'Adventures Among Ants' - A Journey To The Surface Of The Earth

Mark Moffett, Gale Ridge, and Aaron Ellison investigate ants.

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African Army Ants
African Army Ants with knife-blade jaws. Photo:Mark Moffett
Argentine Ants
Argentine ants, above, are invading California. Photo:Mark Moffett
Amazon "Slavery" Ants
Amazon "slavery" ants (orange) with an enslaved worker (grey) out in California. Photo:Mark Moffett
'Adventures Among Ants'
Photo:Courtesy Mark Moffett
Gale Ridge
Gale Ridge, a scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, talked about ants in Connecticut with Aaron Ellison, co-author of A Field Guide To the Ants of New England. Photo:Chion Wolf
'Adventures Among Ants' - A Journey To The Surface Of The Earth
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'Adventures Among Ants' - A Journey To The Surface Of The Earth

Mark Moffett (Adventures Among Ants) has been called the "Indiana Jones of entomology" and, for that matter, the "Martha Stewart of dirt." He has spent a lot of time prying open the closed worlds of ants, and he has developed, for the species, both an admiration and an apprehension.

There's no question that ant colonies exhibit discipline, sacrifice, communalism and, in many cases, a decentralized leadership structure that fosters adaptability and good decision making. 
 
On the other hand, ants are even more mindlessly murderous than humans at their worst. It wouldn't surprise you to know ants routinely kill all kinds and all sizes of other animals, but it might surprise you to know how ready they are to rape, pillage, kill, or devour other members of their exact species simply because those ants happen to smell just a little bit different. So, no, they're not a good model for us. 
 
Leave your comments below, e-mail colin@wnpr.org or Tweet us @wnprcolin.

  

Comments

Question

How can I get in touch with Gail Ridge? I could not call in with my question. I found an enormous colony of ants at the base of a boulder in the woods near where I live. I've never seen such a thing and wanted to ask her about it. Another question I had is about the live oak trees I've seen that have fallen in the woods, split off 2-3 feet from the ground, the center full of ant tunnels. How could a live oak tree be rotted at it's center if otherwise it is a live healthy tree?

E-mail from John

Australia has millions of eucalyptus trees. The ants probably eat the leavs or sap and concentrate it in their systems. The whole country smells like Vic's Vapor Rub.--