The Art of Ant War
The Art of Ant War
Ants – Our Mini Cousins
Obviously, we are not actually genetically related to ants, however there are a significant amount of similarities between our societies that actually make them resemble our community far more closely than our actual distant relatives such as gorillas and chimpanzees. This association is actually due to population sizes. Aside from humans, it’s rare for another species to have not only hundreds, but even millions in a single society working and functioning together. This means that both humans and ants engage in the navigation of highways, assembly lines and many different practices that foster communal functionality. This includes ant populations occasionally deploying sanitation initiatives, social distancing when there is disease spreading through the colony, and even employing first aid response to their colony members.
Being social, colony-based insects, ants can be rather territorial, and conflict can strike when they come across other colonies or insects that threaten their society or resources. These conflicts can often closely mirror human warfare. Although not all types of ants will engage in full on attacks or even engage with adversaries at all, instead opting to retreat to avoid conflict, when ant populations are strong enough in number and they can become more intense.
In the case of honeypot ants, conflict is somewhat ritual. These ants will engage in standoffs with rival colonies over resources, rarely coming to blows and, rather, sizing one another up. Whichever colony ends up being “outsized” will withdraw as fast as possible back to their nest in order to avoid being decimated by the other group.
In other ant species, warfare can come to deadly blows easily. In the case of the Argentine ant, raids and battles can be waged over years and across miles, in aggression originating from territorial strains.
This question is one that has been plaguing minds throughout all of history. Surprisingly, one of the leading theories that has been concocted to explain why humans wage war is similar to entomologists’ guesses regarding ant aggression. This comes down to the division of labor due to population size. The productivity of largely populated groups allows for “reserve labor forces,” which can easily be converted into a type of military and, where ants are concerned, these reserve military ants are even called ‘soldiers.’
Moffett, M. (2019) When It Comes to Waging War, Ants and Humans Have a Lot in Common, The Smithsonian Magazine. The Smithsonian Institution. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/when-it-comes-waging-war-ants-humans-have-lot-common-180972169/ (Accessed: August 2020).