The Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of The Ants render the extraordinary lives of the social insects in this visually spectacular volume. The Superorganism promises to be one of the most important scientific works published in this decade. Coming eighteen years after the publication of The Ants, this new volume expands our knowledge of the social insects (among them, ants, bees, wasps, and termites) and is based on remarkable research conducted mostly within the last two decades. These superorganisms—a tightly knit colony of individuals, formed by altruistic cooperation, complex communication, and division of labor—represent one of the basic stages of biological organization, midway between the organism and the entire species. The study of the superorganism, as the authors demonstrate, has led to important advances in our understanding of how the transitions between such levels have occurred in evolution and how life as a whole has progressed from simple to complex forms. Ultimately, this book provides a deep look into a part of the living world hitherto glimpsed by only a very few. 110 color, 100 black-and-white
This book is concerned with two problems: how eusociality, in which one individual forgoes reproduction to enhance the reproduction of a nestmate, could evolve under natural selection, and why it is found only in some insects-termites, ants and some bees and wasps. Although eusociality is apparently confined to insects, it has evolved a number of times in a single order of insects, the Hymenoptera. W. Hamilton’s hypothesis, that the unusual haplodiploid mechanism of sex determination in the Hymenoptera singled this order out, still seems to have great explanatory power in the study of social ants. We believe that the direction, indeed confinement, of social altruism to close kin is the mainspring of social life in an ant colony, and the alternative explanatory schemes of, for example, parental manipulation, should rightly be seen to operate within a system based on the selective support of kin. To control the flow of resources within their colony all its members resort to manipulations of their nestmates: parental manipulation of offspring is only one facet of a complex web of manipulation, exploitation, and competition for resources within the colony. The political intrigues extend outside the bounds of the colony, to insects and plants which have mutualistic relations with ants. In eusociality, some individuals (sterile workers) do not pass their genes to a new generation directly. Instead, they tend the offspring of a close relation (in the simplest case their mother).
The Author of this new volume on ant communication demonstrates that information theory is a valuable tool for studying the natural communication of animals. To do so, she pursues a fundamentally new approach to studying animal communication and “linguistic” capacities on the basis of measuring the rate of information transmission and the complexity of transmitted messages.
Animals’ communication systems and cognitive abilities have long-since been a topic of particular interest to biologists, psychologists, linguists, and many others, including researchers in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence. The main difficulties in the analysis of animal language have to date been predominantly methodological in nature. Addressing this perennial problem, the elaborated experimental paradigm presented here has been applied to ants, and can be extended to other social species of animals that have the need to memorize and relay complex “messages”. Accordingly, the method opens exciting new dimensions in the study of natural communications in the wild.
Countless ants transport and deposit seeds and thereby influence the survival, death, and evolution of many plant species. In higher plants, seed dispersal by ants (myrmecochory) has appeared many times independently in different lineages. More than 3000 plant species are known to utilize ant assistance to be planted. Myrmecochory is a very interesting and rather enigmatic form of mutualistic ant-plant associations. This phenomenon is extremely complex because there are hundreds of ant species connected with hundreds of plant species. This book effectively combines a thorough approach to investigating morphological and physiological adaptations of plants with elegant field experiments on the behavior of ants. This monograph is a first attempt at collecting information about the morphology, ecology, and phenology of ants and plants from one ecosystem. The book gives readers a panoramic view of the hidden, poorly-known interrelations not only between pairs of ants and plant species but also between species communities in the ecosystem. The authors have considered not just one aspect of animal-plant relationships, but have tried to show them in all their complexity. Some aspects of the ant-plant interactions described in the book may be of interest to botanists, others to zoologists or ecologists, but the entire work is an excellent example of the marriage of these biological disciplines.
Since time immemorial, human beings have been fascinated by ants, amazed by them, intrigued and captivated by them. With numerous black-and-white images and eight pages of color plates, The Lives of Ants provides a state-of-the-art look at what we now know about these fascinating creatures, portraying a world that is rich and full of surprises, one which, even after decades of observation, is still full of unsolved mysteries. The authors illuminate the world of the ant, shedding light on such topics as the ant’s impressive abilities in direction finding and quite amazing ingenuity when it comes to building their nests, finding supplies, or exploiting other members of the animal kingdom. They show, too, that they are capable of aggression and violence, which can disturb the apparent peace of their colonies and embroil them in fratricidal or matricidal strife. Even their sexual arrangements are at times quite strange. In this area, as in many others, they display marked originality. Readers also discover that ants are walking bundles of secretory glands (they have about forty of them), which enable them to emit between ten and twenty different pheromones, each of which has its own “meaning.” Some are produced by workers for recruiting their sisters or for alerting them to danger. Others are used for marking territory, for identifying members of their colony or conversely for detecting foreigners, and for indicating the location of food. In addition, ants can also emit sound signals, made of a high-pitched squeak, and they can even dance, though not as intricately or as well as bees. The Lives of Ants combines natural history with molecular biology, genetics, and even the latest developments in robotics, to explore the remarkable societies of ants, revealing the secrets of their mysterious lives.