Empire of the Ants

In the process of hanging out in the back yard, and walking around the neighborhood, I have seen a number of examples of ant wars. In one case, they came over the wall, and after a long period of stylized conflict that looked something like a siege, they grabbed the eggs and nymphs and carried  them back over the wall, destined for a life of slavery.  I’ve seen repeated wars between colonies next to the sidewalk in front of the house just north of us: again, they sit and threaten each other for days before getting down to brass tacks.

That is, I think I’ve seen this.  Other people are under the same delusion: The Ants, by Holldobler and Wilson,  has lots of interesting stuff about ant wars and slavery.

Other people think they’ve seen male lions kill young cubs, after they take over a pride, or a first-born lesser spotted eagle kill its younger sibling.  The silly geese think it happens every time!  Other think that hyenas live in clans of related females  (and subordinate males), clans that war with other clans. But that can’t be right.

Worse yet, chimpanzees, our closest relatives, have often been caught in the act – groups of related males go out on search-and-destroy missions aimed at chimps in neighboring bands. When they catch a neighbor alone, they scrag him.  At least, some say this happens.

But none of these things can really be true – because although they by no means prove that war is biologically innate among humans, this kind of evidence does suggest that it might be – and that is obviously impossible, by the most powerful of all epistemological principles.  It would hurt Brian Ferguson’s feelings.

Now maybe chimps get into trouble because bad humans have brought apples into their Eden .  That could be, especially if the interlopers are Europeans: they can make anything happen.  Europeans can make Amerindians massacre each other, even hundreds of years before Columbus: is there no limit to their villainy and recklessness, which threatens to create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum, and destroy the entire universe?

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39 Responses to Empire of the Ants

  1. Roma in the Glaucoma says:

    That could be, especially if the interlopers are Europeans: they can make anything happen. Europeans can make Amerindians massacre each other, even hundreds of years before Columbus: is there no limit to their villainy and recklessness, which threatens to create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum, and destroy the entire universe?
    And even in their evil they evince their inferiority:

    Yakub (Nation of Islam)

    Yakub (sometimes spelled Yacub or Yakob) is, according to the Nation of Islam (NOI), a black scientist who lived “6,600 years ago” and was responsible for creating the white race to be a “race of devils”. He did this through a form of selective breeding referred to as “grafting”, while living on the island of Patmos. […] After 600 years of this deliberate eugenics, the white race was created. The brutal conditions of their creation determined the evil nature of the new race: “by lying to the black mother of the baby, this lie was born into the very nature of the white baby; and, murder for the black people was also born in them — or made by nature a liar and murderer”. […] Yakub said to have been born in Mecca at a time when 30% of original black people were “dissatisfied”. He was a member of the Meccan branch of the Tribe of Shabazz. Yakub acquired the nickname “big head”, because of his unusually large head and his arrogance. Yakub (Nation of Islam)

    • Dale says:

      And yet, the Myth of Yakub may be one of the better things to happen to American blacks. If a black person focuses on the racism he suffers under (at least some of which is quite real), the natural reaction is despondence, followed by whining. Neither of these does any good. But if a black person treats racism as something that has to be endured (like bad weather), the natural reaction is to pull up his socks and get to work. And success is possible with that strategy. It’s one of those frequent situations where distorting one’s belief in the facts changes one’s behavior pattern into one that is likely to be more successful

    • Thank you for this story. Never heard of it. It is possibly the most funny conspiracy theory I’ve heard of so far.

  2. sainchuck says:

    FYI,this was on the first page of my reddit feed today: Nature of war: Chimps inherently violent; Study disproves theory that ‘chimpanzee wars’ are sparked by human influence http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140917131816.htm

  3. Mike says:

    Larvae. Use “nymphs” for hemimetabolous insects.

  4. Ainu Mosir says:

    Wasn’t Achilles companions in the Iliad called Myrmidons? I think it means ants in Greek.

    Wars and battles were very ritualistic in antiquity.

  5. dave chamberlin says:

    New Guinea was a tropical island assumed to be covered by jungle and natives so violent it was said by sailors that when you wreck your ship on it’s shores you swim the other way. In the 1930’s a plane flew over the large island and it was discovered for the first time that their were tended fields far to the interior. It took a long time for a expedition to be mounted to these totally isolated farmers and the remarkable book “Under the Mountain Wall” by Peter Matthiessan was a first hand account of the encounter with the southern Kurelu, people untouched by civilization. To say they were a murderous bunch is an understatement. Here is a quote from the book.

