(Rudy Rucker is a guestblogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.)

I've always been fascinated by ants. Look at these guys taking apart a dead fly.


I found a (somewhat slow) website called AntWeb with a lot of ant pictures, like, of all 28 different genera of the ant subfamily called the ponerine ants.

There's a striking similarity between ants and motorcycles, I've always thought---maybe there's something about that rear ant bulge (known as the gaster) resembling a gas tank.


I like insects of all kinds, really. The ubiquitous roly-poly or pill-bug or woodlouse is a good pal.

In the early 1990s, when the notion of Artificial Life was big, I wrote a Windows program called Boppers: Artificial Life Lab, which incorporated a kind of virtual ant farm. I did the work at Autodesk, and now you can get the program as a free download.

In my usual "transreal" fashion (here's an essay called "A Transrealist Manifesto" that explains that word), I wrote an SF novel about my stint at Autodesk, including some virtual ants that take over the world.


[California artist Robert Arneson's ceramic sculpture self-portrait, "California Artist," in which the dark lenses of the sunglasses are in fact holes. (I think he did this as an in-your-face gesture towards his critics, saying something like, "You say I'm an airhead, but can you make a sculpture like this? And can you fathom the meaning of Emptiness?")]

I just noticed that on Google Books you can find part of the text of my Autodesk ant novel, The Hacker and the Ants, Version 2.0. Why 2.0? Well, the book first came out in 1994, and when I republished it in 2003, I upgraded some of the tech and gave it a slightly happier ending.


  1. “I like insects of all kinds, really. The ubiquitous roly-poly or pill-bug or woodlouse is a good pal.”

    Good pal, perhaps, but woodlice aren’t insects.

  2. You know that woodlice aren’t insects right? And that whilst woodlice are crustaceans, the roly-poly pill-bug is a millipede? You did? Oh, well that’s ok then.

  3. Okay, yeah, a woodlouse is an isopod which is a kind of crustacean, not an insect. I should have used the more generic word “bugs.”

  4. This afternoon, while on a hike in southern Indiana, I found an entire ant “Nest” in a single acorn shell. Talk about disruption, I split the acorn in two before I discover’d my action. I put the acorn down, but the damage was done.

  5. I should have used the more generic word “bugs.”

    To be pedantic, bugs are a subset of insects with biting mouth-parts.

  6. are you sure it’s taking apart a fly? probably just dragging back to the colony and no mention of the giant deep water isopod, one of my favorite bugs? insects? someone?

  7. I also adore ants. As a toddler, any walk around the block would take an hour because I insisted on stopping at every anthill in the sidewalk, and watching.

    Sadly, I have not turned this fascination into being a guest blogger at Boing Boing, made a million dollars because of ant-inspired insight, or found my true love who also loves ants.

    I just love the little buggers.

  8. I find your posts to be a little bit frustrating, because you don’t always thoroughly investigate things before writing about them. Take, for example, your description of antweb. Although possibly slow, antweb is a brilliant scientific resource with automontage photos and descriptions of specimens from around the world. If you had poked around a bit more you would have found not of 28 genera from 1 subfamily, but rather 287 genera from 21 subfamilies!! Not only that, but you can find the collection localities for many of these specimens in Google Earth.

  9. I’m beginning to suspect I have a lot in common with you, Rudy Rucker. I also like ants. I like science fiction and thinking about Von Neumann’s ordinals. And even though I prefer music and literature to visual art (the latter lacking the element of time), one of the few exceptions is Robert Arneson, whose work has turned my head for a long time.

    Maybe it was my exposure to _Infinity and the Mind_ at an impressionable age.

    1. I’m at a loss why anyone thinks that it’s a good idea to remove the word ‘bug’ from its most common usage and apply it to a single class of insects. Most English speakers use ‘bug’ to refer to any land arthropod – insects, arachnids, etc.

  10. @15
    lol, entomologists aren’t “most english speakers”.

    Same with botanists. Try and refer to a raspberry as a berry, a pine nut as a nut, or to a rose’s thorn. They will tell you that raspberries are an aggregation of drupes, pine nuts are actually seeds produced in a woody, ovuliferous seed cone, and that roses have prickles, not thorns. Thorns are modified branches or stems, whereas the sharp protrusions on a rose are modified epidermal tissues, prickles.

    I suspect it makes us feel special. A wonderful class of geekdom.

  11. I took the top of an anthill off when I was turning over my garden a couple of weeks ago, and I probably spent a good half hour on my hands and knees in the twilight watching the little ladies carry around their pupae back underground.

  12. Fire ants are dangerous. Once, I almost ran over a group of neighbors on a motor bike.

  13. I was an entomology graduate student at Michigan State University–a pretty good school for the subject. In my experience, in an informal context, many entomologists do use the word “bug” to refer to arthropod critters in general. They usually just call Hemipterans “Hemips.”

  14. Hymenoptera is my favorite insect order. I’m more
    partial to bees and wasps, especially bumblebees,
    but ants are ok, too.

    I always found woodlice kind of frightening when
    I saw them under rocks as a child, but they’re
    ok now.

