- Paperback: 228 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press; Reprint edition (1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674485262
- ISBN-13: 978-0674485266
- Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 51 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #285,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration Reprint Edition
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"Look to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise," says the proverb. Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson have joined together to tell how they took this advice and to share the fruits of their wisdom. As Nature said, they "have done for ants what Levi's did for denim." Not just a good-parts version of their magisterial, Pulitzer-winning The Ants, Journey is also a double autobiography--the history of how early enthusiasm developed into an enormously fruitful scientific collaboration. "We, having entered our bug period as children, were blessed by never being required to abandon it," the authors write. Their devotion to their chosen field shines through.
Journey to the Ants gives an outstanding overview of the enormous variety and fascination of myrmecology, from the primitive bulldog ants of Australia to the complexities of weaver ant societies, slave-making ants and agriculture, army ants, and the social parasites concealed within anthills. There is an appendix with practical instructions for collecting individual ants or whole colonies, dead or alive. Hölldobler and Wilson clearly want other children to follow in their footsteps, growing from simple bug love to insights into evolution and society. --Mary Ellen Curtin
From Publishers Weekly
In 1990, the authors won a Pulitzer Prize (science) for their monumental The Ants. Holldobler (Univ. of Wurzburg) and Wilson (Harvard), longtime collaborators, offer lay readers a fascinating glimpse into the world of ants as well as their own personal adventures in the study of these insects. We see weaver ants that live in tropical forest canopies, their nests made of leaves bound with silk. A colony of leafcutter ants raising fungi on pieces of fresh leaves consumes as much vegetation as a cow. Harvester ants alter the abundance and local distribution of flowering plants. The authors describe cooperation and communication; they found that ant species use 10 to 20 chemicals to convey attraction, alarm and other messages. They discuss ants' relations with butterflies, aphids and mealybugs (symbiosis), warfare (over food and territory) and exploitation. We learn that ants do not live at temperatures below 50 F. and that the greatest threat to them is drought. After reading Journey, we can only admire these insects and their remarkable social organization. Illustrations.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The book isn't suited for absolute beginners, since the reader is almost immediately thrown into the complicated world of ants, with little or no preparation. However, it's excellent for people who already have at least a working knowledge of these ubiquitous and somewhat annoying insects.
All the usual ground is covered: leaf cutter ants, weaver ants, soldier ants, honeypot ants... There are chapters on slave-raiding among ants, the strange symbiosis between aphids and ants, and between ants and the larvae of blue butterflies. Hölldobler and Wilson have also included a chapter on themselves!
Frankly, I knew most of this before, already as a kid. Bug period, anyone? But yes, "Journey to the ants" also contained some new and intriguing information. For instance, that the ants probably evolved from wasps. The missing link was found in a middle class neighbourhood in New Jersey! Equally fascinating is a species of almost degenerate parasitic ants in Switzerland, which live out their lives in the nests of other ants, indeed on their very backs, without the hosts ever noticing. Some species of ants are still virtually unknown, such as a termite-like ant in Costa Rica, observed by Hölldobler just once, and never heard from ever again. Another rare species of ant, with a very primitive social organization, was discovered by chance during a chilly night in the Australian outback when only the most enthusiastic of scientists were collecting insects. There is even a species of ant that uses tools (no kidding): they drop small pieces of pebble into the nest holes of competing ants, as a way of attacking them! Equally weird is a species of ant in India with social mobility: the sterile workers can actually become fertile "queens" (or something like it), but only at the expense of somebody else, who is thus demoted to lower rank. And yes, it's all decided by personal combat. An ant meritocracy?
In a way, I found the book entertaining. As a child, I was afraid of most bugs, except butterflies and...ants. I'm not sure why ants didn't scare me. Children's books with ants as heroes? Epigenetic constraints on phobias? Thank god they didn't scare me, because they had an intense liking for our balcony!
Well, with Ed and Bert talking about their childhood, I guess I might as well chime in!
