8
Now, you might want to prop up the point with another pin. This prevents gravity from taking over and making the point dry in a weird position. We want the pin to be parallel to the pinning surface.

Step 9
After letting the glue dry, carefully remove the supporting pins and pick up the paper point with tweezers. Turn the ant over and place a size "2" or "3" pin into the paper point. Then push the ant and point up on the pin with your trusty tweezers.

You are now done. You can now bask in the glory of a perfectly-pinned ant. Don't wait too long, though. You now have to identify this beast. To see some tips on identificaton, go to the Identifying ants pages.

For additional tips on how to mount ants, see John T. Longino's How to mount ants.

Please send any questions or comments regarding these pages to Tim Linksvayer (
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