A Microcosm of Human Evolution | The Tyrant versus the Collaborator.
Au Revoir Tyrants!
Are we fighters, or are we dancers?
Anthony looked around at the other workers; his family, his world. Another massacre had slimmed their numbers down dramatically. They had been battling with the neighbouring colony for days now. Formic acid was both colonies' weapon of choice, it sprayed high into the air and landed on their opponents, allowing them to pull their victims limb from limb once it had melted the flesh beneath their armour. There was no mercy when it came to land and family. Your resources were your own, there to be protected, harboured; and force was the only way to ensure this.
Fights like these were common. They led to thousands of deaths on both sides no matter who won the battle in the end - an inch of land gained here, an inch lost there - it left each tribe devastated. But this was how they had always lived, it was the routine of nature, written in their blood, signed by a unique scent signature that let you know who your brethren were. Anyone who was not your brethren was your enemy. Sometimes, Anthony found this quite inconvenient and in his most secret thoughts, illogical.
Anthony had first been intruded upon with such alternative thoughts a few weeks ago, while in the middle of yet another acid bath of a battle. He had climbed up a flower to see who was in need of help and had become engulfed in the overpowering floral scent for a moment. A feeling of intense clarity had washed over him. He could not smell his brothers, and he noticed for the first time that all of the soldiers on the battle ground looked the same. Who was his friend and who was his foe? Anthony, for the first time, didn’t know.
Anthony questioning his existence
His home was deep in the Jura mountain range, and Anthony had often wondered in this vast landscape what else was out there, how the others lived. Each year, the Queen who had been cared for and brought up by all of the workers as she morphed through the stages of anthood, would then be cast out into the wilderness, when it was time to breed. Anthony had been confused when he was told that once the Queen left, she would never be welcomed back. His brother had explained to him the startling issue of in-breeding. That had been a strange Wednesday indeed.
According to rumour, the Queen’s journey was filled with peril; most Queen’s were destined to die on their quest to find a new nest. Anthony remembered how they had all saluted her as she embarked upon her doomed voyage and wondered where she lay now. He later found out that a Queen must find a place to lay her eggs once the breeding season was over, and the majority of wood ant queens acted as parasites to do this. They would resort to trickery and manipulation, adopting the scent signature of the much smaller field ants, whose inviting nests lay scattered naively around the beautiful landscape.
Anthony found it particularly ironic that the Queen's preferred mode of finding a nest was to trick another type of ant into letting them in. How hypocritical, he mused, one evening - as he regurgitated some honey dew into the mouth of a hungry larva deep with the hot catacombs of the nest - when we ferociously battle to protect our own territory, that we should feel comfortable tricking another ant into giving up theirs.
Despite being spoon fed matriotic propaganda that his family and his queen were all that mattered, Anthony had secretly longed to explore the world around him for as long as he could remember. As he helped his fellow workers to track down and kill stray insects, he would sometimes stop and look to the east, marvelling at the giant expanse before him. He knew that if he took to the road however, he’d be putting himself in grave danger. His family scent was emblazoned on him, an irremovable coat of arms, it lay heavy, proud and unmistakable.
There’s a whole pine fresh world out there to explore
The price he paid to be part of this family, to bear this crest, was to be the enemy of every other creature around him.
He saw how some of the workers seemed to almost enjoy the battles that they faced so regularly. They tore the limbs from their enemies with relish. He watched as they foolishly praised each other, haughtily spouting the propaganda of their youth to one another, taking an eye for eye, blindly feeling that their actions were just, while the other tribes' mirrored actions were somehow a complete outrage.
Despite Anthony’s fear of being openly murdered by his blood thirsty neighbours, he was hatching a plan of escape. He wanted to know - he needed to know - if there was another way. The Queen had flown the nest just a few days ago and he knew he didn’t have much time left - his life span was no more than 2 months long. It was now or never. Au Revoir tyrants!
Anthony was brutally murdered by his different smelling neighbours 2 days later. As his limbs were being pulled from him, he managed to kill a couple of them as well.
