7 Reasons Ants Will Inherit the Earth
We've covered ants before, but everyone in the country didn't immediately start smashing every ant they came across, so obviously you didn't listen. And we'll all pay for it. When the empires of man finally fall and the memory of our hubris has faded to dust, ants will still be here, running shit. Like they have been for millions of years. And this is why ...
They Want Victory at All Costs
Make a list of the people in your life for whom you would take a bullet. Would that list include your spouse? Your kids? Definitely. Your brothers and sisters, and your parents? Most likely. Some close friends? Probably. What about some completely random person you've never met? He's not the same age as you, he went to a different school, you listen to different kinds of music, he hates your haircut. The only thing you share is that you're both humans. Would you take a bullet for him? Would he take one for you? What if there was no bullet to take? Would you be willing kill yourself on the off chance that it might protect some stranger? No. Humans simply aren't like that.
Which is why you're reading this while sitting on the corpses of the slain.
But ants? Ants are absolutely like that. They don't give two shits about their lives, and we're not just talking about in wartime here.
Every night, ants of the species Forelius pusillus bury their colony entrance to hide from their enemies, with a few of the ants working from the outside. Unable to reenter, they will be dead by the next morning through starvation or dehydration, or maybe they simply willed themselves to die just so they could kamikaze themselves again in the afterlife in an attempt to kill ghost bees or whatever.
"You guys have a nice night. We'll scream you a lullaby."
According to Science magazine, this is "the first known example in nature of a suicidal defense that is preemptive rather than a response to immediate danger." These ants sacrifice a handful of their own kind just to close the door, and they do it every goddamned night. Put a load of clothes on to wash, tuck the kids in and send a couple family members on a suicide mission to lock the gate.
"I will close the ever loving shit out of that door! HARDCORE!"
Still, they only sacrifice themselves to defend or protect their colony -- they'd never just send wave after wave of suicide-destined ants for an unprovoked attack, right?
Wrong. Lasius neglectus (or "the Asian super ants") are naturally drawn to electricity, with a desire that's actually stronger than their need to eat and drink. Swarms of these ants can and have caused blackouts in Great Britain. Once one ant gets zapped, an alarm pheromone is sent out that calls swarms of their brethren to attack and attack until, eventually, the power goes out. Millions of ants will immolate themselves and, frankly, science has no idea why. And don't think only Britain is doomed. Other ants have been known to attack electricity, like the fire ants in this video:
If you don't know what's scary about ants that aren't afraid to kill themselves to destroy electrical power, then you've never had that nightmare where a nationwide blackout happens and billions of ants use the cover of prolonged night to crawl into our mouths while we're cowering in the darkness.
(Until tonight, that is.)
They Have Advanced Biotechnology
Humans go to college to find out what they want to do in life, and they study or train or practice to be good at whatever it is they choose. Ants, meanwhile, are assigned tasks at birth, and their bodies will physically change to meet those tasks. If some ants are going to be soldier ants, then they will "develop harder shells than their worker sisters, and have round, flat-shaped heads that look like big round plates and that they use to blockade the nest from enemies." They're born the same, but ants from the exact same species will morph, depending on how much or little they're fed, to serve a function for society. That's like a human toddler suddenly developing a natural fireman's helmet at 2 years old.
Better than in the womb.
The only job of the honey pot ant is to get fat (ants have special stomachs that can store liquids, so they can later regurgitate and feed other ants). These "repletes" are fed fluid by other ants until they balloon up to the size of a grape. These sumo bugs can hold fats, water, nectar or even the body fluids of dead bugs, in case, you know, someone wants that (ants don't judge). They also hang from the ceiling all day long, like some kind of spit and bug-juice pinata. If an ant's thirsty, it'll drink from these awful, juicy fountains. If not, they'll top them off by spitting into their mouths, because nothing ants do will ever be cute.
And these fluids never spoil or ferment. Ever. Ants are the only creatures on Earth who have created a living mobile food-storage unit full of life-sustaining grossness that will never go bad. And if one replete dies, some other ant will step right in and turn into a replete.
"I'm a spit pinata now? But I was just the mayor, like, five minutes ago."
Because ants are like Mega Man villains, we also have leafcutter ants, which have developed specialized mandibles made of zinc-enriched biomaterials as sharp as any blade man has ever devised.
They use these natural scissors to cut up leaves to use as fertilizer in their fungus gardens (though we have no reason to suspect they won't also use them to cut through our eyelids when we're sleeping).
"We totally could. Sometimes we even practice."
