Ants are understood to form the second most complex societies on Earth after our own. Can we truly reduce such engineering to basic animal instincts or is there something more to it?
I was writing a poem metaphorically calling human beings ‘biped ants’ [see Social Animal] as they would appear from a far distance if someone were to look upon us from above, and as I searched for a visual to complement my words I stumbled upon this 2012 discovery.
We have always been attracted by ants’ endless work and seemingly effortless labour; do they not know fatigue? We have also proceeded to pour liquid metal in their lairs in order to analyse the structure of their complex abodes, discovering fantastic structures so beautiful as to become bioart, as viewed in the picture above.
Yet this time, scientists in Brazil, led by Professor Luis Forgi, have uncovered a 46 square metre ant megalopolis, the biggest yet known to us, keen to be the equivalent for them of the Great Wall of China for us. A city with subterranean highways, paths and gardens, where each member has a role, from construction to fungus farming to waste disposal.
Check it out and bewilder in marvel for these extraordinary creatures, so small yet so mighty, which made to my surprise and satisfaction, my poetical metaphor all the more accurate.
The leafcutter ants excavated around 40 tonnes of soil to create the labyrinth.
The network was designed to allow good ventilation and provide the shortest transport routes.
It features scores of highways connecting the main chambers – and, off the main routes, are side roads.
Fungus gardens, which are grown from the vegetation collected by the workers.
Leafcutter ants, which can produce similar colonies in a space the size of an acorn, have created such societies – all governed by a queen – all over the Americas.
A single queen will collect the 300million sperm form males before she sets up her colony.