Friday, June 11, 2021

Non-fiction: Review of Empire of Ants by Susanne Foitzik and Olaf Fritsche

They're everywhere. They tickle your arm laying in the grass. One or two always find their way into your garage in the summer. Overnight they seem to build little hills in your lawn. If you're unlucky, you'll find a line leading to and from your kitchen. City parks, forests, highways shoulders, pavement cracks, maybe on the moon—ants are everywhere. Taking us into the layers of complexity that ordinary people are oblivious to are Susanne Foitzik and Olaf Fritsche with 2021's Empire of Ants: The Hidden Worlds and Extraordinary Lives of Earth's Tiny Conquerors.

And what fascinating worlds they are. More than just a faceless horde of mini food gatherers that occasionally make a nuisance of themselves, it turns out ant societies are as varied as the human, but with an infinitesimally greater respect for the colony than the individual. Knowing your place and self-sacrifice regular parts of colony life, indeed the maxim is true: it's a good thing ants are so small, otherwise they would rule the world, as Foitzik and Fritsche indirectly make clear.

But wait a minute, having finished Empire of Ants, it seems they do rule the Earth. They're more adaptive, they're more widespread, and outnumber homo sapiens exponentially. For the moment, however, we have an unspoken truce.

In the end, Empire of Ants is the laymen's introduction to just how fascinating and detailed ants are. Fritsche and Foitzik avoiding almost all obscure scientific and entomological terms (i.e. Latin), they give the average Joe interested in the little insects a wonderful overview of the variety on Earth. From fire ants to slavers, pacifists to the blind, and so many more, the book is filled with nugget after nugget of interesting information. The reader will never look at the little six legged pests—I mean, insects, again. I have stopped crushing their little nests in my garden...

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