    1. When I saw The Mummy (1999 version), I kept wondering why they were having so much trouble finding Hymenoptera.

  15. I’ve often thought “The True Bugs” would be a great name for a band.

    I’ve hated yellowjackets since one day when I was four…fifty nine stings. Since someone told me how to poison a yellowjacket hive without having to go near it or even know where it is, I’ve been dying to try it. The thought of lots and lots of yellowjackets dying makes me feel very, very happy.

  16. Bats at my wedding is banned. If a ball is dropped or sent across the cave, who’s gonna take home plate?

  17. I remember slicing off the tops of these huge fireant mounds in my yard in Florida. I’d let my eyes unfocus, kind of like looking at one of those 3D pictures, and patterns would emerge (you had to use a large anthill, though). It was gnarly.

  18. One of my very favorites was “The Hacker and the Ants”. Somehow I missed the new version, will definately check it out. I love ya, Rudy, but I just don’t agree that all objects are alive in any meaningful way. And consiousness is way more rare than life. It’s a rare and precious thing, which I hope we continue to advance and expand. To what end, who knows? can’t wait to find out!

  19. Tilling an area seems to suppress the ants some, but they are resiliant, to say the least. If you don’t pay attention, you could end up standing in an anthill and the mean red ones will crawl up your legs and bite the hell out of you. Still, its no reason to introduce chemical pesticides into your yard, imo. Put a rock on top of it and they’ll go somewhere else, for a while anyway.

    We sent away for some ants in the mail recently and funneled them into a NASA green-gel ant habitat. They eventually dug some pathways up and down their plastic case, but it was a brutal process. A lot of the ants died, and it was rather sickening to see the precision with which they piled their dead and ate the carcasses. I think we finally set them free.

  20. Slow? Slow?! We just moved to a new server. Does it still seem slow? Rats! Well, I’m glad you like it anyway! Hi!

  21. I like roly-polys too. It’s a shame all the trilobites are gone, because I imagine they were just bigger versions of the same bug.

    Ah, and if you like roly-polys, you might just like the Giant Deep-sea Isopod, Bathynomus giganteus. It looks basically like a gigantic roly-poly.

    Horseshoe crabs are pretty slick, too, but all those legs creep me out a little.

    I do hope that some or all of this comment makes at least one pedant’s nose bleed.

  22. Yes, the woodlouse is a crustacean – and you know what that means?
    When you see a woodlouse and an ant under a rock, you can muse on the following fact:
    The woodlouse is more closely related to the 13-foot-legspan deep oceanic spider crab than it is to the ant it shares the underside of a rock with.
    That’s pretty gnarly.

  23. “heh, some people just have too much time… heh.. ahhh..”

    Which is the reason I’ve been having so much fun playing with Rudy Rucker’s Artificial Life program. Is the source code available?

  24. Bugs have sucking mouth-parts capable of piercing skin. The resulting injury is a bug bite.

  25. Love bites are made by sucking and Herbie was the Love Bug.
    Therefore Herbie is not a crustacean.

  26. I too am interested in bugs. I have an anecdote:

    I was running down the sidewalk and I leapt over a column of red ants. I continued running, but then I thought “Wait a second,that was weird” and I went back. The column went all the way across the boulevard and ended at a black ant nest which was being ravaged, I mean some serious carnage. Ant parts everywhere. Each individual ant in the column appeared to be wandering around aimlessly.

  27. @#46SL: That’s interesting. Ants seem to get high off eating each other. Do plants do the same? I’d like to try some.

  28. I’m experimenting with pherimonal scents, to find universal ant commands for “Attack!”, “Worship me!” and “Bring me food!”. Then, when the great Ant Rebellion occurs, I climb back into my Giant Ant Disguise, and I’m the Queen of the World!

    I’m not gonna tell you how it works unless Mark agrees to do an article in MAKE about it.

  29. Never liked Arneson’s creepy work. But I heart ants. I like how they invade the house during a rainstorm then vanish. They understand that a pillage is only supposed to last three days.

  30. Hymenopterans rule!

    And yeah, the tagma do look like motorcycle parts. But more than an ant’s gaster, the thorax (whatever would the plural be?) of some bees in the genus Sphecodes looks very like a motorcycle gas tank. And a very hip motorcycle it would be!

    I imagine there are wasps that look the part even more.

    I think we can call them all bugs in a general friendly way. When entomologists go collecting, they go a “buggin” tra-la-la! And great fun it is, too.

    The fancy names are useful when you want to know just what kind of bug, because gosh, there are an awful lot of them.

    But for fun, let’s not get too bogged down in the details. We’re allowed some poetic license. Bed bugs are true bugs, but nobody’s mom ever tucked them in by saying “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs suck!”

  31. Camping in the desert last November, we were sitting around camp watching a tussle between a large black ant and a large red one. They went ’round and ’round for over half an hour, then they both went home.

  32. We have often said that our small daughter is secretly in league with the ants. Always leaving tiny morsels secreted about the house. Under beds, on top of bed sheets, behind the toilet. Feeding her allies the ants. Someday perhaps, she will rule them.

    As for Arneson: we made a recent family art day trip to the Arizona State art museum and then the Phoenix Art Museum. Both featured a rather large collection of Arneson’s works. They all were self-portraits (self-sculptures?) and a surprising number prominently featured Arneson’s penis.

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