A follow up to last week…
October 14, 2012
It is midnight…
October 28, 2012
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A scientific fable about world domination…

….in the form of Argentine ants.

I listened to a great podcast from Radiolab in July called, Argentine Invasion. It’s a fascinating real-life fable for mankind. I couldn’t help making the connections between the current cartel wars, and the even more obvious draw to the Nazis in World War II. See what you think.

The story concerns a colony of ants that originated in Argentina that are quite literally attempting to take over the world. In their native homeland the ants faced frequent flooding which sent them into trees and scurrying for dry land until the floods receded – which led to constant battles for territory. The land would dry, the creatures would return to relocate, and all hell would break loose.  The Argentine ants were unique in that they stayed true to their particular breed. They didn’t mate with other ants from other colonies. The Argentine ants stayed clear of the melting pot – keeping their breed pure – and fighting to the death with any other colony of ants that came near their colony.

You can imagine what happened as transportation expanded throughout the world: steamboats then locomotives and airplanes and station wagons – each new mode transporting little colonies of ants who moved into a new territory, built their colonies of killing machines until they were ready to expand, and then destroyed everything in their path. Key to their success – keeping their gene pool clean. The war machine had a singular mission: conquer and destroy.

Jump ahead to the late 1900’s when scientists discovered a colony of Argentine ants 600 miles wide in California. Scientists discovered that the ants had taken over sections of Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and on and on. Some colonies are now several thousand miles wide. Here’s the simple but genius way that scientists discovered this particular group of ants has spread all over the world.

Ants discover other ants through their sense of smell – much like humans discover each other by sight. We categorize people by their size, color, hair color, facial structure, etc. Ants prod each other with their antennae, poking and sniffing. When the Argentine ants encounter ants from colonies that don’t smell like their own they attack – annihilating any ant that doesn’t come from their own social order. Scientists developed a simple way to test for an ant’s status as an ant from Argentina. They gathered a test group of ants and took them on a road trip. They used an apparatus described as looking like a “hookah pipe” that allowed them to suck up a few ants and spit them into a cup. They took a few Argentine ants, spit them into a paper cup, traveled up the road, sucked up a few more ants and spit them into the cup. What happened when the ants were from another tribe? Death. The scientists described a common occurrence – the ants would ball up and fight until death.

Here’s the scary part – by keeping their lineage pure, the ants are able to bond by their sense of smell, allowing the descendants of the ants to spread across all continents except Antarctica. Within the colony the ants lead a peaceful ant life… just don’t try to approach them as an outsider. You know where this is going. The scientists asked – what other species is able to “create an allegiance” like these ants? Humans. Before you jump to conclusions like Hitler did – there’s a part two to this story. What happens when one dominant species spreads to the detriment of all other species? In the beginning, the species dominates. But when disaster strikes, as it always does, it strikes big.

Here’s what is happening with the Argentine ants. Recently a researcher discovered that a group of lab ants of Argentine ants attacked another group of Argentine ants in the wild, and the ants attacked each other instead of recognizing each other. As far as I could tell, the scientists don’t understand why the breed split, but there appear to be two subgroups of Argentine ants at war with each other. The scientists tracked down the exact spot in Escondido, California where the two warring factions of Argentine ants were meeting – a channel of death where the two colonies fought to the death. Hundreds of thousands of ants fighting to the death. Piles of dead ants. The researchers could see the dead ants spilling over the edge of the curb without getting out of their vehicle.

No need to expound upon the moral. Sounds like the beginnings of a great short story… George Orwell would love this one.