The lives of ants

Laurent Keller, 1961-

Book - 2009

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Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press 2009.
Physical Description
xi, 252 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references (p. 235-240) and indexes.
Main Author
Laurent Keller, 1961- (-)
Other Authors
Elisabeth Gordon (-), James Grieve, 1934-
Review by Choice Reviews

Ants are the most diverse and most numerous of all animals on Earth. This book by Keller (evolutionary ecology, Univ. of Lausanne, Switzerland; Levels of Selection in Evolution, CH, Jun'00, 37-5651) and Gordon (science journalist) provides an introduction to the biology of ants by highlighting their ubiquitous distribution, their critical role in ecological processes, and the complexity of their social and behavioral interactions. The authors also discuss ants' impact as insect pests, how their genetic relationships can explain their social relations, and why computer scientists are interested in their social systems to solve telecommunication and other technical issues. The prose seems awkward and disjointed in places, possibly due to the French-to-English translation. A few small color plates of high quality illustrate this volume, but some of the black-and-white line drawings lack sharpness and are poorly reproduced. This work provides a fairly good overview of the subject. However, B. Holldobler and E. O. Wilson's The Superorganism (CH, Aug'09, 46-6805) is a far better resource; it covers much of the same content in a more engaging manner, and includes spectacular illustrations and color pictures. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through professionals; general readers. Copyright 2009 American Library Association.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Science writer Gordon and ecology-evolution professor Keller (University of Lausanne) present a general-audience overview, short on jargon and long on storytelling, of Earth's most populous and successful genera. Keller and Gordon present ant life in 32 chapters, covering the vast expanse and variation of ant behavior, social structure, reproduction, genetics and ecology while highlighting their importance to ecosystems world-wide. Species of ants that nest underground are crucial for the aeration and nutrient content of soil; in the tropics, leafcutter ants feed leaves to underground fungi "farms," transferring nutrients from the rainforest canopy to depths of 15 feet below earth's surface. Even all-consuming hordes of army ants, marching across the plains of Africa, benefit the planet by creating a mobile ecosystem (flies and butterflies depend on their dung, birds and reptiles feast on both ants and their prey). Human intervention, meanwhile, has introduced species to new habitats, often with destructive results (fire ants in the southern United States, Argentine ants in Europe). Illuminating, entertaining and thought-provoking, without a hint of superiority, this witty species profile will appeal to general readers interested in alien animal kingdom behavior, and/or the effects of invasive species on economics and public health. (Apr.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Examines what is known about the world of the ant, including the ant's abilities in direction finding, locating supplies, producing different pheromones, emitting sound signals, and dancing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Since time immemorial, human beings have been fascinated by ants, amazed by them, intrigued and captivated by them. With numerous black-and-white images and eight pages of color plates, The Lives of Ants provides a state-of-the-art look at what we now know about these fascinating creatures,portraying a world that is rich and full of surprises, one which, even after decades of observation, is still full of unsolved mysteries. The authors illuminate the world of the ant, shedding light on such topics as the ant's impressive abilities in direction finding and quite amazing ingenuity when it comes to building their nests, finding supplies, or exploiting other members of the animal kingdom. They show, too, that they arecapable of aggression and violence, which can disturb the apparent peace of their colonies and embroil them in fratricidal or matricidal strife. Even their sexual arrangements are at times quite strange. In this area, as in many others, they display marked originality. Readers also discover thatants are walking bundles of secretory glands (they have about forty of them), which enable them to emit between ten and twenty different pheromones, each of which has its own "meaning." Some are produced by workers for recruiting their sisters or for alerting them to danger. Others are used formarking territory, for identifying members of their colony or conversely for detecting foreigners, and for indicating the location of food. In addition, ants can also emit sound signals, made of a high-pitched squeak, and they can even dance, though not as intricately or as well as bees. The Lives of Ants combines natural history with molecular biology, genetics, and even the latest developments in robotics, to explore the remarkable societies of ants, revealing the secrets of their mysterious lives.