Let Us Now Praise Tiny Ants

Brooke Jarvis in The New York Times:

It is telling, the entomologist Eleanor Spicer Rice writes in her introduction to a new book of ant photography by Eduard Florin Niga, that humans looking downward on each other from great heights like to describe the miniaturized people we see below us as looking “like ants.” By this we mean faceless, tiny, swarming: an indecipherable mass stripped of individuality or interest. Intellectually, though, we can recognize that each scurrying dot is in fact a unique person with a complicated and interconnected life, even if distance appears to wipe away all that diversity and complexity. So then why, Dr. Rice asks, don’t we apply the same logic to the ants we’re comparing ourselves to?

We share our world with at least 15,000 unique species of ants — although this is surely an underestimate, as we have no way to count the number of species still unknown to science. It is hard to express how ubiquitous they are. If you were to put all the animal life in a Brazilian rainforest on a scale, more than one-quarter of the weight would come just from ants. Even the sidewalks of New York City — where pedestrians walk unknowingly above armies of pavement ants that undertake huge, deadly turf wars each spring, dismembering each other in epic battles for territory — are teeming. One study found an average of 2.3 ant species on a given city median, doing the invisible work of making fallen potato chips and hot dogs disappear by the pound. Even in our densest habitations, there are orders of magnitude more of them than there are of us.

More here.