"Empire Of The Ants: What Insect Supercolonies Can Teach Us"

"People have long drawn comparisons between ant societies and human ones – but in fact they are a reminder of how limited our influence on the world really is"

"It is a familiar story: a small group of animals living in a wooded grassland begin, against all odds, to populate Earth. At first, they occupy a specific ecological place in the landscape, kept in check by other species. Then something changes. The animals find a way to travel to new places. They learn to cope with unpredictability. They adapt to new kinds of food and shelter. They are clever. And they are aggressive.

In the new places, the old limits are missing. As their population grows and their reach expands, the animals lay claim to more territories, reshaping the relationships in each new landscape by eliminating some species and nurturing others. Over time, they create the largest animal societies, in terms of numbers of individuals, that the planet has ever known. And at the borders of those societies, they fight the most destructive within-species conflicts, in terms of individual fatalities, that the planet has ever known.

This might sound like our story: the story of a hominin species, living in tropical Africa a few million years ago, becoming global. Instead, it is the story of a group of ant species, living in Central and South America a few hundred years ago, who spread across the planet by weaving themselves into European networks of exploration, trade, colonisation and war. Some even stowed away on the 16th-century Spanish galleons that carried silver across the Pacific from Acapulco to Manila. During the past four centuries, these animals have globalised their societies alongside our own."

John Whitfield reports for the Guardian March 19, 2024.

Source: Guardian, 03/20/2024