    “A man without valor is kepu, a worthless man, a man-who-has-not-killed. Unless they have strong friends or family, any wifes or pigs they may obtain will be taken from them by other men in the confidence that they will not resist.”

  6. Nick says:

    Isn’t it Sussman’s feelings that would be hurt?

  7. Philip Neal says:

    To give the liberal establishment credit where it is due, today’s Guardian reports that scientists have sequenced the genome of a boy buried near Lake Baikal and found that “nearly all modern Europeans had a mixture of western European hunter-gatherer and early European farmer DNA, but with a good measure of ancient north Eurasian ancestry thrown in…Modern Europeans are various mixes of the three populations. Sardinians are more than 80% early European farmer, with less than 1% of their genetic makeup coming from the ancient north Eurasians. In the Baltic states such as Estonia, some modern people are 50% hunter-gatherer and around a third early European farmer.”

    Old news to readers of this blog, but well written and with no attempt to slant the story or cast doubt on it.

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/sep/18/ancient-ancestors-europeans-dna-study

  8. Even the BBC has noted that chimps lack the diplomacy expected of natural, organic animals, though such peacefulness is present in bonobos (a clear instance of cultural effects, perhaps).
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-29237276

  9. Patrick L. Boyle says:

    In some ways things were better before the Web. I read ‘Demonic Males’ when it first came out – but I didn’t buy it. I think it was at a Borders. I saw the cover, picked it up, sat down in one of the comfortable lounge chairs and read it. Good book, but short. I think I read it in an hour or so.

    But I never go to real bookstores anymore. If I order a disappointing book now from Amazon I just eat the expense.

    Earlier this week I happened to stumble across a web page about a couple who raised a chimp as their child. It sort of worked. When the other chimps attacked him – bit off his nose, fingers and genitals, and gouged out one eye – their chimp didn’t participate.

    I looked around for a study of MAOA in chimps versus bonobos. I couldn’t find one.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      “When the other chimps attacked him – bit off his nose, fingers and genitals, and gouged out one eye – their chimp didn’t participate.”

      Obviously raised as a liberal – or Amish.

    • ursiform says:

      “When the other chimps attacked him – bit off his nose, fingers and genitals, and gouged out one eye – their chimp didn’t participate.”

      That proves it’s all nurture, right?

      If chimp society were reformed to be like bonobo society, chimps would act like bonobos.

      Wasn’t that the whole point of Kimba the White Lion? E.g., carnivores can be enlightened and become vegetarians?

      Too bad I wasted my childhood watching Wild Kingdom …

  10. Not true. They did learn it from humans. I’ve been training those ants in battle-tactics for years. And as for chimps, you hardly have to train them at all.

  11. anon says:

    “Other people think they’ve seen male lions kill young cubs”

    But no way domesticated tomcats do the same!

  12. RCB says:

    Mind you, “war” and “violence” are not really the same thing. If we consider war to be large-scale, organized conflict between hierarchical groups with specialized tasks and high levels of expected mortality, then probably only humans and hymenopterans do war (am I missing any?). Chimpanzee raids are probably more like gang violence than large scale human warfare: a gang of guys assert their turf by killing off a handful of outnumbered outsiders. My understanding is that the fighting is somewhat cowardly; no chimp is going to sacrifice his life for a gang of selfish marauders, all of whom compete locally for political power and mating opportunities. In contrast, humans and ants do seem to fight selflessly, though more commonly in the latter. Humans apparently need coercion or honor.

    This is not to dismiss the fact (written so sarcastically that it might as well have been proof-read by a teenage youtube commenter) that violence in nature does occur.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I’d call it war when intraspecies aggression occurs above the individual level, not just Fred against Joe. By that definition, it exists in ants, hyenas, chimps, humans, some others. Not terribly common, but it’s out there.

      In places like New Guinea, a lot of the conflict consisted of raids and ambushes, with the goal of find one or a few individuals and killing them. Not so much stand-up battles. The same was true for Amerindians, mostly. Not all that different from chimp warfare.

      When biology impinges on humanity it’s absolutely routine to have ideology and wishful thinking drive conclusions. Thus people come up with demented notions in archaeology – nobody invaded anyone in prehistory, languages spread back then spread by charm offensives rather than conquest. Proven population replacements are explained by the original tenants all vanishing with a popping sound just before the new guys show up.

      Twin studies are subtly wrong because people don’t like their implications.

      IQ is useless in predicting academic success because people don’t like it. It’s not heritable, because people don’t want it to be.

