Cooperative predators, army ants in unison can attack stoutly defended social insect colonies and can hunt down and devour insects much larger than themselves. Yet from folktales to fieldnotes, the image of army ants has too often magnified their aggression and ignored their magnificent capacity for social cooperation. In the words of one terrified explorer, "They seem to understand and act upon the tactics of Napoleon... The mouse, or dog, or leopard, or deer, is overwhelmed, killed, eaten, and the bare skeleton only remains."
A veteran of thirty years of research on army ants in Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Mexico, and Trinidad, William H. Gotwald, Jr., offers the first comprehensive account of their behavioral ecology and evolution. The definitive work on army ants around the world, this richly illustrated book is as engaging as it is thorough.
The author introduces us to a sophisiticated society of highly specialized worker ants; menacing looking - but harmless - flying males; and a queen whose shape is so unusual that even entomologists may have trouble recognizing her as an ant. Although renowned for their mass migrations in long, orderly columns, few army ant species actually forage of emigrate on the surface. Most live underground, but what is now known about them suggests that they play a significant role in tropical ecosystems.
Gotwald describes the adaptive syndrome through which army ants have flourished, and he details their classification and distribution. Defining all specialized terminology, he examines army ant evolution, morphology, and ontogeny. He pays considerable attention to the symbionts and predators who live in community with army ants, as well as the economic impact of army ants and their role in maintaining species diversity. His vivid observations on their communication, mating behavior, foraging, and emigration create an unforgettable portrait of nature's quintessential social predators.
William H. Gotwalrd, Jr., is Professor of Biology at Utica College of Syracuse University.