Their jaws are powerful enough to cut through leather, and did we mention that they vibrate a thousand times per second? Yes, they've got turkey carvers built into their faces.
They Can Dominate Any Environment
The Saharan silver ant is one of the most heat-tolerant land animals in the world. In fact, the only creatures that can survive higher temperatures are worms that live around boiling hydrothermal vents on the bottom of the ocean. This ant's only predator is a type of desert lizard, so to protect themselves they go out during the absolute hottest part of the day in one of the most searing environments on Earth where no organism could possibly survive. Scurrying as fast as their little legs can carry them across scalding sands that can be over 150 degrees Fahrenheit, these critters are fighting against the clock. They can only forage while in the blazing heat and they can only survive for a few moments before they fry, so they have to get out, find the food and get back as soon as possible.
Getting back should be difficult, as there aren't exactly memorable landmarks all over the desert, but they've even made their return trip more efficient. Most ants follow winding trails of pheromones to get back home, but the Saharan silver ants have built-in pedometers. They count their steps so they know exactly how far away from home they are at all times (and whether or not they'll have enough time to get back before the heat fries them), and by using polarized light from the sun, they always know what direction to run.
So even if ants could read, this would still be pretty useless.
But it's not just the fires of hell where ants can survive; another type of ant, Polyrhachis sokolova, is the world's only known aquatic ants, which means they can both swim and build underwater lairs, just like all of your favorite supervillains. Living in the mangroves along the Australian coast, these ants have cleverly designed their hives so that, when the tide comes in and completely covers the hive with water, the ants can survive in little pockets of air stationed throughout the hive. No other air-breathing creature on Earth can build an aquatic home except humans. The only difference is that this isn't just a little four-man aquatic habitat; this is a frigging ant metropolis.
They Are Super Farmers
It's not impressive enough that ants are farmers -- they have to be super farmers. Leafcutter ants have some of the largest colonies of any animal in the world, with up to 10 million workers. They harvest more greenery in South American forests than any other animal. It's estimated that leafcutter ants alone consume almost 20 percent of the area's annual growth. But ants can't digest the cellulose in leaves, so they cut them up and feed it to a special fungus that they grow. They've been doing this for, oh ... about 50 million years or so.
"You get used to the smell after the first 30 million years."
For 50 million years they've been working the land and harvesting this special fungus. The ants are covered in a unique bacteria designed to protect the fungus, and they produce 22 different types of antibiotic from special glands, so, without the ants, this fungus could not survive. Leafcutter ants actively fight off parasites and diseases that might harm their crops with toxins they engineer on their own bodies. They're not just farming, they've made their own natural pesticides.
They're so impressive that biologists are currently studying the leafcutter ant so that we advanced, tool-using, large-brained mammals can better emulate their system.
Expect hipsters waving trees above their heads at the next John Mayer concert.
In the Amazon, you might stumble across a very well-manicured patch of land that is completely clear, save a few trees known as D. hirsute trees (or "lemon ant trees"). Nothing else survives there. Local legend says that these bizarrely maintained clearings are home to an evil dwarf spirit called the Chuyachaqui. They call these patches "devil's gardens."
And they're half right. Dwarfs don't live in devil's gardens, but something evil does: lemon ants.
Friends tell us they actually taste of lemon. We don't speak anymore.
Every devil's garden is owned by lemon ants. The lemon ant trees are allowed to stay because their hollow stems provide good nest sites for the ants. A queen will make a home out of a tree, and eventually more lemon ant trees will grow as the colony expands. All other plant life, however, must go. These ants will inject formic acid into the leaves of any tree or weed they feel is too close to home, and the tree or weed will die. That's how the ants keep the area so well-landscaped: They're killing all of the trees.
Which is bad, because now you can clearly see what wants to murder you.
This is the only recorded instance of animals using herbicides to kill plants. Researchers found that trees attacked this way would begin to die within the first 24 hours. One colony was found to have 3 million workers, 15,000 queens and a whole grove of trees, and it was estimated to be 800 years old. A single colony has occupied the same real estate for nearly a millennium. That's older than most man-made cities.
They've Mastered Cooperation
One of the scariest things about ants is their ability to get along and form global mega-colonies instead of killing each other. Most ants join forces, but even those that don't have figured out how to settle arguments without bloodshed.
The answer is tiny, tiny conference tables.
