Excavation of an ant colony

Jennifer Lum points us to this fascinating segment from the TV documentary "Ants! Nature's Secret Power." Jen says, "Scientists poured cement into an ant colony structure and then excavated it (I imagine the ants died). It revealed an amazing network of fungus gardens and tunnels and garbage pits."


  1. This only convinces me further that ants will one day be the overlords of this planet.

    On another note, I am shocked those scientists were not swarmed by ants when they started messing with the nests. Are these ants just more docile than my local fire ant communities?

  2. Ants already own the planet. They were here long before us, and will be here long after us. The ants abide.

    I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that.

  3. ants can do that, and yet people struggle with something as simple as repairing an overpass in under 6 months….

  4. Extremely impressive!
    But one thing some the commenters forget is that the ants sacrifice much for their way of life. They have no meaningful individuality, no hobbies or indulgences, no individuality of any kind. They are all function as supercells of a single organism.

    While we are a social species, we do not function quite as mechanically as the ants. We still have enough free will to choose our positions in society. An ant’s mind, as far as we know, never even realizes there is any other way to be.

  5. “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space – were it not that I have bad dreams.”
    I’ve got to shake that clip before bed!

  6. Bert Hoedobbler and E.O. Wilson have a new book called The Superorganism: The Elegance, Strangeness, and Beauty of Insect Societies. The book, in addition to their Pulitzer Prize winning work The Ants are the most in depth studies of Ants and insect societies available in published form. ANY time I have ever seen anything on TV regarding the scientific study of ants, one or both of their names were credited.

  7. “this structure was created by the collective will of the ant colony.” That statement goes in so many places my head may asplode!

  8. Ants are the only species present on every single landmass on the planet. They take up about ten times the biomass of human beings. I think they’re aliens. Or we are and they were here first. How cool.

  9. Is it just me or do US documentary narrators like to sound over-dramatic, like every sentence is so very profound? It feels like they’re trying to capture the attention of 10 year olds. Watch and listen to some BBC documentaries and be surprised at how adult they sound…

  10. DeliciousIdiot,

    I had heard Attenborough (I think) say, that as an ant is about 1/1,000,000th the weight of a person, and there are about 1,000,000 times as many ants as humans, there is about the same weight of ants, as people.

    I have no source though; my shitty, human, non-hive mind.

  11. Found this:

    “Ants are everywhere on earth. When combined, all ants in the world weigh about as much as all humans (H lldobler & Wilson 1994)…


  12. They go one better and have always-on, telepathic, hive-mind porn. Some ant, somewhere is doing it. They just turn on, tune in and wack off.

  13. This from chapter 27 of Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual:

    “It was after he had done this that he thought of dissolving what was left of the original wood so as to disclose the fabulous arborescence within, this exact record of the worms’ life inside the wooden mass: a static, mineral accumulation of all the movements that had constituted their blind existence, their undeviating single-mindedness, their obstinate itineraries; the faithful materialisation of all they had eaten and digested as they forced from their dense surroundings the invisible elements needed for their survival, the explicit, visible, immeasurably disturbing image of the endless progressions that had reduced the hardest of woods to an impalpable network of crumbling galleries.”

  14. I agree that it’s amazing, and I was “oohing” and “ahhing” along with everyone else, but it does seem like such a shame that they had to destroy it to figure out how it worked, doesn’t it?

  15. Stupid Humans! Ants will now exact their revenge for the inexcusable slaughter of billions of their brothers and sisters.

  16. The commentator did not even mention what happened to the ants that lived in that underground city. Like they never existed. lol…

  17. netsharc
    “It feels like they’re trying to capture the attention of 10 year olds.”

    They are. American born and bred dopes.

  18. The world’s greatest expert on ants gave a four-word evaluation of communism: “Great system. Wrong species.”

    Not only do ants have no individuality, they never sleep, and (at least the common ones we’re used to) about three per cent of a colony dies every day.

    One of the greatest books I ever read was called “The Emperor of the Ants.” A children’s book but it kindled a lifelong interest in ants.

  19. I saw this on TV a while back, it blew me away. I wage an ongoing struggle with multiple ant colonies under and around my house – now I live in fear of the massiveness of their subterranean headquarters.

  20. No one noticed Carbon Dioxide being called a “poison”? The documentary people have confused it with Carbon Monoxide.

  21. This was just on day before yesterday.

    There are other scientists who use molten mercury to pour the mold of the colony then dig that up and display it. Totally want one in my house.

    They wait til the ants are all gone, BTW.

  22. According to this (http://www.neatorama.com/2008/01/17/amazing-ant-colony/). Sounds a bit hyperbolic, but judge for yourself.

    They lured all the ants away to a new, better colony location using a mixture of watermelon, honey and chocolate syrup. They actually counted and weighed every ant from the original colony to assure themselves and PETA that all of the ants made the transition to the new colony safely. They lost less than one-half of one percent of the ants in the process – an amazing feat in of itself, I think.

    Once they removed the concrete structure from the original colony, they recreated the original colony using wax and plaster. The ants were lured back and have successfully resumed their work.

  23. Funny how people get all rattled about these ants dying. Of course, Every building and road kills more ants than these researchers did. Every morsel of food you put in your mouth involved the killing of insects and NO, being vegetarian and eating organicall-grown food does not get you off the hook. Cultivation destroys habitat, period. You think a plow doesn’t mess up an ant hill. The ants themselves would weep no tears, simply go on about the business of survival.

