Backyard Biology

Nature stories from my backyard and beyond

Pick of the Month

Journey to the Ants

Friday, May 7, 2010

If one wants to make a hobby of studying nature, there is no better group of animals to study than ants. They are small, they are easy to raise and they can be found everywhere. So where does one go to learn about ants? A great place to start is Journey to the Ants by Bert Holldobler and E. O. Wilson, two of the worlds’ foremost experts on ants. In 1990, these two published The Ants, an exhaustive study of ants containing 732 pages of text, charts and graphs. Definitely not the place for the novice to begin their study of ants.
But then they did something practically unheard of. They condensed this work down to a manageable 200 pages, left out the technical language and ended up with a book as easy to read as it is fascinating to the novice naturalist. It is a rare thing when the scientist is also a good writer, conveying the ideas they want to get across in an engaging and fascinating manner. But Wilson and Holldobler have certainly accomplished this.
With chapters like The Life and Death of a Colony, How Ants Communicate and War and Foreign Policy, this book gives a good overview of the natural history of the ant. It is not a guide to identifying individual ant species, but rather a look into the fascinating life of ants in general.
Throughout this book, Holldobler and Wilson talk about their individual research – how they came to study ants and some of the more engaging ants they have known. This gives the book a very personalized touch and makes one realize that even the experts had to start somewhere. And if they can study ants, then I can also by studying the ants right in my back yard.



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