Roving thoughts and provocations

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Slide Show: The Indiana Jones of Ants

In her review of Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson’s first novel, Anthill, in the April 8 issue of The New York Review, Margaret Atwood encourages anyone interested in ants to “take a look at the daring eco-adventurer Mark Moffett’s spectacular new ant book, Adventures Among Ants.” Moffett—who studied evolutionary biology under Wilson—has been tracking ants for decades; his research has taken him all over the world, including as a photographer for National Geographic magazine, earning him the nickname “the Indiana Jones of entomology.” These photographs come from his book, which will be published by University of California Press in May.

“Ants are Earth’s most ubiquitous creatures,” Moffett writes. “A single hectare in the Amazon basin contains more ants than the entire human population of New York City, and that’s just counting the ants on the ground—twice as many live in the treetops.” His book includes marauder ants, army ants, weaver ants, slavemaker ants, leafcutter ants, and Argentine ants—the last of which have been hitchhiking from continent to continent to form supercolonies that threaten to conquer every other kind of ant. “Like a starfish that succeeds in prying open a clam through persistent application of pressure,” Moffett writes, “these ordinary-looking imperialists wear down nasty rivals and prey many times their weight in wars of attrition staged over hours, days, weeks, and even years.” According to Atwood, “This monoculture of ants is bad news,” for both the conquered ants and the landscape as we know it: as the Argentine ants expand their turf, they spread “their farmed aphids all over everything, including, very possibly, your rose bushes.” For more about Moffett’s discoveries, see adventuresamongants.com.

—Eve Bowen
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