Nature Blog Network Future Earth: Ant analogies (2)

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Ant analogies (2)

Future Earth's Ant Analogies post was meant to be the start of a series about these Masters of the Universe, but inspiration went underground. Thanks to Alex Wild for bringing ants back to the surface with all their brilliant diversity - and unless he asks me not to, I'm featuring and crediting his fantastic photos in this antline of posts.

Ant of the day is from north America - Polyergus sp, Legionaire ants, often called Amazon Ants.

Polyergus are parasites on their hosts Formica ants. For detail see AntWeb but in essence, Polyergus cannot raise their own broods. They take over nascent colonies from Formica queens, allowing the host queens to live only as long as they are useful in building a critical mass of worker ants. Colonies also supplement the supply of workers with efficient raids on nearby Formica colonies - giving rise to anthropomorphic expressions of "piracy" or "slave raiding".

At the risk of alienating the science blogosphere, I think we can be too precious in deriding anthropomorphism. But that's for later debate. Instead of describing these behaviours in human terms, let's look at the models of existence that have evolved in 12,000 species of ants and see whether we might like to keep a few of them in our back pockets as options for our own existence on future earth. Another post tomorrow - exam term homework for selfish genes.

(P.S. Feast your eyes at


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