Ants — not humans — rule world, says study

World domination: There are over 12,000 species of ant in the world.

Do ants really rule the world? They can build complex mega-cities for millions of ant citizens. Behaviourally, the Argentine ant is much closer to a human than any chimpanzee.

In California, there is a supercolony of Argentine ants. Trillions-of-members strong, it stretches over 621 miles from San Francisco to the Mexican border.

Humans, most of us think, have used our unique intelligence to control the planet. But who is really in charge?

There are 10 quadrillion ants on the planet, living in every continent except Antarctica.

Dr Mark Moffet says that it has taken humans over 30,000 years to reach the advanced state that ants achieved 50 million years ago.

In ant colonies, you find transport networks, childcare systems and waste collection. Each ant has an assigned role.

Today, human societies are more similar to ant colonies than groups of bonobos or chimpanzees (our closest relatives).

The reason is in our numbers. While most animals live in groups of a few hundred at most, only humans and a few social insects, like ants, have populations that can boom into the millions.

But the resemblance is nowhere clearer than in warfare.

Along the Argentine ants’ Californian border, millions die each week in all-out wars as brutal as World War One with other colonies

A bug’s life?

What can ants tell us about ourselves? We both build complicated societies. While ants are driven by pheromones and genetics, we act from intelligence and education. But isn’t it all just social conditioning? Deep down, are we really any different from ants?

But ant societies are so aggressive because as colonies grow, the extra ants mostly become soldiers. Humans, however, have the power of creativity and imagination. Rather than war, we can channel our spare efforts into science, architecture, art, literature. We can overcome our ‘ant nature’.

You Decide

  1. Is it fair to say that ants are as complex as humans?

Activities

  1. Create a fact box with five interesting, ant facts that you have learnt from this story.

Some People Say...

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!”

The Bible, Proverbs 6:6

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Ants are some of the strongest creatures on Earth, carrying up to 50 times their own body weight. They can also run 80 times the length of their body in a minute. This is the equivalent of a six-foot-tall man running 1.5 kilometres in just 60 seconds.
What do we not know?
The intelligence of individual ants. Despite their small brains, studies show that ants can learn new information quickly.

Word Watch

Unique
Belonging to only one person or group.
Quadrillion
A million trillions.
Assigned role
Also known as the division of labour. When different jobs are divided up for different workers.
World War One
The Somme was one of the biggest battles in World War One. One million men were wounded or killed.
Pheromones
Ants use smell signals called pheromones to recognise each other and communicate.
Social conditioning
When you are trained from an early age — even as early as babyhood — to act and think a certain way in society.

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