Amazing Intelligence in Animals—Ants

“It is the ant, not the lion, which the elephant fears.” —Matshona Dhliwayo

My heart sinks every time I go to a hardware store or garden center and see packages of ant killer on the shelves along with fertilizers and other yard and garden items.

Ants are so special in Nature. We accept vultures, gulls, crows and magpies as Nature’s cleaner-uppers of dead carion. Without these “garbage collectors” our world would soon be in a very sorry state of pollution! But, do you know that ants are Nature’s micro cleaner-uppers?

When I was a kid I’d be fascinated by watching a line of ants marching—like, they were following their own defined highway—leading from their food source back to their home colony. They weren’t picking up and carrying just anything that came in their way: they were particular and focused; they picked up only organic matter, like dead flies, tiny dead bug wings, pieces of larger dead bugs—in fact, if a dead insect, say a dead grasshopper, was too large for one ant to carry, I’d watch several ants close together on the grasshopper and begin a swift, efficient dissecting process until the grasshopper was in small enough pieces for individual ants to carry it off. These guys are professionals when it comes to micro-cleanup of Earth!

“The greatest enemies of ants are other ants, just as the greatest enemies of men are other men.” —Auguste Forel

If you ever want to spoil a housewife’s day, tell her that you saw some ants in her kitchen! Mind you, I’d agree that ants do not belong in one’s kitchen. On the other hand, ask yourself, if ants are scavengers, why are there ants in your kitchen, especially since most species of ants, have no interest in inorganic matter. If your kitchen is organically clean, it will not attract ants. It’s no different than you going to a grocery store that has no food in it. You don’t shop there!

There is much debate about how intelligent ants are. One of the problems is that too many researchers approach the question “from the top down.” In other words, we start by comparing them to ourselves and work backwards. Another handicap in comparing intelligence to the size of the brain in a species. Fortunately, the new science of artificial intelligence (AI) is blowing that theory wide open: brain size does not matter!

According to an article in Scientific American that deals specifically with ant intelligence, I quote, “Insects certainly display complex and apparently intelligent behavior. they navigate over long distances, find food, avoid predators, communicate, display courtship, care for their young … The complexity of their behavioral repertoire is comparable to any mammal.” The article goes on to say, “Ants use a variety of cues to navigate, such as sun position, polarized light patterns, visual panoramas, gradient of odors, wind direction, slope, ground texture, step-counting … and more. Indeed, the list of cues ants can utilise for navigation is probably greater than for humans.” I encourage you to read the whole article, titled, “We’ve been looking at ant intelligence the wrong way,” at:

So, the next time you step on an ant—or lay ant poison to get rid of some pesky Nature’s micro-scavengers—remember, you may have snuffed out a life that is equal, if not greater in intelligence , than a human life!



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