The Early Ant Gets the Canned Sardine with Oil

If you’re anything like us, you’ve been spending a lot of time lately wondering about ant species coexistence. How can there possibly be 13,384 species of ants, when so many species have overlapping niches in space, food resources, and other traits? Shouldn’t the most competitive ant species ultimately drive all the others to extinction?

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One of 13,384 known species of ants. How? Image: Alex Wild

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Philosophy Phriday: What Do (Ant) Emojis Mean?

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the fifty-third contribution in the series, submitted by Gretchen Ellefson.


What Do (Ant) Emojis Mean?

According to the reputable website emojis.wiki, the ant emoji, , is “a synonym for ‘hardworking.’” This came as a surprise to me; I, a proficient emoji user, have never used the ant emoji in that way (despite that I have used an ant emoji), nor have I ever interpreted an ant emoji sent to me in that way. More importantly, however, I’m not quite sure what it means for an emoji to be synonymous with an English word. Generally, we take two words to be synonymous when they have the same meaning. But what it takes for an emoji to mean something is rather different than what it takes for an ordinary word to mean something. Philosophers of language sometimes talk about sentences as having the same meaning when they have the same “truth conditions”—when the conditions under which they would count as true are the same—and bits of sentences as having the same meaning when they play the same role in contributing to the truth conditions of a sentence. So “My students are hardworking,” is true whenever my students have the property of being hardworking. What about, “My students are ”? Does this have the same truth conditions? Probably not. On the one hand, the association between ants and hardworkingness is sufficiently commonly accepted that I could certainly use “My students are ” to mean that they are hardworking. But it is just as likely that in saying, “My students are ,” I could communicate something else: that my students are very small, or that they can carry many times their body weight, etc. So what does “My students are meanPerson Shrugging on Apple iOS 10.2

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Philosophy Phriday: The Formicid Mystique

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the fifty-second contribution in the series, submitted by Madeline Eller.


The Formicid Mystique: Embodied Social Norms and Common Sense

One of the reasons that I am happy to be a philosopher rather than a scientist is that I have never had to glue tiny stilts onto an ant’s legs. Some poor grad student presumably had this task when collecting data for Wittlinger et. al.’s “The Ant Odometer: Stepping on Stilts and Stumps”. In the 2006 article, Wittlinger et. al. argue that they have solved the long-standing mystery of how ants navigate to and from their nest without retracing their steps. Indeed, the Saharan desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis, can explore the surrounding landscape in a roundabout, Magellanic adventure, and then find their way back to the mound using a direct route rather than retracing their steps. How? They use what Wittlinger et. al. call “a path integrator”, which employs directional data from the ant’s “celestial compass” and travel distance as gauged by an idiothetic pedometer (ibid., p. 1965). The pedometer is crucial for the ants to know how far they are from the nest; when stilts were attached to their legs, making their legs longer, the ants overshot the location of the nest, and when the ant’s legs were shortened, they undershot the distance.

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Yes, an ant on stilts. Photo: Matthias Wittlinger

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Philosophy Phriday: The Ants Who Prefer Not To

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the fifty-first contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Helena de Bres, with illustrations by Dr. Julia de Bres.


The Ants Who Prefer Not To

If there’s one thing we think we know about ants, it’s that they work hard. Ants are always dashing around, engaged in some urgent task—and they’re very efficient about it, too. Ant colonies involve a complex division of labor, in which each ant is assigned a specific role. Some are foragers, some gardeners, some soldiers, some carpenters. Others are babysitters, teachers, flood management experts or undertakers. Then you have the ranchers, who herd aphids in the fields, and my personal favorites, the “caterpillar massagers.” (What?) One consequence of all of this impeccably organized industry is that ants have colonized almost every landmass on earth. (Antarctica is a hold out, but you can bet they’re working on it.) Another consequence is that ants can make us humans feel bad about ourselves. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard,” says Proverbs 6:6, “consider its ways, and be wise.”

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Formicid Form: Four in the Morning

The Daily Ant maintains “Formicid Form”, a Sunday ant poetry series. When possible, our Verse Correspondant, Natalia Piland, provides a short commentary at the end of each poem. Enjoy!


Four in the Morning

By Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska, Nobel Prize Laureate

No one feels good at four in the morning.
If ants feel good at four in the morning
–three cheers for the ants. And let five o’clock come
if we’re to go on living.

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Philosophy Phriday: The Puzzle of Inter-Group Cooperation

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the fiftieth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Helen De Cruz.


The Puzzle of Inter-Group Cooperation:
What Ants Can Tell Us, and What it Means for Brexit and Trade Wars

Humans and ants share a peculiar characteristic that is rare in the animal world: both are prone to habitually cooperate not just within their groups, but also between groups.

Between-group cooperation raises evolutionary and philosophical puzzles: Under what circumstances can inter-group cooperation arise? Why don’t individuals from different groups just fuse into one bigger group, if cooperation is so useful to them? How can we make sure that such cooperative ventures continue? I’ll here look at what we can learn from polydomy—the phenomenon of different ant nests that cooperate while maintaining separate nest identity—parallels between this and human institutions such as NATO, NAFTA, and the EU, and I will draw some implications for trade wars and Brexit.

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