- Paperback: 252 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 5, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199541876
- ISBN-13: 978-0199541874
- Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.6 x 5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,537,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Lives of Ants Paperback – March 5, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Science writer Gordon and ecology-evolution professor Keller (University of Lausanne) present a general-audience overview, short on jargon and long on storytelling, of Earth's most populous and successful genera. Keller and Gordon present ant life in 32 chapters, covering the vast expanse and variation of ant behavior, social structure, reproduction, genetics and ecology while highlighting their importance to ecosystems world-wide. Species of ants that nest underground are crucial for the aeration and nutrient content of soil; in the tropics, leafcutter ants feed leaves to underground fungi "farms," transferring nutrients from the rainforest canopy to depths of 15 feet below earth's surface. Even all-consuming hordes of army ants, marching across the plains of Africa, benefit the planet by creating a mobile ecosystem (flies and butterflies depend on their dung, birds and reptiles feast on both ants and their prey). Human intervention, meanwhile, has introduced species to new habitats, often with destructive results (fire ants in the southern United States, Argentine ants in Europe). Illuminating, entertaining and thought-provoking, without a hint of superiority, this witty species profile will appeal to general readers interested in alien animal kingdom behavior, and/or the effects of invasive species on economics and public health. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"This is a well-written and very engaging book that provides the reader with a scientific understanding along with a historial and philosophical appreciation of the world of ants and their importance to the balance of nature. The Lives of Ants is able to clearly explain to the expert and layperson alike the immensely interesting chemical-communication and social-order systems found within different species of ants. As a result the reader is left with an unending desire to learn more about these truly fascinating creatures."--The American Biology Teacher
Top customer reviews
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The only problems I see with the book are the translation and writing styles. Both seem a little... irregular at times. It also gives you the feeling that there is so much more about ants that just isn't covered. And the last few sections about technology were sort of random. I mean studying ants to help produce those amazing technologies... but does that really have to do with the lives of ants? It took me a few months to just go back and finish the book when I started on those chapters.
Overall, I found this book to be quite excellent. It is a very good starting point for learning about these remarkable creatures.
Those who have delved into books about ants, perhaps some meant for youngsters, may have come out wanting. Others may have opened garage-sized entomology tracts with leading sentences incomprehensible to those outside of academia. Up to this point, books for general readers thirsty for details seem rarely to appear. Enter "The Lives of Ants," a book that's not too long nor too short. A book that does flirt with academic language in places, but mostly includes just enough detail without spewing arcane jargon. True, some sections wax genetics and terms such as "polygynous," "haploid" and "eusociality" creep from the text and produce the "I need a dictionary" sensation. But usually such terms receive adequate setup and explanation for even general readers to keep up. Fear fire ants, not vocabulary.
Eight distinct parts chop the discussion up into digestible bits. What remains incomprehensible is the number of ants present on our planet. No one really knows how many, but the first chapter uses the phrase "ten million billions." No other animal known appears in such quantities. And ants shun individualism as they unite and conquer as a "super-organism" revolving around single ("monogynous") or multiple ("polygynous") queens. Though most ants don't live long, some queens can endure for over a decade. Many also mate only once and still produce thousands of offspring. The males don't fare so well (their sorry fates compare to bee drones; most mate and die). Workers of some species lay eggs in the event of queen death. Unsurprisingly, diversity rules the ant kingdom. Substantial evidence has also built up that queens and workers play a political game in deciding the nature of their progeny. Queens lay the eggs, but nursemaid workers decide which larvae receive proper nourishment. Do any beings escape politics? Apparently not. Other sections deal with ant communication (pheromones help find the shortest path to and from food), rampaging army ants (just get out of the way), artistic weaver ants (who use larvae as little glue guns), wood ants (who spurt formic acid as defense), leaf-cutter ants (they use the leaves to harvest fungus), fascinating honeypot ants, livestock (aphids), incredibly destructive fire ants (really get out of the way, they not only bite but sting and can endanger large animals including humans), cloning, and genetics. Later chapters contain more technical, but not inaccessible, material. Debates over genetic determinations of behavior arise in discussions of the Gp-9 gene. In reference to this, the authors state "what we have here therefore is the first genetic element ever to be identified as influencing social organization in any living creature." Some background in genetics helps those with little background. A final section highlights the use of ant behavior in robotics. French scientists apparently discovered that the behavior of one species, Messor, follows Turing's laws - the first such validation, according to the authors. Even entomology and IT mingle.
Anyone looking for a juicier all-pervading treatment of ants will find "the Lives of Ants" a satisfying tromp. Be warned, the book references many Latin species names and, as said before, may throw out some esoteric vocabulary. Lovers of ants will probably find themselves unable to put the book down. Others may struggle through some of the more difficult sections, but the effort will pay off in a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of our most ubiquitous planetary companions. You'll never want to step on another one again.