The Ants is a zoology textbook by the German entomologist Bert Hölldobler and the American entomologist E. O. Wilson, first published in 1990. It won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1991
This book is primarily aimed at academics as a reference work, detailing the anatomy, physiology, social organization, ecology, and natural history of ants. An account of some of Hölldobler and E. O. Wilson’s most interesting findings, popularized for the layman, can be found in their 1994 book Journey to the Ants.
The Science magazine reviewer described the book as a “mighty tome” and commented that it would “surely take its place among the greatest of all entomology books”, as it was “a wonderful exploration of almost every ramification of evolutionary biology, from developmental biology to the structure of ecological communities”. The illustrations are praised as lavish and extremely detailed, with monochrome drawings and 24 colour plates. All the 297 extant genera are illustrated and identifiable with the supplied keys. But “The Ants, like every great book and every ant colony, is much more than the sum of its parts.”
Diana Wheeler, reviewing the book in The Quarterly Review of Biology, comments that William Mortimer Wheeler thought his book not practical to revise as it would require too much work and would make the book too expensive, and that it was fortunate that the authors “did not flinch” at the challenge. They had produced a massive but affordable volume, and it was accessible to the public as well as to entomologists.
Ants are eusocial insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera. Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the Cretaceous period, about 99 million years ago, and diversified after the rise of flowering plants. More than 12,500 of an estimated total of 22,000 species have been classified. They are easily identified by their elbowed antennae and the distinctive node-like structure that forms their slender waists.
Ants form colonies that range in size from a few dozen predatory individuals living in small natural cavities to highly organised colonies that may occupy large territories and consist of millions of individuals. Larger colonies consist mostly of sterile, wingless females forming castes of “workers”, “soldiers”, or other specialised groups. Nearly all ant colonies also have some fertile males called “drones” and one or more fertile females called “queens“. The colonies are described as superorganisms because the ants appear to operate as a unified entity, collectively working together to support the colony.
Ants have colonised almost every landmass on Earth. The only places lacking indigenous ants are Antarctica and a few remote or inhospitable islands. Ants thrive in most ecosystems and may form 15–25% of the terrestrial animal biomass. Their success in so many environments has been attributed to their social organisation and their ability to modify habitats, tap resources, and defend themselves. Their long co-evolution with other species has led to mimetic, commensal, parasitic, and mutualistic relationships.
Ant societies have division of labour, communication between individuals, and an ability to solve complex problems. These parallels with human societies have long been an inspiration and subject of study. Many human cultures make use of ants in cuisine, medication, and rituals. Some species are valued in their role as biological pest control agents. Their ability to exploit resources may bring ants into conflict with humans, however, as they can damage crops and invade buildings. Some species, such as the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), are regarded as invasive species, establishing themselves in areas where they have been introduced accidentally.