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All About Ants


This time of year, when it’s oh so hot and insects appear to rule the world, it’s easy, especially for the adults among us, to forget how cool ants are. If we see them only as nuisances from which we must protect our picnic baskets at all costs, the kids in our lives will miss out on learning about one of the world’s most incredible critters. But wait…! Maybe there is room for a compromise here: cover the apple pie and cast out the rascals trying to pilfer it—but educate yourselves and your kids as well. You will be delighted with what you discover. 


ALL ABOUT ANTS (ISBN: 978-0792259480), by Sue Whiting, is a great place to start your ant education. Like all the other books in the National Geographic Science Chapters children’s books series, ALL ABOUT ANTS is a lovely hardcover book full of the kinds of fabulous photographs that NG is famous for. But even more exciting than the close ups of ants living their lives in their natural environments are the facts about how they live their lives.


Ants are extremely social creatures. The communicate everything from “Look out, there’s danger on the way!” to “Come check out this food source,” through the emitting and receiving of various scents. This complex scent system enables them to be very organized. And since they like to stay busy, they can get a heck of a lot done in a day. In fact, they are so good at what they do that while individual ants live only 45 to 60 days, a colony can live 30 years.


Ant life, one realizes while reading ALL ABOUT ANTS, is not unlike the ideal society that Plato described some 2500 years ago. For all we know, he may have gotten some of his ideas while lounging outdoors in the vicinity of a few ant colonies.  Every ant in a colony has a job to do, whether it is the queen ant, whose job is procreate, or the workers, who are further divided into groups—food gatherers, chamber cleaners, egg nurses, nest builders, etc.—or the drones, whose job is to try to mate with a queen. While the most common sort of ant nest may not look like much from above, it is actually a series of tunnel-connected chambers, each with a very specific function, ranging from the queen’s chamber to the nursery, to the food storage chambers, the sleeping chambers and more.

Since there’s no getting away from ants (Whiting tells us that there are 10,000 varieties and that they live virtually everywhere), why not pay some tribute to the way they live their lives? While you may not subscribe to Plato’s notions about a society where everyone has a specific job, ALL ABOUT ANTS confirms that there are some lessons that we can learn—perhaps about team work and planning for the future—from our six-legged friends.

ALL ABOUT ANTS is reviewed by Joan Schweighardt, the author of GUDRUN’S TAPESTRY and other novels. Over the years Joan has counted among her closest friends Zelma, Cleo, and Speedy-Clark (all felines) and Heidi, Barnaby, Dirty Ben, Auggie Doggie and Smart Sartre (all canines). Currently Joan counts herself lucky to share her life and home with Nikki, a Belgian Shepherd who survived a near-death experience almost two years ago. Having been nursed back to life with drops of water from a turkey-baster and thereafter minuscule pieces of prime rib, Nikki is now the most spoiled 14-year-old dog on the planet.

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