Tiny, Blind, Swarming, Ruthless, Regimented Sisters
February 23, 2013 7:52 PM   Subscribe

This is a sausage fly. As soon as he steps foot on the trail he is overtaken by the sisterhood.

Evolved from a common ancestor* and divided between the New World species in Ecitoninae, and the Old World groups Aenictinae and Dorylinae, Army Ants have a couple of very unique characteristics. They are blind, their queens can't fly, though they can produce two million to four million eggs a month, and colonies are generally nomadic building temporary nests or bivouacs, typically using their own interlocked bodies.

In Africa, Army Ants are primarily from the subfamily Dorylus, frequently going by the common names of Siafu, Driver Ants, and Safari Ants.

In the Americas the subfamily is primarily Ecitoninae, and they are found mostly in South and Central America

One of the world's formost authorities on Army Ants is Mark Moffett.
Moffett's Photography
Moffett video on Army Ants: Inside the Ranks
Moffett on Fresh Air
AntsCanada interviews Mark Moffett
The Adventures Among Ants blog
Moffett Lecture for National Geographic

An island in a lake created by the Panama Canal called Barro Colorado Island has been a center for tropical forest dynamics research, including decades of research on Army Ants.

Amateur Naturalists' Video
Siafu in Uganda
Poking Siafu with a stick
Siafu on the move
Tanzania: Serengeti: Siafu Ants
Feeding a Grasshopper to Siafu
Siafu in a Riverbead
Army ants return from a raid
Army ants face off against the leafcutters
Army ants 2001
Army ant invasion
Army ant extermination in Brazil

BBC's Ant Attack in Time-cued Chapters Ants: Nature's Secret Power a great documentary about the diversity of ants

Army Ants in popular culture
Army Ants in the odd Oscar winning 1971 documentary, The Hellstrom Chronicle
Army Ants in literature: Leiningen Versus the Ants
Army Ants inspired a toy in 1987
Siafu as an entomological error in The Indianan Jones films

Measuring the Fluidity of Ants
How to photograph Army Ants
Army Ants on National Geographic's World's Deadliest
BBC's Wild South America, Ant Army Invasion
Animal Planet's Weird True and Freaky: Army Ants Mob Hunting
National Geographic's Paper Wasp vs. Army Ant Horde
posted by Toekneesan (35 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
damn nature, you scary
posted by shakespearicles at 7:56 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

The jaunty music in the first clip makes it ten times worse.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:22 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just now, I was all "A 50-second video is a weak post, I'm going to click into it and flag... um. Whoa."
posted by mhoye at 8:25 PM on February 23, 2013

I wish narrators in nature films would sound like Werner Herzog or STFU.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:25 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

"And, as we discussed last semester, the army ants will leave nothing but your bones."- T. Waits, Naturalist.
posted by The White Hat at 8:29 PM on February 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yeah, you kind of have to watch where you're standing in the jungle down there. If you stand still on one of their trails, they'll crawl right up your legs and start biting. Happened when I was in Tikhal to one of our drivers. They're pretty easy to avoid, though.
posted by empath at 8:29 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just now, I was all "A 50-second video is a weak post, I'm going to click into it and flag... um. Whoa."

Almost as if the thread had been expecting you...?
posted by slater at 8:29 PM on February 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Quick, bite his wings off! He is full of sperm for our queen!
posted by Nomyte at 8:32 PM on February 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

Whoa! Lot's of incredible links here: check them out before this thread turns into a swarm of anthropormorphic spermy comments.
posted by kozad at 9:18 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, the "Siafu Types" link, the first thing under the "BBC's Ant Attack" section, is in HD, 42 minutes long, and excellent. Check it out.

Warning, however: I don't suggest eating during the program.
posted by Malor at 9:27 PM on February 23, 2013

Ah, I see how that works... the Siafu Types is the full video, and the links underneath point at chapters in it.

edit: even that's not true... Siafu Types is a chapter link in the longer video. Start there, but back up, you're missing a little bit.
posted by Malor at 9:29 PM on February 23, 2013

The sisterhood of the traveling ants?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:55 PM on February 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

Wow, the "Siafu Types" link, the first thing under the "BBC's Ant Attack" section, is in HD, 42 minutes long, and excellent. Check it out.

Sweet god, this is as though Cronenberg and David Lynch teamed up to film a wildlife special.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:06 PM on February 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

So here's something I'm not going to click on any part of before going to bed. Good night.
posted by maryr at 10:07 PM on February 23, 2013

i'm comforted by the knowledge that that video gave someone, somewhere, a boner. g'night, world!
posted by facetious at 10:10 PM on February 23, 2013

their queens can't fly, though they can produce two million to four million eggs a month,

This sort of thing explains why my war against Ant-kind is failing.

Awesome post, but I'm with maryr: I ain't clicking because horror!
posted by Mezentian at 10:17 PM on February 23, 2013

Watching the ants construct a bridge over a pond reminds me of swarm intelligence.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:22 PM on February 23, 2013

as a myrmecophobe, i just don't think i can bring myself to look at these links. but damn, this post is awesome!
posted by lapolla at 10:45 PM on February 23, 2013

This is a fantastic post, but I don't understand why you never want me to sleep again.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:10 PM on February 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Say ladies... Do you know who has six legs and is full of sperm?

