Copyright ©2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


We are going to meet someone now who is quite grounded in his work. In fact, he spent many days crawling through tropical rainforests.

NPR science correspondent Christopher Joyce, who has reported from a few rainforests himself, has this profile of a scientist known to his students as the Astonishing Ant Man.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: Jack Longino started out collecting stamps. He got bored so he decided to get small.

JACK LONGINO: If you're shopping for a home entertainment system, you can't do better than a good dissecting microscope.

JOYCE: In school, he put insects under the dissecting microscope, and voila - a new world emerged.

LONGINO: With insects I kept finding things that I could never have imagined.

JOYCE: Amazing jaws, for example.

LONGINO: These strange sideways mandibles with all the teeth on them, and these shield-like faces. These are really scary looking things, and you know, they made me think of Hollywood monsters, the creature in "Alien" and "Predator."

JOYCE: When he grew up, Longino started hunting these monsters on his hands and knees in the Central American rainforests. He found the hardest part was just getting there.

LONGINO: You know, when the truck is starting to slide backwards in the mud towards the cliff edge, those are scary moments.

JOYCE: Once there, he did what entomologists do: whack the leaf litter on the ground with a machete, then shake it through mesh screens into bags. You end up with what looks like potting soil.

LONGINO: You don't see much when you look at it, but actually you look close and it has a high concentration of little crawling things.

JOYCE: And that's the gold.

LONGINO: It is hard work. You do have the sitting around drinking beer phase.

JOYCE: But that's a brief phase, if you want to discover new species. And Longino is pretty good at that. He's just published two papers describing 33 new species of ants, bringing his personal new species total to 131. Longino says that's actually average.

But naming the bugs is where you could have fun. Longino recalls his graduate student - a self-described metal head - encouraging him to be creative.

LONGINO: Jack, Jack - you ought to name these things after, you know, like demons.


LONGINO: So Xipacna is one of these Mayan lords of the underworld. And there was this word in the dictionary that was Mabuya that was a demon, so I named on Eurhopalythrix Mabuya, which I think just sounds great.

JOYCE: Taxonomic poetry aside, Longino says he's deeply serious about describing all the new species he can . It's a snapshot of a disappearing world.

LONGINO: It's hard to attach the enormous importance to any one little ant species, but I always feel like our descendents, you know, they're going to be upset with us for wrecking the planet anyway, but they're really going to be mad that we didn't even bother to take a good picture.

JOYCE: When he's not sticking his head in a dead tree in the rainforest, Jack Longino is a biology professor at the University of Utah.

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.