Ant Encounters

Deborah Gordon was definitely very enthusiastic about her work with ants. I learned so many things about ants that I never knew before, or even thought I would want to know. Things like the worker ants being all sterile females, there being no hierarchy to the colony at all, that the queen only breeding once then going underground to lay eggs for the rest of her life (which is usually 20-30 years), ants touch antenna to detect cuticular hydrocarbons that have a colony-specific odor as means of communication, and the fact that there are 12,000+ species of ants, were completely unknown to me. It’s truly amazing how Gordon puts so much of her time, so much of her life, into these ants – creatures that probably the vast majority of people deem insignificant.

One thing that most intrigued me was the fact that ants in nature stop foraging for food when they have enough stockpiled, whereas ants in a lab will keep collecting food, even if they have enough to feed thousands of generations. It’s very interesting that this discrepancy in storing occurs – even Gordon didn’t know why this happened, she called it one of the “interesting mysteries” of life.

This lecture was not at all what I thought it would be like. I came in thinking that Gordon was going to have this big reveal about how ant and human societies are similarly structured and that we are not as different as we seem from the outside. But that was not the case. Gorgon talked mainly about how different we are. The main difference is that humanity is a very hierarchy-based society, whereas ants have no system of authority whatsoever. I think that, as people growing up in very structured and hierarchical societies, it is hard for us to imagine that a society can be successful without any guiding power – it’s anarchy, literally. Ants challenge this preconceived knowledge. From them, we see that a society does not have to be like our own to be successful and that diversity of methods is what helps to keep this world a more interesting, and mysterious, and magical.

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