Short works

Books : reviews

Deborah M. Gordon.
Ants at Work: how an insect society is organized.
W. W. Norton. 1999

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 11 September 2006

Deborah Gordon describes her researches into ant society organisation, gleaned over 14 years of close study of a multitude of harvester ants living in a small patch the Arizona desert. She brings to life the sheer complexity of that society: how the ants swarm and breed during one brief mating flight, how they make new nests, maintain their those nests over a 15 year lifespan (of the nests and queen: the majority of the ants live only a brief year themselves), how they forage for seeds in the baking heat, how they interact peacefully and not so peacefully with other nests, and how they interact with other species of ants.

This is a fascinating insight into the complex lives of the ants, and how their complex behaviour arises from (relatively!) simple interactions between individual ants, and with their surroundings. It also gives a fascinating insight into the life of a field entomologist: the careful experiments, the sheer hard work, and the difficulty of posing and answering even the simplest question about ant behaviours. My only complaint is that it is too short, at 170 sparse pages.

Deborah M. Gordon.
Ant Encounters: interaction networks and colony behavior.
Princeton University Press. 2010