When the ants will wake up

According to the famous American entomologist, E. O. Wilson, there are around the world 11,574 species of ants (Wilson, 2003), while previously (Holldobler and Wilson, 1990), he estimated them to be 8800 species only. Probably there exist more than 20,000 ant species in the whole world, distributed among 350 genera. Ants are adapted to all situations, they are found everywhere, except in Antarctica and Arctica, where they could not reach due to lack of food (see the chapter on "Omnipresent ants"). In the cold area, as north Canada or Alaska, they help, with the mosquitoes in plant pollination. They seem to be absent from Greenland, but we are not quite sure about it. There are Pleistocene ant fossils in the extreme north of the island, in the Peary Land.

Outside the extreme north, ants pollinate plants only exceptionally, since they are inefficient or they possess glands, which kill the pollen. Their dispersing capacity is almost nil. There are, however pollinating ants in Australia, and there they pollinate orchids by pseudo-copulation (see Chapter 26. "Love match!"). Those ants don't have pollen killing glands, and flowers and insects are perfectly adapted to each other.

Ants are very resourceful and adapt themselves to almost any situation. They are very stubborn and nothing stops a herd of tropical ants starting in a razzia or a procession. In that case it is better to evacuate one's tent or one's house, and to leave the ants alone. They will clean everything in their way. PJ remembers once in Kivu, when he was sleeping under a tent in the bush somewhere in a mossy forest, on feeling a bite, he woke up and was obliged to leave quickly his precarious dwelling; compact columns of Doryline ants had for some unknown reason decided to pay a visit to the solitary entomologist. The column measured nearly 200 m long and 20 cm wide. PJ waited outside, a flashlight in hand, expecting that the visitors cleaned the area of termites and all unexpected visitors. After one hour, the ants, probably satisfied, changed their direction and went back to their headquarters. Those ants eat everything, and I never saw again such emaciated chickens, brought there by my cook after the ant invasion. I had tried to stop the invasion with insecticides and fire, but all was in vain and I had to give up.

Mr. and Mrs Larson, a couple of English entomologists, wrote once: "Man is, in fact, reaching for the stars. He may attain them, but life is such that, if he does, it may well be that the ants will go there with him" (Larson and Larson, 1965). They have travelled in the boats, in trains, in cars and have reached continents previously devoid of certain species. The Argentine ant, this big traveller, has now colonized almost all the tropics and subtropics. We can imagine that a little ant will reach with man the planet Mars, and will survive there without space suit with the modest atmosphere existing there. What could she eat? Not much, perhaps only scraps of food, dropped by man.

But if man one day vanquishes, as the Star Trek team, the obstacle of the light-years (warp speed!) and visits a planet with a normal atmosphere in another solar system, it is very probable that ants would also establish themselves there. Science fiction? Yes. But is it not permitted to dream?

The Council of Europe voted recently an Invertebrate Charter. That is easy and costs nothing. That was why it got the unanimity. Protection of insects seems to them to be a duty, while the destruction of trees is tolerated. It is easy to vote for such a text while reckless destruction of habitats continues in Brazil, Borneo and elsewhere. The famous English naturalist Myriam Rothschild became a vegetarian in order to stop eating animals, but, if we must protect all living things, from panda to protozoa, we cannot give the same protection to all. If we do it, as wrote one day a veterinarian, it will become suicidal. Are we obliged to protect also malaria carrier mosquitoes or Chagas transmitting bugs as we protect the beetles or the butterflies of our forests? British naturalists have proposed to celebrate one day the Insect year, the Creepy-Crawly Awareness Year. Why not plan a Year of Awakening of Intelligence and Foresight or a Year of Conscience? More an animal is intelligent, more it will be aware and conscious of its surroundings, and, being most intelligent in the living world, we should be respectful to nature in a holistic way.

Someone with prejudice of "specism" or racism may have low regard for other living forms and even for some of our fellow humans. It is true that the Bible or the Gospels don't speak much of animals except in several passages in the Genesis where God entrusted all living beings to humans. There are other similar passages elsewhere here and there. Buddhists are respectful to all animal life and so are the Indians. It is a fact that we should not torture other animals stupidly. But is it unwise to destroy the Salmonella or the amoebas colonizing our intestine? Will it be wise to raid and attack laboratories with cultures of small pox virus and anthrax bacteria with a mission to liberate organisms from cruel hands of man?

An American entomologist from Wyoming, Jeffrey Lockwood, has written in 1987 a well informed paper on the moral standing of insects, published by the very serious journal "Florida Entomologist". He defends vigorously insects and finds even in Protestant theology defenders of the existence of a soul in Invertebrates (Jolivet, 1999, 2002). We must have consideration for our inferior brothers, says Lockwood. Peter Milward (1972) has also written a book full of poetry on soul of Insects. This is far away from entomology, entering the fields of philosophy and poetry. A poet, even if he is entomologist, can be swayed away by emotions.

Let us imagine that the ants, which possess a very sophisticated small brain, will succeed against us on the earth. After all, they have preceded us in evolution by hundred million years, and they are still here, powerful and active. That they become bigger, stronger, better organized (if that is possible) and more intelligent, man then will disappear, victim of his own aggression or of generalized pollution and destruction. The successful ants will impose their own order, mercilessly and ruthlessly. There will be no more forests, no more myrmecophilic plants. The ants will manage by themselves, on a barren floor, covered with some algae, mosses, and lichens.

Will it then be an insect planet? It is much more probable that man will destroy himself through his own foolishness, unless he develops the wisdom of the ants and will struggle to survive in competition against some insects like ants, which have much greater fecundity and capacity to adapt themselves to diverse habitats than the human species.

One may wonder if, among billions of habitable planets, there is a planet with an ant like form as the dominant living species. We can always dream, as probably our capacity of visualisation is much more developed than in any other species on this planet. Let us try to imagine what will happen when ants wake up!


Holldobler, B. and Wilson, E. O. 1990. The Ants. Harvard University Press,

Cambridge, MA, USA:732 pp. Jolivet, P. 1999. Les Insectes ont-ils des droits? Ou le standing moral des Insectes.

Le Coleopteriste, Paris 39: 103-111. Jolivet, P. 2002. Les Insectes souffrent-ils ? Le Coleopteriste, Paris 5 (2): 93-94. Larson, P. P. and M. W 1965. Ants observed. Scientific Book Club, London: 192 pp. LOCKWOOD, J. 1987. The Moral standing of insects and the ethics of extinction.

Florida Entomologist 70 (1): 70-89. Milward, P. 1972. Insects Anonymous and more Insects Anonymous. Azuma Shobo

Publications, Tokyo: 180 + 197 pp. Wilson, E. O. 2003. Pheidole in the New World. a Dominant, Hyperdiverse Ant Genus. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA: 794 pp.

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