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Regueira Blog

Daniel Regueira Blog

My quick snippets & in-depth dives on topics ranging from progressive politics, Latin American news, design & tech, Pokémon, and everything between.

The Science of Emergence - Ants

Yes, ants. Ants are fucking cool. I know a ton of people hate them, and I most definitely do not love their presence in my home, BUT on a purely analytical and scientific level they are SUPER COOL. There's a new study of science/philosophy called "emergence" (TL;DR it's the science of how complex and sohpiticated systems come out of seemingly simple things). It's similar to the interpretation of gestalt in art.

Long story short, each individual ant is an absolute idiot. Every single one, including the Queen. Actually "Queen" is a terrible name considering she does absolutely NOTHING except give birth (she's basically the ovaries of the colony). That's literally all she does.

So if the Queen doesn't give orders, who does? NOBODY. Somehow ants have become one of the most sophisticated creatures on the planet despite being absolute idiots and having no one individual or group in control.

Yet somehow they are able to accomplish so many things.

1. Caste Systems

Queen -- Queens are usually larger than the workers, she's the one who gives birth, the ovaries of the colony. Nothing more. After they born, once they're ready they fly away and find a male to mate with and then fly away somewhere safe to start birthing thousands of eggs and start a colony. Queens birth workers, soldiers, males, and other queens.

Workers -- Worker ants are the ones we usually run into. They forage for food clean up the nest, take care of the queen, take care of the larvae, etc. They're all female and almost never lay eggs, and when they do they're normally used for food. In the case of a dead queen they hatch into male ants.

Soldiers -- They fight. That's it.

Males -- Males are normally small. They only have one purpose in life which is to inseminate a queen. They die shortly after.

 2. Some Ants Take Slaves

There's a breed of ant called the Slave-maker.

Here's the crazy part. The queen when ready to have babies will pretend to die near a host colony. The host colony takes her in as food to a chamber within the colony. Once she awakens she finds and kills the queen, covers herself in the dead Queen's pheromones and then starts laying eggs for the colony to tend to. Eventually the Slave-Maker ants run the colony and begin raiding other colonies, killing the adults and raising the pupae as their own.

Sometime the enslaved ants rebel by killing the larvae and pupae of the slave-maker ants. Just like real rebellions sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't

3. Ants Have Livestock

Much like humans ants like sugary things. Aphids happen to poop this sweet liquid 'honeydew' that the ants like to drink.

Some species of ant will herd aphids on a plant, taking their poop to be shared and drank by everyone.

They also furiously defend these aphids. Ladybugs eat aphids naturally, and if the ants catch the ladybugs trying to eat their aphids they kill them very quickly.

They even move them to greener pastures when the plant is dried out so they can eat up all they want and keep making honeydew.

That's one part of the science of emergence in a nutshell show through ants. If you wanna see something scarier look up "Siafu" or "driver" ants. They kill up to 100,000 animals a day and are rumored to have killed men too.

More on emergence and ants from the best podcast on earth: Radiolab.

blog postDaniel Regueira