I have often observed, like others, the similarities between ant colonies and human colonies. We both have huge populations or swarms concentrated in relatively small spaces coined “mega” cities. If we look at a human mega city from high above we can observe ourselves swarming along sidewalks and our automobiles swarming in organized street channels.
Our numbers dominate the realm of the big species and the ants dominate the world of the little species. But ants are winning the population race as they out number us one million to one and equal the weight of the entire human race measured by pounds. Large ant populations have also been in existence for a much longer time span (millions of years) than our current modern mega populations. In an effort to learn more about ants and examine more similarities or differences, I found that there is an intelligent man that has looked into this subject with some depth. Below is a short piece I found interesting and a link to an interview he conducted on public talk radio. He provides some tasty morsels for thought. What can we learn from ants to sustain or keep growing our population? I assume that is our goal as opposed to something more significant.
EDWARD O. WILSON: Social existence has paid off in a very big way in evolution. Ants and other social insects are, by a long margin, the most social small animals, and they’re also the most abundant. And of course, human beings are, by a wide margin, the most social big animals of any kind.
The question I guess I’m most often asked is, what are the similarities between ants and human beings, particularly in their social behavior? And my answer has to be, not many at all. But there are some very important differences, and then you look at those closely, then you do illuminate the human condition somewhat. I guess that the real difference lies in reproductive rights and expectations. Essentially, a worker ant or a bee, wasp, termite, doesn’t have any. They are bound to the colony in the way that makes them meaningful only as members of the colony. They are little robots, programmed to do work for the colony to survive.
The exact opposite is the case with human beings. We join societies and we work to make them succeed—primarily for ourselves. We’ve learned how to cooperate to an extreme degree. We are capable of altruism. We do it by the unique genius of human behavior, which is the ability to form long-term binding social contracts. But in doing it, in building up a society that is so enormously successful, we have entered into an eternal paradox, a tension between individuality and self-serving, on the one side, and the needs of the society on the other, that makes individual success guaranteed. And that is, I’m afraid, inherent in the human condition. We will always suffer that tension and walk the fine line.
The question inevitably comes to mind, that is these inherent weaknesses in human society ever prove fatal, and if we ruined the planet for ourselves and disappeared, how would our own extinction affect the world we left behind? I believe that ants and other social insects would hold on somewhere, and life would pretty much come back to what it was before we arrived on the scene. Then, the ecosystems would return to a balance, and the ants and the other social insects would be right there with them, filling the environment as before, and going on as before, probably for tens of millions of years into the future.