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The Ants


Why I study ants
EO Wilson Scientist
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I'm often asked what it is that I see in ants. How could I maintain a lifetime passion for these little insects? And the answer is very easy. They really represent a world of their own. You know, they are possibly... and their social behaviour as close as we will ever see to what higher social organisation might look like on another planet.

They're that different, you know. They communicate entirely by smell and taste, almost entirely. Media that we just don't comprehend at all because we're audio-visual. They're chemical. So we have to study them in a very roundabout way to understand what they're saying to each other. And they have extremely complicated societies with caste systems and complex communication to organise the defence of their nest and the gathering of food out in the foraging fields and so on. You could spend a whole lifetime on one species and there are some 10,000 species known.

EO Wilson (1929-2021) was an American biologist, researcher (sociobiology, biodiversity), theorist (consilience, biophilia), naturalist (conservationist) and author (two Pulitzer Prizes). His biological specialty was myrmecology, the study of ants.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: ant societies, social organisation, ant behaviour, ant communication

Duration: 1 minute, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: 2000

Date story went live: 22 May 2018