All these variations assist us see ants as they are surely: wealthy in range, earned over thousands and 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 pure world.” Just like the architectural precept that type follows perform, every strange-looking adaptation represents a serious dedication in creatures with “little house for extravagance” and so illustrates yet one more of the multitudinous ways in which there are to be an ant. “To reply the query posed by an ant’s type,” Dr. Rice writes, “is to start 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 observe a couple of group of ants with unusual, lengthy mandibles that would spring shut like traps. (“Wilson, discover out what dacetines eat,” he wrote. “What do they hunt and catch creeping round with these bizarre mandibles?”) A query about morphology turned a clue a couple of meals internet. The ants, it turned out, had been consuming springtails, a form of hexapod that may fling itself quickly via the air to keep away from predators, however not rapidly sufficient to outrun the unbelievable pace of the ants’ jaws. It was a race, Dr. Wilson wrote in “Tales From the Ant World”: “every utilizing its personal explosive gadgets, one to seize, the opposite to keep away from seize.” Mr. Niga’s pictures present trap-jaw ants with mandibles like scimitars or lobster claws; some can shut their jaws in precisely 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 for those who stay, as this ant does, within the Sahara and want pace and top to maintain you cool above the blazing sand. (For Oecophylla smaragdina, or weaver ants, lengthy legs serve a special 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 preventing however, in impact, as a gardening instrument. The ants are agriculturalists, ferrying meals to the fungus that they domesticate in elaborate underground chambers, and the spikes enable them to raised stability their leafy hundreds. Within the tropics, they work in such diligent numbers that you would be able to see the ant highways that their tiny ant toes put on into forest flooring.
Studying 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 completely feminine; the males are, in Dr. Wilson’s phrases, “little greater than flying sperm missiles” that don’t stay lengthy and are sometimes unrecognizable as ants in any respect. Queens are made, not born; fertilized eggs have the potential to be queens or staff, and can develop otherwise based mostly on what the teenager is fed as she grows, a weight loss plan and a future that might 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 lots of causes to grasp ants higher. Entire ecosystems are constructed round them, and huge numbers of species, from vegetation to beetles to birds, are “ant obligates,” that means that they rely completely on their relationships with ant colonies to outlive. Winnow ants disperse so many herbaceous seeds in North America, Dr. Rice notes, that “eradicating them causes wildflower abundance to drop by 50 %.”