All these variations assist us see ants as they are surely: wealthy in range, earned over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution as they tailored to a world’s price of habitats, ecosystems and survival methods. Dr. Rice calls ants “the Bauhaus creations of the natural world.” Like the architectural precept that kind follows operate, every strange-looking adaptation represents a significant dedication in creatures with “little space for extravagance” and so illustrates yet one more of the multitudinous ways in which there are to be an ant. “To answer the question posed by an ant’s form,” Dr. Rice writes, “is to begin to untangle the intricate relationships that scaffold our world.”
The naturalist and writer Edward O. Wilson found this early in his scientific profession, when a mentor despatched him a notice a few group of ants with unusual, lengthy mandibles that might spring shut like traps. (“Wilson, find out what dacetines eat,” he wrote. “What do they hunt and catch creeping around with those weird mandibles?”) A query about morphology grew to become a clue a few meals net. The ants, it turned out, have been consuming springtails, a sort of hexapod that may fling itself quickly by means of the air to keep away from predators, however not shortly sufficient to outrun the unbelievable pace of the ants’ jaws. It was a race, Dr. Wilson wrote in “Tales From the Ant World”: “each using its own explosive devices, one to capture, the other to avoid capture.” Mr. Niga’s pictures present trap-jaw ants with mandibles like scimitars or lobster claws; some can shut their jaws in just one-tenth of a millisecond, slamming shut at speeds reaching 145 miles per hour.
We additionally meet Cataglyphis bicolor, with its lengthy, spidery legs — a useful adaptation when you reside, as this ant does, within the Sahara and wish pace and top to maintain you cool above the blazing sand. (For Oecophylla smaragdina, or weaver ants, lengthy legs serve a unique objective: spanning gaps within the tree cover as they assemble nests of leaves and silk.) Leaf-cutter ants look fierce, their our bodies lined in spines and spikes, however all that armor is supposed not for combating however, in impact, as a gardening software. The ants are agriculturalists, ferrying meals to the fungus that they domesticate in elaborate underground chambers, and the spikes enable them to raised steadiness their leafy masses. In the tropics, they work in such diligent numbers that you may see the ant highways that their tiny ant ft put on into forest flooring.
Learning the methods of ants teaches us that their lives are very completely different from our personal. The ants we encounter in our personal lives are virtually solely feminine; the males are, in Dr. Wilson’s phrases, “little more than flying sperm missiles” that don’t reside lengthy and are sometimes unrecognizable as ants in any respect. Queens are made, not born; fertilized eggs have the potential to be queens or employees, and can develop in another way primarily based on what the teen is fed as she grows, a eating regimen and a future that shall be dictated by the wants of the colony. Ants even have an unusually excessive variety of odor receptors, which permit them to decode chemical trails and messages. Some species even have three easy light-detecting eyes, referred to as ocelli, to assist them fly and navigate, along with the usual two compound eyes.
There are many causes to know ants higher. Whole ecosystems are constructed round them, and enormous numbers of species, from vegetation to beetles to birds, are “ant obligates,” that means that they rely fully on their relationships with ant colonies to outlive. Winnow ants disperse so many herbaceous seeds in North America, Dr. Rice notes, that “removing them causes wildflower abundance to drop by 50 percent.”