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url 2018-07-18 02:45
"An entomologist rates ant emojis"

The Apple ant was rated the highest, but I prefer the Facebook ant, which doesn't look like it has a weird bomb for a head.

 

I'll say this is sort of related to books because I recently read The Lives of Ants.

 

...Okay, so it has nothing to do with books but I thought it was funny.

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review 2018-07-08 18:58
The Lives of Ants by Laurent Keller and √Člisabeth Gordon, translated by James Grieve
The Lives of Ants - Elisabeth Gordon,Laurent Keller

I was cataloging a newer edition of a biology book and happened to come across this while I was hunting down the older edition for possible weeding. I don't read a lot of nonfiction - according to my records, I've only read or listened to approximately 13 nonfiction books in the past 10 years - but this looked reasonably interesting and social insects intrigue me.

My knowledge of ants is pretty limited. I've read a few popular science articles and I played SimAnt a lot when it came out (anybody else remember that game?). That isn't enough to judge whether the information in this book is any good.

That said, I found The Lives of Ants to be very readable, if not terribly well organized. The beginning of the book felt like the authors were throwing around information confetti. The bits and pieces of information were fun, but so brief and varied that it was clear the authors were only scratching the surface of an enormous topic. Also, I had trouble keeping track of which ant species were mentioned, and whether some of them had come up more than once. Species that were outside the norm in some way tended to get more attention. I suppose that's understandable since "weird" tends to make for more interesting examples, but it sometimes made it hard to get a good feel for just how far outside the norm they were.

Although there was certainly interesting information throughout the whole text, Part III was by far my favorite. Each chapter in this part was focused on a single ant genus. Chapter 13 covered Dorylus, army ants, chapter 14 covered Oecophylla, weaver ants, chapter 15 covered Cataglyphis, desert ants, and chapter 16 covered Myrmecocystus, honeypot ants. Unfortunately, most of these chapters only dealt with one or two features of these ants, albeit with more thoroughness than previous examples in the book. I was often left with questions about social organization, nest structure, etc. that weren't addressed.

Part II (Social Life), Part IV (Advantageous Liaisons - things like ant trees, aphids, etc.), and Part V (Bloody Pests! - covered things like supercolonies) were other sections I enjoyed, even as the authors sometimes frustrated me. It was often very difficult to get a complete picture of the life of a specific genus or species of ant. Yes, the book (thankfully) includes a species index, but I didn't particularly want to turn to that and jump around the whole book trying to piece together scraps of information. Besides, sometimes the information I wanted (such as more detailed information about "invasive" ant distribution - where is this species considered native and where is it invasive?) just wasn't in the book.

The worst section of the book were Parts VI and VII, which looked at the genetic basis for behavior and social structure. A huge portion of this was written as though ants could see their own genetic makeup and that of their nest mates and make decisions based on who was more or less related to them. Later on, the authors made it clearer that this behavior was based on scent, which has a genetic basis, but even then I had questions about how all of this was supposed to work, considering that the ants shared the same nest, would all be sharing their scents, and would therefore, I would think, all have very similar scents even if some were less related to each other than others.

The final section, "High-Tech Ants," dealt with robots and swarm intelligence's applications in artificial intelligence. It felt a little out of place but was, I suppose, intended to highlight myrmecology's broader applications.

The book included a section with color photographs, as well as several black-and-white drawings throughout. The thing that bugged me about the drawings was that their placement had little to do with the text. For example, one intriguing illustration of a parasitic queen (Teleutomyrmex schneideri) that has no workers, clings to Tetramorium caespitum queens, and lives in complete dependence upon her host queen and host queen's workers wasn't explained until 6 chapters (approximately 40 pages) later.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2018-07-08 15:48
Reading progress update: I've read 234 out of 234 pages.
The Lives of Ants - Elisabeth Gordon,Laurent Keller

Surprise! The last three chapters are about robots and swarm intelligence's applications in artificial intelligence.

 

According to my records, in the past 10 years I've only read or listened to approximately 13 nonfiction books, so finishing this counts as an accomplishment. The last nonfiction book I finished was in October 2017.

 

My final rating will probably be 3 or 3.5 stars. Probably 3. This was very readable, but its organization wasn't great, and some of the info opened up huge questions that the authors didn't acknowledge in any way.

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text 2018-07-07 23:27
Reading progress update: I've read 192 out of 234 pages.
The Lives of Ants - Elisabeth Gordon,Laurent Keller

AntiWiki is a thing that exists.

 

I found that out while looking up details on Wasmannia auropunctata (little fire ant), which is just referred to in this book as an invasive ant. Invasive where? It looks like its native habitat is in Central and South America and it can now be found in places like Florida, Puerto Rico, Cameroon, Israel, and north-eastern Australia.

 

The weird thing about this ant, according to this book, is that both the queens and the males reproduce asexually. Queens are clones of their mother. Males are clones of their fathers, via a method I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around - the way the authors describe it, sperm enters the queen's eggs, destroys the queen's genetic material, and just sort of takes over. The queen lays the egg, but what hatches is a clone of the male. The workers are the product of normal fertilization. Why do the males' sperm sometimes take the egg completely over and sometimes develop into workers? The authors never even ask this question, much less provide any answers.

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text 2018-07-07 18:15
Reading progress update: I've read 188 out of 234 pages.
The Lives of Ants - Elisabeth Gordon,Laurent Keller

The last three chapters have been about genetics, and I'm not a fan of the way the authors write about ants as though they're aware of their genetic makeup and are purposely aiming to support the continuation of their genes over the genes of less related ants in the same colony. There's been one mention that their actions are probably based on scents, which have a genetic basis, rather than an actual awareness of each others' genes, but it mostly isn't written that way.

 

Also, these chapters are a bit confusing. And parts of them contradict other parts and make me wish this were a classroom and not a book, so that I could raise my hand and ask questions.

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