Ant Encounters

Deborah Gordon is very passionate about her study of ants and their behavior, and that was very clear in her presentation. Her study mainly dealt with a particular type of ant that lives in the desert, where the ants have adapted to the arid conditions in order to live and survive. They feed mainly on seeds and have to manage to find enough food to feed their colony and store in their reserves due to the limited amount of plants around to disperse the seeds. To decide who will leave the colony and forage for food, there are three types of worker ants: midden workers, patrollers, and foragers. The midden ants cleans up the colony, the patrolling ants protect the colony, and the foragers are sent out to find food. What was interesting to me is that a worker ant is not assigned to a particular role her entire life; the role is interchangeable depending on the need of workers. If there is a need of more foragers, then the patrolling ants become foragers and the midden workers become patrolling ants. However, if there is a need for additional midden workers, the foragers and patrollers do not want to be a midden worker so ants from inside the colony become the midden workers. Gordon mentioned throughout her presentation that the behavior and mechanisms of ants are very much like the behavior and mechanisms of human beings. Humans are not bound to one particular role in life, and cleaning isn’t everybody’s favorite chore.

What was very interesting to me was the queen ant. There is only one queen ant for every colony and even though her title suggests some type of hierarchy and rule, it’s more like she is the only ant able to reproduce and spends her entire life producing offspring for the colony. I found it astounding that she is able to make hundreds and hundreds of offspring using the sperm of multiple male ants from one mating event. The queen ant is also born with wings and after she mates she flies away to establish her colony and sheds her wings. I found all of this to be fascinating because I knew from elementary school that the queen ant was the one who produced all of the other worker ants and she was the only one who could reproduce, but I didn’t understand how the queen could keep giving birth without a mate. The queen ant also doesn’t rule; her colony is able to work on its own through chemical signals from one ant to another. Going back to the connection between ant colonies and human beings, this doesn’t work on entire human populations like it does with ants, but it does work on smaller groups where people can coexist with each other and have no need for a higher being telling them what to do.

Overall, I enjoyed the presentation more than I expected. I’m not the biggest fan of insects and I never thought of ants being anything spectacular since I would see them everywhere during the summer. However, Deborah Gordon made the information easy to digest and her little diagrams helped explaining the behavior of ants. They are more complex than what meets the eye and I liked the comparison between ants and humans.

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