Ecologist, photographer, and award-winning explorer Mark Moffett has been bitten by the hooked mandibles of many an army ant, but the “Indiana Jones of Entomology” takes it in stride. In his book Adventures Among Ants, Moffett recalls traveling to India as a graduate student, seeking out the Pheidologeton diversus ant. The ants weren’t easy to find at first, but one afternoon he kicked a tree and they came pouring out: “Hundreds of the tiny minor workers stormed from the earth, the major worker among them looking like an elephant among pygmies,” he writes.
After watching a swarm of Pheidologeton diversus kill a live frog, Moffett named the species the “marauder ant”. Fascinated by their attack strategies, he spent the next years observing them. Marauder ants share some characteristics with army ants, but the two are “no more closely related than a hawk and a dove”, he says. The bite of one ant might sting, but as a group they are an incredibly organized “superorganism”, with the power to subdue prey many times larger than themselves. Like most ants, marauder ants also enjoy traipsing into people’s kitchens and raiding the pantry.
After years of studying and photographing ant colonies around the world, Moffett has seen ants conduct warfare, build highways, and even recycle. They also have complex agricultural systems, putting our own agricultural achievements in context and giving new meaning to the term “ant farm”. This week The New York Review of Books Blog posted a slideshow of some of Mark Moffett’s photographs, showing the world from an ant’s perspective and showing the diversity among the 10,000-plus species of ants in the world. See it here.