    The researchers care about the ants in ways that the hang-wringers do not. The researchers are interested in the ants and want to learn about them and the way the ants live. Things learned might help motivate the preservation of habit. The public being educated might help moderate some of the knee jerk, “Oh I see an insect, KILL IT!” Which is the more common response to ants and their fellow insects. Studying these ants might lead to methods to help us cohabit with pesty invasives like fire ants, might inspire design solutions in completely different fields. Or not. It is simply more ethical to me to learn about something, to bear witness to its life and life cycle and relationship to other living things, than it is to simply ignore it and allow it to be extirpated, or to stay ignorant about it and ignore the habitat destruction and all the reasons ant species and other organisms are vanishing, except when you notice a situation like this, at which point you get stupidly sentimental.

    It’s not the individuals, it isn’t even a particular colony, it’s the species that counts.

    And if there was ever an organism that understood the sacrifice of the few for the good of the many, it is the ant.

    And with that, I am heading out the door to an entomology Christmas party!

  24. Lewis Thomas and Douglas Hoffstader have made the case that trying to decide whether an ant colony is a collection of individuals or an organism is really a problem of humans trying to make the world fit their notions.

    Individual ants have their own functions just as my liver (what’s left of it) and my other organs are not social individuals but part of an interconnected organism communicating through chemical signals only the most basic bits of information that keep the organism functioning and reproducing. (It’s always seemed to me that the ant “Queen” is more like an internal reproductive organ than an individual.)

    Amoebas muddy the waters (bad pun, sorry) by being individuals most of the time but, when things get dry, they follow each other’s slime trails, gather into what looks like a garden slug with groups of “individuals” taking on light sensing functions and others motion functions -and set off much faster than an individual could until the whole thing plops into some water and they all disperse. If they find no water they stand the thing up and pop encapsulated amoebas out the top to be blown away, some presumably to land in water somewhere.

    No single ant had the plan for that structure, no single amoeba rallied his pals to make a slug thing. How all that complex behavior is set in motion or is passed on through generations I have no idea. But it is way cool.

  25. Sad, a forced version of Pompei… but of ant lives. Wish they had done it to a newly abandoned ant hill instead.

  26. If aliens poured molten lava into our cities, they’d be suitably impressed! We are so the ants. Anyone who lives in a city and does not feel part of a hive is loony. Go ahead, pretend you’re an individual…

  27. I don’t know why most people are feeling sad for these ants. If they were in your house, you guys might be singing a different tune.

    Anyway, sometimes in order to learn more about a critter ya gotta kill some of ’em.

    We didn’t learn about the respiratory system of birds by just watching them breathe, we had to take them apart to understand. Which apperantally the respiratory system of birds is actually a lot more efficient than ours.

    When medical students need to learn about the human body or surgical methods, they need a body for it.

    And Post 47 is right. If you feel bad for these ants, how about all the other ants that died to get any sort of building constructed or for you to get your food? Heck, how about when you go take a hike through the woods or walk to the store? You’re probably stepping on some of the little critters or accidentally disrupting their homes.

    It’s easy enough to feel sad when you’re told about their plight, but before seeing this video has anyone actually felt sad for ants in any shape or form? The only thing I’ve ever considered of ants is that they want to survive, and apperantally the best way for them to survive is to swam over my garbage can in my kitchen. Let me tell you, putting your hand on a lid covered in ants with no lights on doesn’t really give you pleasant dreams for the rest of the week.

    And from the previous posts, it sounds like they moved the ants out or they used an abandoned nest. Which, moving ants is quite a feat, seeing how it’s not a simple capture it with a net or shooting it with a tranq gun.

  28. What the fuck?!

    Just goes to show that science hasn’t really improved in terms of ethics over the centuries.

    “Look! A dodo! Let’s kill it. Half for soup and half for science.”

    The sculpture is beautiful and fascinating but fuck those guys two times for demolishing something so astonishing just so they could “understand.” As impressive as the colony is in cement, it is one thousand times more impressive as a living community.


  29. dn’t gv thr shts f thy tk th tm t vc ll th nts, st thm p n Mtl 6 wth HB, Cnmx, nd ghtn bckts f KFC hny wngs fr th drtn f th prcss… STY TH FCK T F NT TWN, y sshl scnc nrds.

    Seriously though, how many generations of ants built that city? Sure. Maybe it’s the Cleveland of Ant Country, and who is going to miss Cleveland? The answer, of course, is people (or in this case, ants) who live and procreate in Cleveland.

    Who are we, fucking primates in high performance sports wear, to determine that “understanding” the neat-o architecture of ANY community or organism gives us the right to destroy it? And who will miss some ants? The same warped rationale can be used to justify any sort of arbitrary action based on whim or reason against one organism or many.

    ‘m rght.

    Blw m.

    1. Fred,

      Compose yourself.

      And if you’re going to tell people to blow you, put in a link to the merchandise so they can decide if it’s worth their time.

  30. And this is not about: 1) Do ants have souls, 2) Do ants suffer, 3) Are ants more important than people? or some such moral red herring.

    It’s just about respect for the sanctity of other organisms to conduct their lives in the manner they deem appropriate regardless of their skill at creating quality prime time cop dramas, pan pizzas, or pop rocks. I’m in Bulgaria right now and THESE people can’t accomplish any of the above, but I’m not about to fill any of their cities with concrete.

    I mean… Cop Rock sucked and I for one was and am sorely tempted to fill Steven Bochco’s fucking house with concrete just to tear it down and amuse myself and my closest friends on YouTube at the intricacy and ethereal cement beauty of his palatial Barstow estate, but I didn’t and I won’t.

    On principle.

    AND also on principal.

  31. Actually, someone did pour concrete into a human dwelling for a negative imprint of the space:
    Rache whitread’s ‘House’

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