Review of a new book about Superorganisms that shows how amazing ants really are:
Pursuing the same reasoning, Hölldobler and Wilson argue that the nests of some ants correspond to the skin and skeleton of other creatures. Some ant nests are so enormous that they are akin to the skeletons of whales. Those of one species of leafcutter ant from South America, for example, can contain nearly two thousand individual chambers, some with a capacity of fifty liters, and they can involve the excavation of forty tons of earth and extend over hundreds of square feet. Coordination within such giant colonies, which can house eight million individual ants, occurs through ant communication systems that are extraordinarily sophisticated and are the equivalent of the human nervous system. Not all ant species have reached this level of organization. Indeed, one of the most successful groups of ants, the ponerines, rarely qualifies for superorganism status.
As well as some of the random experiments we do with them:
It has recently been found that ant explorers count their steps to determine where they are in relation to home. This remarkable ability was discovered by researchers who lengthened the legs of ants by attaching stilts to them. The stilt-walking ants, they observed, became lost on their way home to the nest at a distance proportionate to the length of their stilts.
I’ll add this to my favourite ant fact about the pheromone given off when some species die that in small quantities attracts more ants (to help fight off threats) but in larger quantities repels them (so the whole colony doesn’t die for a lost cause) and the awesome video of them building a raft.
The whole thing also brings to mind Granny Weatherwax ‘borrowing’ the swarm.