This g- hey, what are you doing?
posted by RobotHero at 12:14 AM on February 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

The sausage fly had it coming, like the pancake bunny, the pizza frog and the tiramisu poodle.

When I was a kid, I used to play a prank on ants. First I would clear up a section of an ant trail by blowing on it and then put a strip of adhesive tape, sticky face down, across the now empty trail (this worked best on ceramic tiles). The disoriented ants would run around like crazy for a while, trying to pick up the trail. Once they'd found it, they'd arrive to the tape and then align on both sides of it, trying to figure out where the trail went. It was like a river to them. After a while, some adventurous ants (ants have got more individuality than they are usually credited with) would attempt to cross the tape. Once a "pioneer" ant had reached the other side, it would tell its buddies and the trail would reconnect and the ant army would march again, crossing the tape.
I'd let the trail resume for a while, then I would remove the tape. That was the actual funny bit: they'd align, again, on both sides of the area where the tape had been, unwilling to cross the now phantom part of the trail. They were blocked by nothing but the lack of scent. Apparently they were not able to pick up the scent that was previously there (before I had added the tape in phase 1). After a while, of course, one ant would cross and the trail would resume.
posted by elgilito at 3:38 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have the "men's rights activists" seen that first video? (checks youtube top comments)

Wow, they're just like Human Females.

Ugh, I guess so.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:00 AM on February 24, 2013

Have the "men's rights activists" seen that first video?

The Fry Squints meme: "Not sure if men's rights activists... or youtube comment."

posted by mhoye at 4:32 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Pretty good post, but I would have gone with "Borg, Borg, Borg of the Jungle" for the title.
posted by Curious Artificer at 5:12 AM on February 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

The BBC's Ant Attack can be seen in its entirety by clicking the Dorylinae link in the first paragraph. I broke it into sections so you could see the narrative, and skip to favorite parts, like when the sausage fly and the queen are doing it. heh heh. Unfortunately the time cues in the URLs only seem to work by clicking the link and watching it at YouTube. But it is an amazing video that is so good, it might be heavily staged. I can't imagine how they got some of that footage. And if you like that, watch Ants: Nature's Secret Power linked below the chapters. No Siafu in that one, but a lot of amazing specializations in both the form and behavior of ants. Unfortunately I couldn't find that in high def. Both of those attest to how far we've come in nature documentaries. Have a look at The Hellstrom Chronicle in the pop culture section for comparison. That film is really weird. It's got some pretty good footage, but it's packaged as a heralding of the forthcoming insect apocalypse/uprising. Siafu show up near the end of that film, playing the part of the horsemen. Here's the beginning of the film so you can see the strange framing. I understand this movie inspired Frank Hurbert to write the novel Hellstrom's Hive.

Wow, the Seventies. That shit was weird.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:15 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

And yeah, ants are almost always female. It's amazing how hard it is for many people to grasp that. I heard this funny E.O. Wilson interview once where he constantly had to correct the interviewer, "Not he, she."
posted by Toekneesan at 5:31 AM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by cthuljew at 6:31 AM on February 24, 2013

Pretty much like my sex life during my late twenties. Probably.
posted by Decani at 7:15 AM on February 24, 2013

RE: BBC's Ant Attack

HOLY SHIT! Immediately checks self and surrounding area for ants.

*itch *scratch
posted by Fizz at 7:38 AM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Scoo at 7:39 AM on February 24, 2013

KokuRyu, I believe there's a bit in BBC's series about insects where they talk about the functioning of swarms, distributed intelligence and whether the swarm is one organism with many parts. Can't remember which episode though.

In general that series was fascinating and completely horrific. Parasite wasps, zombie ants, etc. If entomologists are religious I should imagine they have a very different concept of the creator's relationship to the created than anyone else.
posted by glasseyes at 9:27 AM on February 24, 2013

One day in college I asked the librarian for something on ants. 2 years later half my reading was still about ants. This post would have saved me a couple weeks of reading back then.

When I visit my mother I like to have lunch in the garden. I leave the dirty dishes on the floor and watch from the hammock as the ants clean them spotless. During the early rainy season one morning one will wake up to hundreds of birds sitting quietly in the garden. Suddenly thousands and thousands of winged males and virgin queens will explode out of the nest, like those videos of bats leaving the cave. The birds go crazy catching the ants in the air, like something out of star wars or bsg, eating until they can't fly anymore.

I do not know how the birds know the right date, but they have been doing this for decades at my mother's house.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 11:46 AM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I love ants, definitely the coolest kids in Hymenoptera. If I had not pursued computer science, I think I would have gone into entomology to study these wonderful, beautiful, and ruthless little critters. Journey to the Ants and The Superorganism by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson are both excellent and accessible books on the topic, the latter being a more general work on social insects.
posted by bouvin at 11:35 AM on February 25, 2013

Funny thing, one of the reasons I taught myself programming was that after reading EOW on ants I figured it should be possible to write some ant simulation code, for art.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 2:11 PM on February 25, 2013

Doroteo Arango II:

Actually, ants and especially ant trails are widely used as an approach to optimize performance on computer networks.
posted by bouvin at 2:08 AM on February 26, 2013

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