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Archie McArthur OAM, SA's own Ant Man

Ashleigh Coombs - Tuesday, November 17, 2015


[... reproduced from an article by Tim Williams appearing in the Sunday Mail of 19 July 2015]

MUCH like the comic-book superhero, Adelaide's very own 'Ant-Man' is a diminutive bundle of irrepressible energy.

At 93, world-renowned entomologist Archie McArthur can be found at the SA Museum every day, painstakingly classifying ant species.And he believes the new Ant Man film, though not his cup of tea, has an important message for two-legged life forms.

"What I noticed was how the ants co-operated with each other, whereas the few people in the film were at each other's throats," he said after watching the blockbuster at the Piccadilly Cinema.

"Ants have occupied the planet for millions of years, compared with tens of thousands for Homo sapiens, and during this long period it is believed ants have evolved a preferred way of life for survival, and this involves co-operation and good behaviour."

The movie stars Paul Rudd as a master thief who, thanks to a hi-tech superhero suit, can shrink to insect-size.

Mr McArthur's small office in the museum's Science Centre, that he has occupied for 25 years since retiring to Adelaide from the family farm in the South-East, is a far cry from the hi-tech labs of comic book scientists.Yet in his work he displays a similarly intense focus to his fictional counterparts.

Right now that means sorting through 423 specimens of a particular ant genus, likely to add hundreds of new species to the 143 he has already written a book about.

"I've built up a hell of a big collection of ants here.We've certainly got the biggest in Australia, it could even be the world,"the museum's longest serving volunteer and honorary research associate said.

"They are the world's best garbage collectors.They are terribly important in the environment."

[Archie McArthur was on the Lower South East CC for many years]

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