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Hungry for more stories on science, culture and technology?Check out Brain Food: Insights and Discoveries from Northern Arizona. From ground breaking scientific research to global music projects, Brain Food profiles some of the unique projects happening in the region and the interesting people behind them. While there are no new episodes of Brain Food, we will continue to maintain the archive here.

Brain Food: Honeypot Ant Exhibit at Museum of Northern Arizona Honors Flagstaff Teen


Sixteen-year-old Isaac Bynar Calley of Flagstaff was fascinated with honey pot ants before his untimely death from a seizure last year. Isaac’s mom Charlie says he loved the social community of ant colonies and entertained her every day with ant trivia.

“We used to always start the morning with me at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee, talking about the fun facts of the day,” she says. “And then he would research ants through the day when I was gone at work. One of his fun ant facts was ‘Hey mom, do you know that if you’re an ant you have a social stomach and a private stomach?’ And I would be like, ‘What are you talking about?’”

Credit Courtesy
A honey pot ant

Charlie put Isaac in touch with ant expert Gary Alpert, a research associate with the Museum of Northern Arizona. Alpert was developing the concept of a gallery-quality exhibit to showcase ants of the Colorado Plateau. He invited the teen on a practice dig.

“The first nest that we collected, we managed to get a queen. And because he was so interested in the ants, we gave him that entire colony. He wanted to study the ants and learn all he could scientifically about them. So, he had lots of questions. He had a library he was building. And then he had live ants, so while he was reading, he could compare actual events with what he was reading about,” he says.

Alpert says Isaac had great appreciation for honey pot ants and sensitivity for vulnerable, overlooked creatures in general. His love for ants will live on in a developing exhibit at the Museum of Northern Arizona, in collaboration with Isaac’s Ant Foundation and the Babbitt Brothers Foundation.

“We’re doing a shout-out to Isaac; we’re doing something in memory of him. We’re combining it with Babbitt land, who provided the actual access to the honey pots. We’re trying to make it educational and scientific, but we want to make it fun and interesting as well,” says Alpert.

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