Despite their incredibly interesting behaviour, ants have been the subject of fewer documentaries than they should have. Ocassionally whole episodes are devoted to ants, but most of the time they pop up a few minutes in a documentary about insects. Fortunately there are some awesome documentaries out there completely devoted to ants, and in this post the best three ant documentaries are listed for your convenience. These documentaries have succesfully brought the wonderful world of ants to a broader audience.
Ants – Nature’s Secret Power
Bert Hölldobler, the ant guru himself, takes you into the life of many different species, thereby introducing you to the incredible world of ants. This documentary also includes the famous scene – probably known to many of those interested in ants – of a huge ant nest casted in concrete.
Empire of the Desert Ants
This BBC documentary narrows down the subject by focusing on one species, the wonderful honeypot ant (Myrmecocystus mimicus), which is known for having specialized workers with swollen gasters filled with food. Packed with splendid views inside the ants’ nests, “Empire of the Desert Ants “will not fail to amaze you.
Planet Ant – Life Inside the Colony
BBC’s “Life Inside the Colony” is my personal favorite. It’s about one of the most interesting and beautiful ants, the leafcutter ants. In this documentary, a huge colony of leafcutter ants is transported into a laboratory setup in order to study them. This gives the viewer an insight inside the colony as never seen before. Some other species are featured as well, like fire ants.
Enjoy! If you happen to know more interesting documentaries, please share with us in the comments.
Being eusocial insects, ants show some very interesting behavior, which is probably the main reason why myrmecologists and ant keepers are fascinated by these animals. For instance, ants show altruistic behavior, they have the ability to learn, and they can cooperate to function as a superorganism. But some species can take it even further, and are able to do extraordinary things we could never think off. Five of these remarkable ant skills, which facilitate the ants’ life, are presented below in a countdown.
Always thought that ants couldn’t swim? Well, a few species can. Polyrhachis sokolova lives in mangroves, which occasionally submerge in water as a result of rising tides. Although the colony remains in air pockets, the workers must swim to the surface every now and then. They are also capable of running on water. Camponotus schmitzi is another species that is able to swim. These ants have a symbiotic relationship with a carnivorous pitcher plant and dive in the digestive fluids of the plant to retrieve prey.
Furthermore, Solenopsis invicta, although not really a swimmer, can form a ‘raft’ of ants that can float on the surface of water. By doing so, this species is able to survive floods for weeks or even months by floating.
4. Building bridges
Several species of ants can build bridges. Just like Solenopsis invicta forming a raft, many weaver ants (Oecophylla spp.) can form a bridge to cross gaps by holding on to each other. Once they have crossed the gaps, they can also pull leaves together to close the gap, and attach them to each other with the silk produced by their larvae. These ant skills obviously come in handy, since weaver ants nest in trees.
Cataglyphis spp. can ‘count’ their steps by means of a pedometer. When foraging for food, they use the sun to determine their position and count their steps to determine the distance back to their nest. They are actually doing geometry, because the straight path back differs from the zigzag path they took when foraging. Scientists have lengthened and shortened the legs of workers of Cataglyphis fortis, and have observed that this causes the ants to run past or to not reach their nest.
There is a very good reason for this ability. The ants need to forage as fast as possible in order to survive, because they live in hot areas, like deserts. The Sahara desert ant (Cataglyphis bicolor) is known for its extreme heat tolerance. The genus is also well-known for its unmatched speed.
Ants have different ways of defending themselves and their colony, like biting, stinging, or spraying formic acid. But one species takes the defense to the next level. Workers of Camponotus saundersi, and some other Camponotus species, have oversized mandibular glands running through their entire bodies. These glands are filled with a sticky blend of several poisonous chemicals. When a worker has no other option, she can contract her abdominal muscles, which causes the glands to burst, spraying around the contents and terrifying her enemies with an inconvenient surprise. The worker dies in the act (known as autothysis), so we could actually call her a suicide bomber. Talk about altruism.
1. Making traps
In yet another symbiotic relationship, there is a very remarkable skill that the workers of Allomerus decemarticulatus have developed. These ants nest in a species of tree and use its fibers to construct platforms on the surfaces of its stems. They also cultivate a species of fungus and use its mycelium as a paste to hold the construction together. The platform is riddled with tiny holes and underneath it the ants wait for a prey to pass by. When a prey does so and steps into the holes, the ants immediately grab its legs and hold on tight, pulling apart the legs like in medieval torture racks. Meanwhile other workers sting and dissect the tortured victim. Using these traps, these tiny ants are able to catch very large prey. You can view a picture of such a trap here.
These ant skills are just a small fraction of what ants are capable of. They comprise the agility, inventiveness and intelligence of ants, thus proving their great versatility. Ants have many other remarkable skills, which include other traits like strength and speed. These little animals should never be underestimated, because there is a lot more going on in their world than the humble human eye can see.