New Kensington

Last ‘Signs of Spring’ posted by campus biologists

Blog 13: “Ants, Cats, Acids, and Aspartame” by Bill Hamilton and Deborah Sillman

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. -- Penn State New Kensington’s biologist bloggers Bill Hamilton, assistant professor of biology, and Deborah Sillman, senior instructor in biology, have posted their 13th and final observations of spring to their blog site, "Ecologist's Notebook: Reflections on the Natural World of Western Pennsylvania."

“Ants, Cats, Acids, and Aspartame” was written June 3. While western Pennsylvania is enjoying the last of 70-80-degree spring days, Hamilton is connecting the dots among ants on his deck, cats rubbing a broom, anteaters ingesting formic acid, and the upside/downside of aspartame.

“Watching cats go crazy over a broom that has ant juice on it got us all the way to aspartame with a side trip into anteater digestive physiology,” Hamilton wrote.

Previous spring posts include Tree Frogs (Blog 12), A Walk with Birds (11) New Leaves and Trees (10), Spring Moons (6) and Turtles, Crocuses, Birds, and an Arboretum (4). Signs of summer are forthcoming.

Hamilton and Sillman started blogging in 2008. The team oversees the maintenance of the campus Nature Trail that was constructed in 1985. Each year, they write about the birds, insects, mammals and flowers that herald the arrival of spring. They report on their observations around their Apollo house and on local nature trails, as well as the campus trail.

To view the blogs and to make a comment, visit


A red ant or fire ant is the common name for several species of ants in the genus Solenopsis. Red ants are one of the largest types of ants on the US east coast.  Credit: Bill Woodard / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated June 12, 2014