November 20, 1996
Contemporary Science Topics
A quote made by Lewis Thomas, "Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungus, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into war, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, and exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television." I am going to focus this report on the part of the quote, "..launch armies into war..," which sets a metaphor of ants and our armies in today's society. Ants have many tactics, so to speak, that are similar to the way our armies have when going to war.
Ants have many different roles in their society. One of the main roles that army ants or soldier ants have is that they forage in masses for food. These masses of ants travel together and are able to overcome and capture other social insects and large anthropoids, they may occasionally kill larger animals but they do not eat them. As the need for food for the larvae increases, food gathering raids become more intense.
The hunting raids made by ants are carried out by "armies" of thousands of ants and set out from the bivouac in various directions. They form two or three parties going out simultaneously in different directions for 100 yards or more. In the U.S. army we attack countries in different areas to weaken the force we are attacking. We send out thousands of troops in various directions and try to surround the source of the location being attacked. For instance, if there are several locations that needed to be attacked to weaken the enemy, like their weapon storage or air force base, we send several sets of troops to attack each individual location. This is very similar to the way army ants set out on a hunting raid. They will send out thousands of ants at once in two or three different directions.
When ants go out on their raids, a subgroup called Dorgline ants, walk along margins of the trails as though protecting the smaller...