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Ants At Work

Ants At Work

How An Insect Society Is Organized

A scientific tour de force, Deborah Gordon's Ants at Work takes us to the amazing world of an ant society and reveals a new and original understanding of how these tiny animals get the work of the colony done. Gordon's surprising and deceptively simple message that the queen is not in charge represents a fundamental shift in modern biology. It is no less than a revolution in our thinking on the mystery of natural organization.

Based on the author's seventeen years of research on harvester ants in the Arizona desert, Ants at Work overturns all standard ideas of insect society hierarchy. Gordon shows that an ant colony operates without any central control and that no ant has power over another. Yet the ant colony, harmoniously performs extremely complex tasks; including nest building, navigation, foraging, food storage, tending the young, garbage collection, and on occasion, even war. She shows that there are no territorial borders in the way we understand them because ants are always ready to change. Ants also switch from one task to another, which undermines the standard view that insect societies are run on a caste system. Gordon explores how ants use simple, local information to make the decisions that generate the complex behavior of colonies. New colonies are born, struggle to occupy a foraging area, grow larger, start to reproduce, and then settle in among their lifelong neighbors.

Superb drawings of ants and maps directly from Gordon's field notes enrich the experience of reading this breakthrough work. In these maps we discover what ants do when a neighboring colony disappears behind an enclosure and what they do when their neighbors suddenly reappear. We see where different tasks of ant daily life are performed. Through Gordon's wry sense of humor and lucid voice, we experience the delights and frustrations of spending blistering days in the desert between the Chiricahua and Peloncillo mountains of Arizona, pursuing the mystery of the fascinating behavior of Pogonomyrmex.

By focusing on chaotic patterns of behavior instead of searching for fixed universal laws, Gordon signals the future of scientific investigation. She boldly contends that ant communication is a model of how brains, immune systems, and the natural world as a whole organize themselves. Her discoveries have profound implications for anyone who is interested in how organizations work, from biologists and physicists to business leaders and pioneers of cyberspace. Ants at Work brings to the natural world the insights of a new era in the science of life.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 192 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451665703 | 
  • August 2011
List Price $13.99
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: The rhythms of the landscape

Red ant or ant of red abdomen

It is somewhat average in size, a little firm, a little hard, ruddy. It has a heap of sand, a mound of sand, a hill. It sweeps, makes itself sand heaps, makes wide roads, makes itself a home. It is the worst one to bite, if it bites the foot [the effect] extends to the groin; if it bites the hand, it extends to the armpit; it swells.

The Florentine Codex: Fray Bernardino de Sahagun,

General History of the Things of New Spain, 1590.

[Translation of Aztec description of the red harvester ant.]

25 acres

I... see more

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