I give this book four stars out of five, and recommend it to anyone who wants to journey to the ants.
It is a terrific book, lavishly illustrated with many color plates, line drawings, black and white drawings, photos, etc. Especially wonderful are the color prints of paintings by John D. Dawson showing ants in various activities. His style reminds me a bit of M.C. Esher. Also notable are the many photos taken by Holldobler and Wilson during their many travels and studies. They are both renowned experts on ants around the world.
The text is both informative and entertaining. Wilson in particular is a world class science writer as well as a great scientist, and his clarity of expression and enthusiasm show through. The chapters examine and illustrate how ants live in their colonies, how they hunt prey, tend aphid "cattle," cultivate fungi, raid other ant colonies; how they fight and how they reproduce. Other chapters focus on particular species, like army ants or leaf cutter ants, or "strange" ants. Still other chapters show how ants communicate especially through pheromones and touch. There is some theory on ant origins (about 100-120 million years ago) and their evolution and present distribution. I was particularly interested in and appalled by both the way some ants are parasites and how they themselves are exploited by parasites. Our esteemed authors show how ants, for all their power and evolutionary success, can be the most naive victims of beetles, flies, butterfly larva, etc. simply because they can be fooled by smells that mimic those of the colony and/or because they can be given irresistible concoctions of food or what might be called "drugs" that make them passive and acceptive of insects that will eat their eggs and larva. They are also tricked into feeding strangers on the trail and alien larva in the colony nest!
I purposely first read a couple of other books on ants (The World of Ants: A Science-Fiction Universe (1970) by Remy Chauvin, and Ants (1977) by M.V. Brian), written by myrmecologists of an earlier generation so as to be able to better appreciate this famous work. But you need not do that. Journey to the Ants is eminently accessible to just about any literate person.
While reading I had some thoughts (as Wilson famously has had) on the differences and similarities between ant societies and human ones. Ants are not governed as we are (and as was once thought) in any way by a central authority. (They are influenced by the queen's pheromones and her behavior.) Instead ants are examples of "swarm intelligence," that is purposeful and coordinated behavior that arises from each individual doing what comes naturally to that individual. This sort of intelligence was just beginning to be appreciated when Holldobler and Wilson wrote this book. The phrase "swarm intelligence" does not appear anywhere in the book, and yet it is clear that our present understanding of how this intelligence works was gleaned in part from the work of biologists and ethologists like Holldobler and Wilson.
Ants are famous for doing human-like things that no other animals or few can do, such as gardening, tending herds, making war, and constructing elaborate living spaces. It is usually said that ants do it from pure instinct whereas we use our intelligence and the experience. Humans and ants cannot be defined independently of their respective cultures. What I wonder is, is it an artificiality to say that their intelligence, spread out as it is among the individuals and their genetic endowments, is fundamentally different from our own? Clearly ants are limited in what they can construct, what they can understand, and what tools they can make and use. I read somewhere that ants never developed fire because no ant could get close enough to a sustainable fire to tend it.
A striking conclusion is that perhaps the real difference between us comes from our ability to grow a million times bigger in size which allows us not only to tend fires, but to develop brains large enough to handle abstract thought such as in language, which further allows us to develop and share ideas, concepts, practices, and all the other aspects of our culture in a way that is impossible for ants, whose brain size is limited by their anatomy.
So, although ants were here long before we arrived, and although they probably will be here long after we are gone, it is impossible to say which life form is the more successful. We do have at present the capability, which ants do not, of enhancing our ability to survive through genetic engineering and the development of biologically friendly machines, and even the ability to migrate away from this earth so that our genes and ourselves are not in one basket, so to speak. Should a planet-sterilizing event hit the earth, we could be on Mars and still survive.
But then there is this insidious thought: perhaps the ants, like our resident microbes, will find a way to come with us!
Don't miss this book. You are in for a treat.
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Ronald Chiu / Taipei, Taiwan