      Natural selection never affects anything above the neck.

      .
      And so on. This stuff has made archeologists go more and more wrong as the years passed on some important issues, even as their tools improved. Cultural anthropologists are, on the whole, so fucked up that you can’t even trust them to bring the hot dog buns to the departmental picnic.

      • Ainu Mosir says:

        Wow! Is really this bad?

        This is why there isn’t explanations of how the Armenians replaced the Urartians, the Tocharians by the Uyghurs, and the whole Indo-European language expansion.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      Actually, from the standpoint of evolution and what benefits the group, stand-up battles are pretty stupid, useful only as a last resort. Raids make a lot more sense. Attack just before dawn, kill the males, burn their housing, take their stuff, and enslave the young chicks. Nice work if you can get it, and it doesn’t have the dysgenic effect of killing the bravest of your people preferentially. It’s not very nice, but of course, chimps and humans are known for that.

      • RCB says:

        The general reason we expect it to be rare is that anyone who is genetically predisposed to kill himself for the good of the group does just that… and therefore such genes are lost. My understanding is that it occurs in ants, bees, and wasps because there is such high genetic similarity within colonies, relative to other colonies – but I haven’t kept up with the literature here (apparently the Hymenopteran haplodiploid system might be a red herring?).

        As for why humans seem to do it – that’s an ongoing debate. A creative explanation is that such behaviors are culturally transmitted, and groups that have culturally-transmitted norms promoting altruistic self-sacrifice will out-compete more selfish groups (e.g. fewer deserters on the front lines). The most altruistic people will die, but as long as others in the group are socialized into the same beliefs, altruism can stick around, at least in historical time. Such is the argument.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          “The general reason we expect it to be rare is that anyone who is genetically predisposed to kill himself for the good of the group does just that… and therefore such genes are lost.”

          I’m not sure that is entirely true. if you assume for the sake of argument that only a small percentage of people are good at violence – for psychological not physical reasons – then war could end up selecting for people who are specifically both altruistic (towards their group) and good at violence.

          • ghazi-less says:

            “if you assume for the sake of argument that only a small percentage of people are good at violence – for psychological not physical reasons – then war could end up selecting for people who are specifically both altruistic (towards their group) and good at violence.”

            One of the most chilling people I’ve ever met was a “rocker” (youth gang thug) in Copenhagen (this was the 70s). He was extremely–even obsequiously–warm towards those who were in his ingroup, and extremely callous and brutal towards those outside. The attitude attracted lots of women: his reproductive success is probably twenty times my own.

        • melendwyr says:

          When we lived in relatively small tribes, individuals dying to help the tribe might have increased the proportion of altruistic genes. I have never understood the irrational hatred for any and all application of the concept of group selection. It obviously works in certain conditions.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        If war is group competition then the form of war must follow the form of the groups – a raid on a small tribe might be devastating but the same scale raid on a larger group is just a pin prick. As groups got bigger and more specialized wars got bigger and more specialized – although the need you mention to get people to stand in the front lines when it is against their individual evolutionary interest would then likely have been a big factor in human cultural evolution.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “Chimpanzee raids are probably more like gang violence”

      Exactly like. Adolescent males form into bands and patrol their borders seeking to catch an individual from a neighboring group on his own, chase him down and kill him 8 versus 1.

      Happens somewhere every day – although paramedics reduce the death rate a great deal.

      Pitched battles are rare because they are higher risk and mostly end up with long range missile throwing or a single fight between champions – just like in the myths and legends.

      • Jim says:

        A lot of raiding by American Indians was to steal horses and cattle and the raiders tried to avoid any fighting. When the lewis and clark expedition was traveling through crow territory they awoke one morning to find their horses all gone but they had heard nothing in the night. I not sure they even ever saw any crow Indians.

  13. There are instances of complete elimination of tribes in New Guinea in recent history. Raiding is of course the got-to, low-cost method of gaining resources. However, when one has overwhelmingly good odds of taking out all of your neighbors, even moderate cost to the tribe is pretty good.

  14. Roberto641@aol.com says:

    Now that “race” is back, so to speak, sans “ideology”, maybe we can get closer to the truth, which is really just there in front of our eyes if we look for it. There’s a limit to what “recorded” history can provide. This is a great blog, touching on crucial issues that pot up every day in ordinary lives. Robert Keith Brookln,NY

  15. Pingback: West Hunter: Empire of the ants – is violence innate in animals, including humans? | BlazingCatFur

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