A few kilometres away, Antgelica sat with one of her fellow Queens, Antastatia, (who looked an awful lot like Antgelica but some say with a slightly more plump thorax) as they both pumped out delicate oval larvae. They were casually discussing whether they would be flying the nest, or staying here to breed this year. Antgelica wanted to see the world; she’d been cooped up in this nest for too long, and the brief few hours of freedom she had gotten soaking up the sun when the first frost had broken had only confirmed this deep desire to explore.
Antastatia however had become very attached to this particular mound. She was more of a homebody, a tourist at best. She found the 100km of roads that ran between each mound of their super colony very overwhelming, intimidating even, whereas Antgelica looked upon them as intriguing connections to mysterious worlds.
Breeding season was tomorrow, and it was the first time for both of them. Their uncomfortable clumsy wings sat awkwardly on their backs, wet and confusing like an arm too long and uncontrollable.
Outside of the nest, workers busied themselves with the tasks of the day. Whether it was time to milk the aphids for their sugar-rich honey dew, or to collect tree resin; the healing antibiotic to diseases that spread around the hotbed of the nest, or to go out and hunt for food; there was always something to do.
Sometimes, when on a hunt, they’d stray so far into the depths of the forest that they’d have to call on another ant colony for supplies. It was always a little tense at first, each ant was of course a little wary of a stranger - there was still the defensive instinct deep within, a mark of the old times - but once they caught the familiar shared scent of the super colony, they’d feed and clean their brother from another mother as if they really were genetic relatives.
Their super colony was made up of over half a billion ants, with around 1 million Queens across the territory. Each mound had multiple Queens, which suited the royalty down to the ground, as it could get pretty boring down there on your own, squeezing out the next generation.
Humans and Nature
Shall we be a super colony or tyrannical mound?
Nature and humans looking all cute together
This tale of two colonies; one super, and the other, simply a mound, is taken straight from the startling grips of reality.
In this fantastical evolutionary development, nature has proven to reward the collaborator, and not the war mongering tyrant. Ants that live in a traditional, single mound, dedicated to desperately protecting their invisible territorial line, are subjected to violent frenzies on a regular basis, which inevitably leads to massacres on both sides.
The Queen of the mound is cast out due to inbreeding, as all of the ants within the mound are genetically related. As such, they must resort to extremely risky parasitic behaviour to carry on the colony’s legacy. Many of them often die during this process and those that survive, must use manipulation to dismantle a field ant colony’s nest in the process.
In the Super Colony however, we find a world that has evolved to reward cooperation over genetic connection. Made up of over half a billion Wood Ants, this gigantic example of an almost utopian society is spread across 100km. Resources are shared and aplenty; every mound within the super colony has access to the things it needs to survive. Rudimentary roads have been forged by the ants, connecting everything together, giving each other easy access to these resources.
If you lose your way, not to worry - your fellow super colonist will help you, feed you, regardless of whether you came from the same queen as them or not. Each mound can now host a number of different queens at one time. This means that the Queens no longer have to resort to risky parasitic behaviour that could ultimately end in death, to find a new nest, as after breeding they can move on to one of the other nests within the super colony, where they will be accepted, or even stay within their own mound as thanks to the high number of Queens, inbreeding is no longer as much of an issue.
Overall, this abandonment of aggression and evolution beyond taking things by force, makes the super colony more prosperous, more successful and ultimately leads to a more tranquil and productive existence.
Humans are at a crucial stage in our socio-evolutionary development. We have spent so long using force to get what we want, but as we have seen throughout history, this destruction, as with the ants, leads only to losses on both sides. Of course, there are complicated situations where it seems force is the only way, but oftentimes, force is foolishly the first port of call. Many of us in the modern world prefer to take the peaceful route and find the constant destruction that comes with patriotism both disturbing and illogical.
Yeah, NO THANKS
Cooperating works for a more prosperous economy, as well as for a more content and creative society. We see examples of this throughout the world. However, there are still those that proudly and obstinately wave their flags. They separate themselves from others, boast about their queen and country and fear those that are different to them.
This Ant riddled microcosm of our world forewarns what we already know. Death and destruction awaits those that fight blindly for the invisible line in the sand. This way of life is old news. Even the ants are leaving you behind in your determined hatred. The rewards of working together are supported by evolution and it is time that we opened our eyes and saw this for what it is.
I got most of my information about super colonies from a David Attenborough documentary called Empire of Ants it’s a great watch for anyone who wants a bit more ant substance.