When there's a dispute over food or territory, there is an alternative to fighting in the ant world. Certain species will hold ritualized tournaments with "highly stereotyped display fights" that show off, without killing, which side is stronger. They don't attack each other. They just jerk around and throw their mandibles up and act real tough. The motions and posturing can go on for days, with the whole colony showing up to participate. When a clear winner emerges, the loser will voluntarily leave without being harmed (though sometimes the losers become enslaved, if their moves were particularly weak-ass). The dance-off enables both tribes to judge each other's strengths and numbers to determine who would win in a fight, and therefore render fighting unnecessary (it's sort of like the plot of Step Up).
If ant-dance-fighting isn't impressive enough for you, what about the greatest building team in history? Weaver ants dwell in trees and make little ant burrito homes out of the leaves, which they accomplish by bending the leaves and gluing them together. The leaves are giant, so no one ant can do this; they all have to work together. Sometimes they have to pile on top of each other and form pyramids so they can reach the leaves.
"Did you guys know most humans can't even decide on a restaurant together? True story."
Or sometimes they have to link together as a chain and pull the leaf closer.
When the leaf is in place, it's time for the gluing, which means that the chain of ants have to hold the leaf in place and wait, like living staples, until a baby ant is ready to spin its cocoon.
Which is why ants are so good at stitching up injuries.
Oh, that's right, even the babies are involved in the construction (we did say "all" of the ants). Instead of covering itself in silk for its cocoon, the larva will donate its wispy strands to be used as building material. Weaver ants cart the babies out and use them like living glue guns to stitch the edges of the leaf homes together.
"I'm so fucking proud of you, son."
And then they have a nice ant bag.
Or a really terrible Hacky Sack.
And the most amazing thing about all of this is that no one ant is in charge of this shit. They just get up and unanimously decide to get shit done, and even the babies are like, "Yeah, totally, no, for the good of the colony, I'm on board."
Their Numbers Are Staggering
It's estimated that the combined weight of all the ants in the world equals or exceeds the total biomass of all humanity, which, most scientists will agree, is "a holy fuckload of ants." Pound for pound, ants could take us in a straight up fight.
Ants would make the best Megazord.
Now let's add to that the fact that ants can reproduce at an alarming rate. It's not unheard of for a queen to spit out 300,000 ants in a week. That's one queen. Some individual colonies have been known to have as many as 300 queens. But of course, ants don't just stop there. They've also achieved immortality.
Animals that don't need a male to reproduce are rare, but not unheard of, but the longhorn crazy ant can take the trick a step further. They not only clone themselves, but they can clone others, too. When they want a daughter, the queen finds a mate, mates with it and lays an egg, which is her genetic duplicate. When she needs a male, she can mate with one of her (eww) brothers. The way they get around the complications of inbreeding is that they don't mix their genes. Somehow she is able to keep her genetic material out of the process, a feat previously assumed to be impossible. The result is that the queen will lay an egg that is a clone of her male brother. No other animal can make exact copies like this.
"If Mom calls me by my uncle's name one more time I swear I'll stop having sex with her."
Thank God ants don't display any higher mental functions.
Display Higher Functions
We've already talked about how some ants take slaves, but even weak ants don't exactly appreciate being slaves. Some slave workers will fight back against their cruel overlords by destroying their conquerors' larvae on the sly, especially the baby queens. They'll either leave the larvae in a corner to rot or just eat them outright, often killing up to two-thirds of their host's brood. Individual ants aren't simpletons after all. They're forming a resistance movement, and doing so cleverly and in a way that will do the most damage to the colony while causing the least amount of suspicion.
"Bonjour. Today ze flag will fly ozer zat feelthy mound. Viva la revolution."
Ants are also capable of teaching each other. One ant will lead another ant to food, showing it the fastest path. The second ant will stop periodically to find landmarks, and the lead ant will slow down to wait for the trainee. Once the following ant is ready to continue, she'll tap the leader on the leg. When chimps and bumblebees have been shown to learn things from each other, it's always just been a case of one animal copying another. Ant training, however, is considered to be the first instance outside of humans of "bidirectional feedback teaching -- where both the teacher and pupil modify their behavior to provide guidance at a rate suitable for the pupil's abilities." They actively teach.
So, they're smart, they're more resourceful than us, they can adapt, they're ruthlessly patriotic to the ant cause and there are billions of them. So why haven't they attacked us yet?
Also, has anyone seen the art team?
Honestly? The only reason ants aren't challenging us for ownership of the planet is because it already belongs to them, and it has for a very long time. If anything, it's time for us to take back the Earth from them.
Monte Richard is a columnist for DaftGadgets.com, and you can check out his blog.
For more creatures we need to toss into the fire, check out 5 Species That Seem to be Trying to Take over the Earth and 7 Animals That Are One Flaw Away From Taking Over the World.