Philosophy Phridays: The Ant Farm

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 fifth contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Barry Lam.


Hi-Phi Nation, a new and exciting philosophy podcast, produced this intriguing audio bit for The Daily Ant. It is about 5 minutes long. Enjoy!


Production Credits

The story of Jacob Lomanski is adapted from an episode of the Here Be Monsters podcast produced by Jeff Emtman and Bethany Denton.

 

Soundtrack:
  • “Nothing Last Forever”, “Intro”, and “Fairytale” by Kai Engel
  • “Waves” and “Labyrinth” by Sergey Cheremisinov.

BarryLamDr. Barry Lam is the host and producer of the new story and sound-driven philosophy podcast, Hi-Phi Nation. The ten episode first season is airing now online or on any podcatcher you use. Each week on the show, the podcast starts with a story, and then brings the philosophy out of the story. Barry is a Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vassar College, and Humanities-Writ Large fellow at Duke University.

Finants

Here at The Daily Ant, we generally support the little gal. Yet we can’t help but appreciate a particular financial services group:

Ant_Financial

Ant Financial Services Group hails from China, and according to the Wall Street Journal, it is (unsurprisingly) a “juggernaut of online banking, fund management and other financial services.” Sounds like they chose the right name!

New Orleans, Louisianta

Cultural Correspondant Abhishek Bhattacharyya recently stopped by the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans. While there, he captured an important scene:

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This is, of course, a colony of Atta cephalotes, one of several species of leaf cutter ants. Correspondant Bhattacharyya also shared the following:

One man who worked at the museum came up since we were spending a while beside the leaf cutter ants, and told us he even recently saw one of these in the swamps here, and he showed us a picture of one on his finger. 

Based on known distributions of species in the genus Atta, it is much more likely that this fellow saw a related species, Atta texana. In any case, this is exactly what an effective museum should do – motivate visitors to remember and dwell upon previous experiences with the natural world, and then promote further discovery.

Forget Mardi Gras and jazz – visit New Orleans for its insect museum!

Philosophy Phriday: Consider the Ant

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 fourth contribution in the series, submitted by Cheryl Abbate.


Consider the Ant

Many people object to raising and killing animals like cows, chickens, and pigs for food because they are conscious (i.e., sentient). Farmed animals clearly have interests, such as the interests in not suffering and continued existence, and there is “something it is like” to be a cow, pig, or chicken. But what about insects, like ants? Are they conscious? Is there “something it is like” to be an ant? If not, perhaps we ought to consume insects, like ants, in lieu of factory farmed animals.

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Pharmantcology

Anyone who is a human living in a human society knows that social life carries with it the risk of catching a disease from other nearby humans. Of course, this is also the case for ants in their societies. But a fascinating paper in Ecology and Evolution has recently revealed another commonality: some wood ants, like humans, create antimicrobial drugs. To learn more, check out this nice discussion in Science.

Formica

Fomica wood ants, cluelessly spreading harmful bacteria? Photo: Alex Wild

Ant Brains and Division of Labor

In our recent Philosophy Phriday interview with UNC philosopher Ram Neta, Dr. Neta expressed surprise at the fact that ants have brains. But ants do indeed have brains, as certain fungi know very well, and in a study recently accepted in Developmental Neurobiology, Dr. J. Frances Kamhi and colleagues set out to understand how ant brains may develop differently in a socially simple species versus a more socially complex species.

Oecophylla

Developmental stages of Oecophylla smaragdina. Photo: Alex Wild

The researchers hypothesized that a socially simple species, Formica subserica, would exhibit more “neuroplasticity” (flexibility in brain development) than a more socially complex species, Oecophylla smaragdina, which has behaviorally and morphologically distinct worker castes. Dr. Kamhi and colleagues expected that O. smaragdina would have more rigidly determined brain structure due to the maintenance of task specialization in workers that seem less behaviorally flexible than more generalized F. subserica workers. So, they looked at ant brains! In particular, they compared the volume of brain regions that have different functions, and assessed the impact of visual experiences on regions associated with “higher-order sensory integration”.

Do you think the researchers confirmed their hypothesis? If you do, you are wrong! Surprisingly, neither species exhibited differences in brain changes due to visual experiences, and O. smaragdina – not F. subserica – exhibited greater levels of neuroplasticity as workers aged. These results suggest that social complexity, despite associated task specialization, may drive increases in neuroplasticity. It is possible that this increase is necessary to maintain higher levels of coordination and communication seen in complex ant colonies.

In conclusion, ant brains are full of surprises.

Philosophy Phriday: Video Interview with Ram Neta

The Daily Ant hosts a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This interview with Dr. Ram Neta is the third contribution in the series.


On Tuesday, Dr. Ram Neta sat down with The Daily Ant to discuss ants, rationality, and more – Enjoy!


RamNetaDr. Ram Neta is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He specializes in epistemology and rationality, and has published many manuscripts on these subjects. For another YouTube video featuring Dr. Neta and rationality, click here.

Splendid Seeds of Seed-Harvesting Ants

Many research programs in biology neglect natural history. While investigating sophisticated hypotheses and theories, even very basic information about study organisms remains unknown. This is why a recent paper by Dr. Walter Tschinkel and Daniel Domínguez is so exciting. These researchers, as reported in PLOS ONE last week, photographed and identified most of the seeds collected by the seed-harvesting ant species Pogonomyrmex badius. Their results are a work of art. Below are a few of the beautiful images from their paper (click one to scroll through the slideshow). These represent merely a small subset of the entire diversity shown in the study, so you should definitely check out the rest.

Philosophy Phriday: The Hypocrantic Oath

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 second contribution in the series, submitted by Larisa Svirsky. It is inspired by Aesop’s fable, The Philosopher, the Ants, and Mercury.


The Hypocrantic Oath

A philosopher sees a ship wreck
and he says, “Oh, God damnit to heck!”
While cursing his God
some ants solemnly plod
by the thinker, who sits on the deck.

When the ants surround this dear fellow
he lets out a powerful bellow.
One ant stings, and he kills,
admires his own skills.
God says, “Okay, murderer, mellow!”

The philosopher looks up confused
when he hears that his God is bemused.
The thinker says, “God,
don’t you think that it’s odd
that men die on your watch?”, unamused.

God says, “Look what you’ve done to those ants,
who did nothing but crawl on your pants!”
The thinker backs down
though he says with a frown
that this won’t be the last of his rants.


larisaLarisa Svirsky is a PhD candidate in the philosophy department at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Her dissertation is on marginal agents and moral responsibility. She is also known for her penchant for crafting remarkable philosophical limericks.