Righteous Insects & Hope for Slugards Like You and Me

secret lives ants
Go to the ant thou slugard, study her ways and be wise.Proverbs 6:6

E.O. Wilson has called Jae Choe’s Secret Lives of Ants one of the best books ever written on these incredibly important insects. Choe provides us with a fascinating natural history of one of the most dominant life forms on the planet. Vivid up-close color photographs complement Choe’s well-told tales of army ants, fire ants, weaver, aztec, carpenter, and leaf-cutter ants, to name just a few.

From start to finish, Secret Lives of Ants pays special attention to the amazingly intricate relationships that constitute ant societies. And given the slugards we all are, Jae Choe recommends important life lessons the ant has to share: “The Chinese character for ant is a combination of the characters for righteousness and insect. Thousands of years ago, the Chinese had already understood the unusual ability of these righteous insects to sacrifice their individual needs for the good of their society.

And here’s another favorite passage from Jae Choe’s Secret Lives of Ants, where he describes a memorable encounter he had as a graduate student in Costa Rica:


After I stepped into the forest, I lost track of time. The canopy was so dense that it was dark even in the middle of the day. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of tiny leaves moving. I froze in my tracks on the narrow trail. Those were not just leaves swaying in the breeze, it was a real leaf-cutter ant parade….

A great deal of research has been done on these ants due to their unusual habit of carrying leaves back to their nests to use as a cultivation medium for growing mushrooms. They have earned the name leaf-cutter ants because they go into the forest to get leaves just like woodcutters go into the forest to cut down trees to get a supply of wood. They use their heavy, serrated jaws like saws to cut the leaves they then take back to the nest.

I followed the leaf-cutter ants parade until the sun went down, and after I returned to the research station I began to wonder if the ants continued to march in the dark….I strapped a light to my head and headed back into the forest. The area was full of all kinds of poisonous snakes and spiders, and even jaguars, but my curiosity was greater than my fear, so I forged ahead. Surprisingly, when I found the ants again in the pitch-black jungle night, they were not carrying leaves; they were carrying pink flower petals. This beautiful parade of flower petals was simply mesmerizing.

Here’s a few more ant resources from the Land Library’s shelves, including an excellent book on ants of the leaf-cutting variety!

The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct by Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson, and Mark W. Moffett’s Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions — a fun book that was the subject of two past posts.

life & timesshuttlesworth
Plus two more from our Waterton Canyon Kids Nature Library: The Life and Times of the Ant by Charles Micucci, and The Story of Ants by Dorothy Shuttlesworth.

Given their vivid photographs and illustrations, kids books can provide anyone an excellent introduction to the world of ants. You never know where your first guide will come from. We wish we could say that the likes of Jean-Henri Fabre or E.O. Wilson first introduced us to the empire of the ants, but actually it was the writers and artists of Marvel Comics — a fun place to begin!

ant man


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