Doctors, strategists, but also suicide bombers, drug addicts or shepherds! Welcome to real life ants

Forget everything you always believed about ants, or almost. In a garden or forest, if you observe a colony, you have the impression that the life of each of them is well regulated, that they are doing their work without delay. It’s almost like a hierarchical society with a humane idea that we see in her head the queen, warm in her CEO costume, ready to share good points by naming her most deserving workers. .

In fact, among these living creatures that appeared more than 100 million years ago, there are also rebels, but also lazy people and even super-warriors. “In short, an ant colony is organized chaos!», Judge Audrey Dussutour and Antoine Wystrach from the first pages of their book. The Odyssey of the Ants. These two myrmecologists from Toulouse take readers along the path of some of the 13,000 species currently identified, selected. An opus with scientific content that reads like an adventure and science fiction novel.

Able to defeat prey that is up to 10,000 times their weight, we will discover them as doctors, drug addicts or even suicide bombers. This is the case with Kolobpsis not hesitating to explode in their stomachs, releasing a poison that could knock down many opponents. A sacrifice to protect the nest.

warrior grandmothers

In their book where they focus on 75 species, the two scientists choose to focus on fodder, these grandmothers who go out to the ant to find food for the youngest who are busy caring for the larvae and organizing the anthill. . Especially men, in contrast to the image of the heroes presented in the cartoons 1,001 feet and Antz“housed, fed, whitewashed”.

These workers then take all the risks. Far from simple stormtroopers, with their brains no bigger than a pinhead, they were able to do amazing things for the colony. “These are creatures that have the ability to solve incredible challenges and often we don’t know. For example, they’ve mastered agriculture for millions of years, they use antibiotics, they know how. create traps. Colonies are not societies but families because they are all genetically linked to each other and if the colony works, it will work for a common purpose ”, insisted Laure Dussutour.

But because they are also very different from each other, they use very different methods to achieve this. Others, with almost 360 degree eyes, use them to map the earth, in timelapse mode. Others, blind, use their olfactory system and the collective to reach their victim.

Less well known, the species Camponotus atriceps is a flowering plant species was able to befriend the caterpillar of a butterfly, Anatole rossi. Ecologist Gary Ross made this discovery while closely following this butterfly in Veracruz (Mexico). The larva releases honey when the little shepherds love it and in return they take care of it by making a kind of barn where it can take shelter. “He observed this cooperation between larvae and ants, an interesting association. He tells this story in a small barn where ants guard the larva during the day, where it comes out at night. Even during metamorphosis, they protected him, ”said Audrey Dussutour.

Sometimes psychopathic, often exhilarating

If they highlight all the capabilities of these little animals, the two authors of this unique odyssey have not forgotten the little less friendly sides of the ants. We discover them as slaves. With species whose queens have no envy of the very bloody Marie Tudor. About half the psychopath, it is Epimyrma do not hesitate to pretend to have died at the door of their cousins ​​’nests. The latter brings them back inside. And here he reveals his true face, killing the workers. “Then he will crush the queen in the nest for two or three months by biting her and so she will live. Everyone has their own strategy, some rock in front of others, ”said the scientist, laughing.

A scenario that fits Game of Thrones, where their bodies become weapons. As is the case with the bullet ant, whose cycle can weaken even the strongest. Or the fire ants that invaded the United States and destroyed the electrical circuits in many buildings. They attack most and their bites can cause allergies, even cause death by anaphylactic shock.

Nothing to do with Tapinoma, this little black ant that is having fun at the moment puts it in homes in Corsica or Brittany. “It enters homes, bothers people, but it doesn’t hurt. Don’t leave foods around, that’s what attracts them. No matter how much you wash the pheromone pathways they leave with bleach, they will create new ones, ”emphasizes the Toulouse myrmecologist.

Instead of eliminating it, he emphasizes living with it. And to be inspired by it. As has already happened with some researchers who have used algorithms provided for telecommunications or the architecture of nests. Or more recently, the ability of some of them to differentiate tumor cells through their olfactory system. “Above all they are beneficial to the ecosystem in which we are part. They are very responsible for aerating the soil, dispersing the seeds, and often we don’t think about it, pollination,” concluded Audrey Dussutour. one is tempted to send a good kick to the anthill.

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