The Strange and Turbulent Global World of Ant Geopolitics

In the vast and complex tapestry of life on Earth, the world of ants offers a fascinating case study of global societies that mirror, yet also starkly contrast with, human societies. Over the past four centuries, quadrillions of ants have created a global society that is both strange and turbulent, a society that shadows our own in its scale, diversity, and the intricate geopolitics that define its interactions.

The Rise of Unicolonial Ants

Unicolonial ants, such as the Argentine ant and the red fire ant, have spread across the globe in a manner that mirrors the expansion of human empires. These ants have the ability to form vast, interconnected colonies that span thousands of kilometers, from southern Europe to California, Australia, and even as far as Japan and New Zealand. This global spread is not just a physical expansion but also a cultural one, as these ants share a unique way of life that is both alien and yet eerily familiar to us.

The Strangeness of Ant Societies

Ant societies are characterized by their ability to form 'anonymous societies,' where individuals from the same species or group can cooperate and accept each other even when they have never met before. This is achieved through the use of chemical badges of identity, which are genetically determined and variable. These badges allow ants to quickly learn to distinguish between nest mates and outsiders, ensuring that only those with the correct scent are accepted into the colony. This system of recognition is vastly different from human societies, which rely on networks of reciprocity and reputation, underpinned by language and culture.

The Impact of Unicolonial Ants

The spread of unicolonial ants has had profound effects on the ecosystems they invade. They are aggressive, quick to find food sources, and tenacious in defending and exploiting them. Their sheer force of numbers often allows them to become the only ant species in invaded areas, leading to significant changes in the local ecosystems. For example, in California, the Argentine ant has replaced the larger native species that once formed the diet of horned lizards, leaving the reptiles starving. Similarly, in the South African fynbos heathland, the Argentine ant's disregard for native plant seeds has led to a shift in the local flora towards invasive plants.

The Human Response

Human responses to the invasion of unicolonial ants have varied from attempts to control their spread through the use of pesticides and targeted insecticides to efforts to eradicate them entirely. However, these efforts have been challenging due to the ants' ability to rapidly expand and adapt. For instance, New Zealand has been successful in preventing the spread of the red fire ant by eradicating nests on goods arriving at airports and ports. Despite these efforts, the global spread of unicolonial ants continues, highlighting the ongoing struggle between human control and the natural resilience of these species.


The global society of ants offers a unique perspective on the complexities of life on Earth. Through their global spread and the intricate geopolitics of their interactions, ants remind us of the vast and often unpredictable forces that shape our world. As we continue to explore and interact with the natural world, it is essential to recognize the unique ways in which other species, like ants, navigate and shape their environments. Understanding these global ant societies is not just about appreciating the diversity of life on Earth but also about gaining insights into the resilience and adaptability of life itself.

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