2010. Mark Moffett gave a great interview on NPR. He described ant nation-states battling for world domination under my feet and my imagination did the rest. I had to read this book.
Moffett has gone everywhere in search of ants. Colonies range from as few as four ants to supercolonies that number in the billions. They are native to every continent except for Antarctica. They’ve conquered every habitat. They live below the earth, on the earth, in trees, and above the forest canopy. They dine on fungus, seeds, nectar, insects, small vertebrates, each other. They are altruistic but they can take and maintain slaves. A colony can live its entire life in one spot or it can expand across thousands of miles.
Of the 10,000 to 12,000 species, Moffett concentrates on six subject ants to roughly approximate human societies throughout history: foragers, hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, slave societies, farmers, and world-conquerors.
Incredible photos come alive with context. Swarms hunting for food to return to the nest, taking down a wasp like lions bringing down an elephant, overwhelming and subduing a frog by sheer numbers. My only complaint is that there aren’t enough of these great visuals. If he’s taken the thousands of shots he says, why be so stingy?
Most of what you know about ants survives Moffett’s presentation, but to tell their story he digs deeper into the nests and climbs higher into the trees, suffering the bites and stings that go with the territory.
Ant nation-state warfare is only the last section and I would have liked more time with this phenomenon since it was the reason I bought the book. Imagine supercolonies of billions waging perpetual warfare along their borders where millions of ant corpses mark territorial boundaries. The Argentine ants hitched rides from their native Argentina and worked their way across the US and down the California coast–among other areas of the world–overrunning native ants in the process. Local flora which depend on the native ants to procreate, suffer and die. The Argentine ants, like the Conquistadores, are remaking the California countryside by killing off their indigenous rivals.
If you thought you only glimpsed the tip of the ant iceberg and wondered what hid below the surface, this book will take you there. There’s alot going on under your feet or over your head by an organism that’s been perfecting itself over millions of years.