Excavating an ant colony

This is simply breathtaking.

In the video, researchers pump 10 tons of concrete down an ant hole and then slowly, carefully excavate the site to see what an ant colony looks like. The result is an intricate structure, equivalent in labor to humans building the Great Wall of China.

And then you think, "Oh, and we just pumped 10 tons of concrete down it. Oh. We're ... kind of assholes sometimes, aren't we?" Sorry ants. Sants.

Via Richard Martyniak


  1. Poor Ant-bastard at 2:19… probably thinking some ant-equivalent to “The Horror… The Horror…”

  2. Every time I accidentally knock over an anthill (I haven’t purposely knocked one over since I was at least ten) I’m always fascinated by how the ants scurry around and immediately begin rebuilding. I’d think there’d be a moment when they’d stop and say, “DAMN. Thanks, buddy. Do you have any idea how long it took to build that?”

    I also wonder if the comparison to the Great Wall of China isn’t selling the ants short. The Great Wall is an impressive structure, but considering the size of even the largest ant building a structure that could be filled with ten tons of concrete sounds more like the equivalent of building  a Great Wall that really could be seen from space.

    1. I was pcurious about this, so I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Turns out that the difference in scale (in terms of mass) between this and the Great Wall is about the same as that between an ant and a human:
      Assuming the Great wall is 5 metres wide, 7 metres high, and built of bricks, it weighs 600 million tonnes, or 60 million times the ants’ nest.
      A 60kg human (a reasonable estimate for an average 5th-century-BC Chinese person) is 60 million times the mass of a 1 mg ant…

      1. I thought for a second you said you were pi-curious, which I suppose is a phase every math major in college goes through…

        What I don’t understand is if they used 10 tons of cement to fill it, and cement is typically about twice as dense as dirt, why do they say that the ants excavated 40 tons of dirt? Seems like it would be more like 5. And that’s not taking in to account the mass of the evaporated water…

  3. When this sort of experiment is done they often used an abandoned colony. I don’t know if they did in this case, but the lack of any visible response by the ants themselves suggests this is an abandoned colony. 

  4. I had quite the ant infestation in my yard, and when I finally found the mound they made it turned out it was under my patio. I used a high powered hose to wash it away and darned if those little buggers didn’t make chains out of themselves trying to save the larvae/pupae. They all went down the drain anyway (we all float down here, timmy!).

  5. I had an ant farm once; those little Fuckers didn’t grow Shit.

    I said, come on what about some celery, you fuckers don’t farm, plus if i tore your legs off you’d look like snowmen!

  6. Every time the narrator mentioned some stupendous factoid about this marvel (“they moved 40 tons of earth”), my mind kept adding to the end, “…and we’ve destroyed it.”

    Yeah,  I knows. Science, advancing knowledge, blah blah. My tendency to anthropomorphize everything doesn’t do me any favors.

  7. I couldn’t get the video either (no doubt Boing’d) so I am left wondering:  How the heck do you pump concrete down an anthole?

    If I make ‘crete soupy enough to pass through a straw it’ll harden up about as strong as wet toilet paper.  And what would you use for aggregate?  Talcum powder?

  8. Technically I think this is a repost.   But the 2008 post has an embedded video that has since been removed so I can’t tell if this is a shorter snippet of the same video or just something similar.

  9. Would be a cool thing to carefully break apart and then reassemble in a science museum!

    Also, it would be interesting if after pouring the concrete they tried various subterranean imaging techniques (which wouldn’t work with just empty air in there) to get a computer model. Eh, I’m not sure of the state of such techniques except as used in geology where such small scales aren’t typically looked at.

  10. There is fundamentally no difference between an ant colony and anything that humanity has ever constructed.

    And, no purpose behind either. It’s just what we do.

  11. I read the line “Sorry, ants” and thought heh, sants, and then read “Sants”, and then thought “Friggen’ right! <3"

Comments are closed.