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Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions Hardcover – May 5, 2010
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Are ants exciting? You bet they are! Entomologist Moffett, who has been described as the �Indiana Jones of entomology,� takes the reader along as he travels the world in search of ants. Ants are found on every continent except Antarctica and in virtually every climate. They are masters at exploiting an abundant niche�the cracks, crevices, gaps, hollows, and other interstices of the environment. As a small child Moffett was enraptured by ants, and, after reading the exploits of the early explorer-naturalists, he wanted to be a field biologist. Studying ants has led him to India and the marauder ant, which has workers of three sizes, the largest being 500 times the size of the smallest�the smallest, however, are those that start the hunt. In Nigeria, he watches army ants on raids, observing how individual prey species fight back. Weaver ants in Australia, Asia, and Africa use their larvae�s ability to spin silk to bind leaves together to make a nest. In Brunei, the author observed ants diving into pitcher plants to retrieve drowned insects. California reveals the slaver Amazon ants, who steal pupae from other ant species to do all of their work for them. In South America, Moffett digs up colonies of leaf-cutting ants, who grow their fungus food in gardens based on leaves they cut. Illustrated throughout with the author�s exquisite closeup photos, photos that bring the actions of these tiny protagonists to a size we can appreciate, Moffett�s work will make ant appreciators of even the most phobic. --Nancy Bent
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My main comment about Moffett is that I greatly enjoyed the choice of characters. There really is no such thing as "an ant book" - you get books about specific species of ants. With Moffett you are given what personally would consider a short list the more interesting players - driver ("army ants"), marauder, weaver, leaf cutter, Amazon, and Argentine. Each has their own - sometimes wildly different - style of food collection, fighting, nesting, and communication. The marauder ant chapter alone had me researching many things and trying to find pictures of their work. And you can pick this book up and read a chapter at your whim, not worrying about losing anything by setting it aside for a while between readings.
But I will say that I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 for the autobiographic parts. Not so much because those parts exist, but because sometimes those sections veered off into topics completely unrelated to the ant species of that chapter. Small matter really, just distracted me at times. I do recommend this book - it is very informative.
To say Dr. Moffett has "paid his dues" is a vast understatement. He has hung hundreds of feet in tropical rainforests. He has stood in sweltering heat for days at a time. He has been bitten/stung by most every kind of ant (although it's a bit sadistic, I admit I felt a certain disappointment at his near-miss with the legendary bullet ant), and can and does compare the various scars he bears from his beloved subjects. Red fire ants have "painful" stings, as his amazing photo with a drop of poison hanging from the ant's stinger tip shows. Leaf-cutter ants have no stinger, but tend to slash you, leaving you covered with the equivalent of dozens of paper cuts. Marauder ants, (when you smash into their nest, mind you) tend to swarm over you, find the exposed skin, and bite like crazy. We expected this. But we didn't know that one ant always stays behind, hidden until hours later when/where you are least expecting it (like when you are talking to two Australian ladies trying to impress them). Chomp. Ouch!
How could I not mention the 51 hours he spent in a chair once, watching a marauder ant "trunk line" (highway) to see the beginnings of a nascent swarm raid? Or his careful removal of ants, one by one, from the front of an Amazon ant swarm, in order to find the "leader?" (he did). How he named the ants in his favorite nest when he was a boy? He describes standing for hours in the rainforest watching ants with his arms held out at his sides... because he was COVERED with sweat wasps and killer bees literally licking the sweat from his skin, and being unable to drop his arms for fear of triggering a sting-fest. This guy is more than the "Jane Goodall of ants:" he is also the Indiana Jones of ants! (although you get the sense that, while he loves adventure, it is ALL about the science; there is no sense of self-aggrandizement here.) He will no doubt go down as one of the great naturalists of all time, and he continues to win awards for his explorations and scientific discoveries (including many species previously unknown). He is the Real Deal. If you love nature, then get this book!
From being the curator of the legendary ant collection at Harvard, to his many National Geographic articles and his work with the Smithsonian now, this is a one-of-a-kind adventurer and storyteller and scientist, yet he never makes the reader feel out of the action. Moffett carefully explains the science behind everything he does (and on this level, again, he is no "soldier of fortune," because it really all IS in the name of the purest science). He could easily make us feel intellectually inferior, yet he takes pains to make sure we are following the explanation... his legendary patience comes through in his writing.
If I had to suggest a way to improve this excellent book, I would say MORE ANT PHOTOS! This man is gifted with the camera. Wow.
And yes, I agree with the reviewer who said the description of Mark's wedding - naked on the edge of an Easter Island volcano - is worth the price of the book alone!