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The Fire Ants Paperback – Illustrated, March 11, 2013
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“This book is without parallel as a thorough description of the biology of an important social insect. There are books on particular problems of social insect biology, and of course the landmark volume by Hölldobler and Wilson treats all ant biology. The Fire Ants stands out for its focus on a single species, covering the entire range of an enormous literature. It will therefore be of interest to specialists and to a more general audience who wish to learn about what is important in the ant world.”―Joan Herbers, Dean of Biological Sciences, Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University
“I have been reading bits and pieces of the book, dipping in here and there like a chimpanzee with a twig, fishing for ants, and each time I have come up with something tasty and nutritious...My favorite ["Interlude"], an economical two-page essay called "The Porter Wedge Micrometer: Mental Health for Myrmecologists," ought to be required reading for any scientist who wants to write for the public...This brief essay is entertaining and significant, a real glimpse of what science is and how it is done by human beings, rational and un-, grappling with technique, nature and the gathering of information. This is what the public needs to know about science, not just the results presented in the driest form possible.”―James Gorman, New York Times
“This book is a masterly and detailed account of some of nature's greatest opportunists, the fire ants. It deals with their phylogeny, biogeography, social organization, parasites, and foraging behavior, together with their impacts on natural ecosystems and agriculture. Walter Tschinkel's holistic approach embraces topics at the molecular level and relates them to the colony and its organization. Tschinkel has researched these ants for thirty-five years at Florida State University, Tallahassee. He and several generations of his postgraduate students have been one of the major driving forces in fire-ant studies. This body of work required the mastery of finely tuned laboratory techniques in analytical chemistry, a detailed understanding of the natural history of the ants, extended periods of uncomfortable fieldwork and getting badly stung...Tschinkel's love of and fascination with the ants shines through the often highly technical aspects of The Fire Ants. He writes with great clarity and his book should appeal to the general reader, as much as the specialist. It is well illustrated with graphs, tables, and excellent photographs.”―Christopher O'Toole, Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
- Publisher : Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press; Illustrated edition (March 11, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 752 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0674072405
- ISBN-13 : 978-0674072404
- Item Weight : 2.68 pounds
- Dimensions : 7.05 x 1.52 x 9.23 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,529,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I bought this book after reading Hölldobler and Wilson's The Superorganism which had a few pictures of Professor Tschinkel's casts of ant mounds. Who knew? I sure didn't. Using my mega Prime account, I ordered the book ASAP. Read it as close to one sitting as anyone can read a 700 page book on a subject in which I have only an amateur's interest. Ants are fascinating creatures and I have read a number of Wilson and Hölldobler's books on ants and others of Professor Wilson. Their recommendation was all it took.
This is just a wonderful book. I kill them when I find them--we live in the territory they are colonizing--but, my, as Professor Tschinkel in his book makes clear, they are a wonderfu, dare I say "admirable?" l and a clever species. Their wide spreading across the South was to a large extent caused by government's trying to "do something." Tschinkel argues these campaigns created conditions which played into the fire ants very strengths.
There are Science books and there are popular Science books. In between are books--Wilson has written a number--where serious scientists write summary books on topics combining deep science with broader topics related to those scientific results. They provide a context that narrow and scholarly texts can't and more science than just popular glosses can. This book is a model of such between books.
It is a wondrous book. Tschinkel also has a nice, dry sense of humor so he carries us in on the story.
Why can't I see seven stars?
There is much more to the fire ant than just the sting, and it is hard to imagine that this volume has left anything out, except for all the research that there is still to do about still-mysterious details. Fire ants were imported accidentally from South America between 1933 and 1942. They moved out concentrically from Mobile, and there is a famous map of their expanding range as the years went by, but it wasn't just a simple matter of expansive growth by a species that liked the new real estate. They had help from the same vector that brought them to the United States, the humans which Tschinkel says fire ants must regard as benevolent gods. Distant foci of infestation were established "when obliging nurserymen unwittingly gave rides to hitchhiking fire ants." Fire ants would have had trouble crossing the desert, for instance, without our help, and so they got to California. There are lovely essays on the behavior of ant researchers interspersed among the more numerous and scientifically dense chapters. It is really rather astonishing all that Tschinkel and his fellows have been able to ask the ants experimentally and get them to reply. They have used remarkable techniques, such as tagging individual ants permanently with little wire belts around their waists: "Tying a wire around an ant's waist is simple, at least in principle."
Tschinkel is often confronted by people who want him to tell them how to get rid of the ants. If you have a hypersensitive member of the family, yes, it might be time for poison baits, he suggests, but otherwise he advises simply leaving them alone. After all, he says, they don't do any harm. Now, anyone who has been stung by these critters might question that, but Tschinkel provides ample data to show that there is little demonstrable harm done by fire ants, and even some good; Louisiana sugarcane farmers, for instance, recognize that fire ants go after sugarcane borers and thus improve crop yields. There have been efforts, waves of chlordane and Mirex, that humans have used to eliminate the ants, and when that failed, just to control their spread, and when that failed, there was nothing for the humans to do but give up. The Ant Wars were "a complex brew of science, politics, journalistic hyperbole, public hysteria, and legal maneuvering" and the humans lost. Fire ants will be around for at least as long as we keep making them at home, it seems, and in reading this impressive volume, it is hard not to admire the sophisticated ways they have evolved to keep themselves going. Even if you have no chance of becoming a myrmecologist yourself, you will find it hard not to admire the cleverness and hard work of the researchers devoted to them. Tschinkel's volume is a beautiful monument to fire ants and to science.
This is, hands down, the best technical book I have ever read. Not only does Tschinkel move you through the story of fire ants with a pacing that more resembles a blockbuster novel than a biological textbook, he is very, very funny. I know for a fact I have laughed out loud more reading this book than I did for many a supposedly "humorous" book.
It is a rare writer who can compel a mostly disinterested reader to stay with him through nearly 700 pages of technical information. Looking back, I can't believe he did it. Yet he did, and I am grateful for the experience. I know a WHOLE lot more about fire ants than I ever dreamed I would want to know. And I can't wait for the sequel.