Leaf-cutter Ant


They are the unwelcome guests at picnics, the invaders of kitchens, the scapegoats for unsightly lawns. They are also the obsession of entomologist and macro photographer Mark Moffett

“I was down in the dirt in my backyard, watching a mini-metropolis,” Moffett writes in the Introduction to his book, Adventures Among Ants. “A hundred ants were enraptured with the bread crumbs I had given them, and they enraptured me as they ebbed and flowed, a blur of interactions.” A page later he admits, “My parents remember me in diapers watching ants and insist I called each one by an individual name.”

Anyone who has ever watched a line of ants moving through the forest, each one carrying a piece of leaf far larger than itself, has no doubt marveled at this insect just as Moffett did. “Consider the ant,” Solomon advised, alluding to its legendary diligence. But there is more to the creature than this.

Among the most social of insects—along with their relatives, the wasps and bees—ants are also among the most plentiful and diverse. Thus far, an estimated 12,500 ant species have been classified, with possibly that many more to go. Exceptionally organized, ants are perhaps most renowned for the habits they share with humans—communicating complex messages, following “traffic rules,” creating a division of labor, even cultivating gardens, in the case of leaf cutter ants.

What is even more remarkable, however, are the ways in which we depend on them. “They move more soil than earthworms, circulate vast amounts of soil nutrients and essentially keep forests healthy,” writes syndicated science columnist Dr. Reese Halter. “We should admire ants, not despise them. . . . They can teach us about sustainability and coexisting on our exquisite planet.”

“Consider the ant,” said Solomon. There is wisdom to be gained in doing so.