I finished up "Ants At Work" by Deborah Gordon. After giving the reader information on how ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus or harvester ant) live, the author goves two models on how ants function and states that neither model is, really, satisfactory. I had more questions than questions answered when finished with this book. This is despite the fact that the first 7, of 8, chapters gives information on how ants live and the author answers all of her own questions in these chapters. That is until chatper 8.
Chapter 8 delves into why the ants behave as they do and the models are really attempts to come up with a formula for a very interesting question about worker ants. What causes worker ants to shift functions? The author clearly shows that worker ants shuffle between foraging, patroling, nest maintenence, and midden work. Well, that is true except ants seem to begin as nest maintence workers (internal workers) while young and once they shift to the other tasks (external workers) they necer shift back to nest maintence workers (internal workers). (Only about 25% of a colony's population is current in external tasks.)
Overall the books does a great job of detailing how pogonomyrmex barbatus, red harvester ants in south-western Arizon, function as a colony. The lingering question towards the end is best summarized as "Why?"
Also neat is the reproduction of ants. The Queen is the only ant that can create other Queens as well as Workers (sterile females). However, both Queens and Workers can create Alates or winged males, the name is from latin ala meaning wing. The Alates (sometimes referred to as drones) come from un-fertilized eggs. However, their seems to be certain requirements neccessary before a colony will create either Alates or the Queen to recreate new Queens.
The Alates mate with Queens of other colonies in order to form
new colonies. Alates only live for about 1 week. In fact they
have under-developed mandibles because during that time they do
not eat. After mating thy all huddle together and eventually die
as the fertilized Queens fly off (then molt their wings) to attempt
to begin new colonies. Queens use the sperm of Alates for the
15 or 20 years that they can live to fertiliz their eggs. (Workers
have a life span of only1 year.)
The notes at the end of the book has the following passage:
An up-to-date list of publications is posted on out lab Web site:
Here are the chapter quotes that begin each chapeter:
Chapter 1: The Rhythms Of The Landscape
Red ant or ant of red abdomen
It is somewhat average in size, a little firm a little hard, ruddy. It has a heap of sand, a mound of sand, a hill. It sweeps, it makes itself sand heaps, makes wide roads, makes itself a home. It is the worstone to bite, it bites the foot [the effect] extends to the groin; if it bites the hand, it extends to the armpit; it swells.
The Florentine Codex: Fray Bernardino de
General History of the things of New Spain, 1590.
[Translation of Aztec description of the red harvester ant.]
Chapter 2: The Growth Of An Ant Society
"You mean ..."Horton gasped,"you have buildings there, too?"
"Oh, yes,"piped the voice. "We most certainly do...
"I know," called the voice,"I'm too small to be seen
But I'm Mayor of a town that is friendly and clean.
Our buildings, to you, would seem terribly small
But t us, who aren't big, they are wonderfully tall."
Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who
Chapter 3: Food
And The Foriegn Relations of Ant Society
Look to the ant, thou sluggard;
consider her ways and be wise:
Which having no chief, overseer, or ruler,
Provides her meat in the summer,
And Gather her food in the harvest.
Chapter 4: A Forest Of Ant Colonies
We both ran the wine.
"What o you think of the war really?" I asked.
"I think it's stupid."
"Who do you think will win it?"
"They are a younger nation."
"Do younger nations always win wars?"
"They are apt to for a time."
"Then what happens?"
"They become older nations."
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Chapter 5: In The Society of Ants
"-then you don't like all insects?" the Gnat went on...
"I like them whent hey can talk," Alice said."None of them ever talk, where I come from."
"What sort of insects do you rejoice in, where you come from?" the Gnat inquired.
"I don't rejoice in insects at all," Alice explained, "because I'm rather afraid of them- at least the large kinds. But I can tell you the name of some of them."
"Of course they answer to their names?" th Gant remaked carelessly.
"I never knw them do it."
"What's the use of their having names," the Gnat said,"if they won't answer to them?"
"No use to them," said Alice;"but it's useful to the people that name them, I suppose. If not, why do things have names at all?"
"I can't say," the Gnat replied.
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Chapter 6: Networks Of Ant Paths
...I am persuaded that the average ant is a sham... he goes out foraging; he makes a capture... it is generally something which can be of no sort of use to himself or anybody else; it is usually seven times bigger than it ought to be; he hunts out the awkwardest place to take hold of it; he llifts it bodily up in the air by main force and starts; not towards home, but in the opposite direction; not calmly and wisely, but with frantichaste which is wateful of his strength; he fetches up against a pebble, and instead of going around it, he climbs over it backward dragging his booty after him, tumbles down on the other side, jups up in a passion, kicks the dust off his clothes, moistens his hands, grabs his property viciously, yanks it this way, then that, shoves it ahead of him a moment, turns tail and lugs it after him another moment, gets madder and madder, then presently hoists it into the air and goes tearing away in an entirely new direction; comes to a weed; it never occurs to him to around it; no, he must climb it; and he does climb it, dragging his worthless property to the top- which is as bright a thing to do as it would be for me to carry a sack of flour from Heidelberg to Paris by way of Strasbourg steeple... At the end of half an hour, he fetches up within six inches of the place he started from and lays his burden down.; meantime he has been over all the ground for two yards around, and climbed all the weeds and pebbles he came across. Now he wipes the sweat from his brow, strokes his limbs, and them marches aimlessly off , in as violent a hurry as ever.
Mark Twain (from M Geisman, ed. The Higher Animals,
A Mark Twain Bestiary)
Chapter 7: Success
The Ants toil for no Master
Sufficent to ther Need
The daily commerce of the Nest
The storage of their Seed
They meet-and exchange Messeges-
But none to none-bows down
They-like God's thoughts-speak each to each-
A.S. Byatt, Possession
Chapter 8: Complex Systems
I saw them hurrying from either side
and each shade kissed another, without pausing.
Each by the briefest society satisfied.
(Ants, in their dark ranks, meet exactly so,
rubbing each other's noses, to ask perhaps
what luck they've had, or which way they should go.)
Dante, Purgatorio, Canto XXVI
Epilogue: Lessons From The Ants
"Many are the moral instructions arising from the Sight of a Colony of Ants; with a few of which it may not be imertinent to close this Account. Their surprising incredible Affection towards the young, might teach us to value Posterity and promote its Hapiness. The Obedience they pay their respective Queens might read us a lecture of true Loyalty and Subjection. Their incessant Labours may serve to enliven the industrious, and enflame the lazy Part of Mankind. The unanimous Care extended to each Colony for th ecommon Emolument, might let us know the Consequence of Public Good, and tempt us to endeavor the Prosperity of our Countrymen, from their Economy we may learn prudence, from the Sagacity Wisdom."
--William Gould, An Account Of English Ants, 1747