6 Amazingly Complex Military Strategies Used by Bugs

#3. Millipedes Create a Demilitarized Zone 140 Miles Long

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Human society is made up almost entirely of walls and borders, and we tend to be overprotective of them. The Chinese built a wall to keep out the Mongols, the Romans built a wall to keep out the Scots, and the Americans built a fence to mildly inconvenience Mexicans. All of those stand to this day as a testament to man's distrust of man, which inexplicably pales in comparison to how much Australian millipedes apparently hate each other.

"Nothing personal, but hating every other animal from Australia just makes survival sense."

It has been observed that two species of millipede from northwest Tasmania have claimed their own territory in different parts of the island with a 330-foot-wide "mixing zone" between them, which the bugs can tentatively enter but never cross. This is known as a parapatric boundary (sort of like an insect demilitarized zone), and they're actually quite common, except that this one is 143 miles long, or about twice as long as Hadrian's Wall.

Parapatric boundaries normally follow some sort of geographical feature. These millipedes, however, seem to have come up with theirs using nothing but arbitrary mutual agreement, crossing hills and rivers, ignoring climate and vegetation, and paying no mind to rock and soil.

Bob Mesibov
It's like an I Love Lucy episode, except with millions of poisonous monster bugs.

When asked to explain this, the scientists basically threw up their arms and said, "The heck if we know. Magic, maybe?" Personally, we can't help but imagine two millipede generals bent over a map, discussing their invisible border while wearing tiny army hats and uniforms and ... hold on, we need to jot down an idea for a children's book.

#2. Termites Have a Highly Organized Military

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Do not be fooled by the frankly slanderous portrayal of termites in the movie Antz. Rather than being slobbering monsters that rely on brute strength, termites are actually closer to the insect version of ancient Spartans ... if Spartans walked around with guns that shoot glue mounted to their heads.

Via Termite Web
Their bizarrely defined 300 abs are too small to photograph without a special lens.

But merely possessing a caste of super soldiers means nothing unless you can use them correctly, and this is where shit gets downright scary. Unlike other hive-minded insects, whose tactics are more or less "start scratching and biting in that general direction," termites have developed some unnervingly human-like military strategies.

Workers of the genus Hospitalitermes, for example, go foraging for food out in the open by marching with an armed convoy. When the day's foraging begins, a group of soldiers exits the nest first, followed by a tight line of workers and soldier escorts. As the party ventures forth, the soldiers move to the flanks to guard against attackers. Workers keep to the center of the line, cutting and hauling food back to the nest while the soldiers ward off threats with their gunk-spewing face guns.

David T. Jones
"They've bukakked the frontline! Fall back, before they come from behind!"

Then there are the Macrotermes termites and their detailed battle plans for defending the home nest. If ants ever come over to pillage and manage to breach their walls, the termite soldiers will drum on the walls to alert the colony of danger, sending an alarm reverberating throughout the entire nest like an air raid siren. When that happens, soldiers immediately charge out of the hole, sacrificing their lives to hold back the enemy, while workers scramble to seal up the damaged wall. In a pinch, the soldiers will even block the tunnels with their heads. OK, so maybe they're not geniuses. But still ...

#1. Ants Leave No Man Behind

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If there's one thing that separates humans from animals, it's our willingness to help one another in a time of crisis (also, animals can't ride bicycles for shit). Insects are worst of all -- they operate on a hive mentality where a single individual doesn't even register. They'll mindlessly sacrifice wave upon wave of excess bodies for the good of the colony, without a second thought ... is what most people think, and also the exact opposite of what science discovered as far back as 1874.

Yes, way back in the 19th century, biologists observed certain ants taking time to dig out their comrades who had become trapped in sand. Modern scientists then decided to test this supposed ant compassion by setting up an experiment where they buried a bunch of ants ensnared in nylon string.

Nowbahari E, Scohier A, Durand J-L, Hollis KL, PLoS ONE, via YouTube
"We were already torturing the ants and figured we might as well get some grant money in the process."

Surprisingly, instead of just marching blindly on, the ant's nestmates actually launched a rescue mission to free the prisoner, carefully digging out the sand and chewing through the string until the victim was free.

Ants caring for their wounded might sound like a whimsical bit of propaganda from the anti-pesticide, pro-unicorn farts lobby, but their camaraderie actually goes much further: Ants will plunge headfirst into battle with a deadly antlion to save a comrade from being eaten. In one test, researchers threw ants into an antlion pit (seriously, scientist guys: When the ants inevitably rebel against us, we're blaming you), and when it would grab a victim in its jaws, the other insects would try to free it by biting and stinging the antlion. Once, the rescuer herself ended up being next on the antlion's menu, but rather than fleeing the scene, the newly freed victim returned the favor, valiantly staying in the fight to save her buddy.

Jonathan Numer, via Wikipedia
Also, this is an antlion. It's like the Sarlacc had a threesome with a spider and Clive Barker's imagination.

Of course, ant loyalty only extends to the colony's boundaries. In the experiment where ants were tied up with string, only ants from the same nest would bother saving Private Ryant. If ants from a separate nest were on the scene, the prisoner was ignored, tortured, or sometimes even killed while it couldn't fight back. So, yeah, they're not like humans at all!

You can bug Alan on Twitter, where his puns don't get much better. When Mr. Yee isn't training kung fu mantis bodyguards for the inevitable Bug Wars, he's usually making T-shirts and writing his daily online fortune cookie.

Related Reading: We've got a feeling you aren't scared enough of ants right now. This article should help. Still not scared? You should know they're growing immune to our poisons. In fact, if these Argentine ants have their way, the whole planet will be sporting six legs before much longer.

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