Review of ‘The Wonderful Wisdom of Ants’
My neighbour Sam was the only person who could possibly review a book about ants for me (see her bio at end of post). ‘The Wonderful Wisdom of Ants’ is currently one of my favourite picture books – Philip Bunting just goes from strength to strength doesn’t he? Thank you Sam for your review, you can see all Sam’s Science based reviews by searching her name or clicking on her category tag.
Title: ‘The Wonderful Wisdom of Ants’
Reviewer: Dr Sam Lloyd
Author/Illustrator: Philip Bunting
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Age Range: 3 – 10
Themes: Ant ecology, diet, behaviour, habitat, reproduction, specialist adaptations and “wisdom”.
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‘The Wonderful Wisdom of Ants’
by Philip Bunting
Before I start this book review I need to make an unapologetic declaration of bias…I love ants, they are definitely in my top five insect groups (maybe top three) – they are clever, organised and contribute to the functioning of our natural environment in far more ways than they receive credit for.
‘The Wonderful Wisdom of Ants’ is an engaging, accessible and funny book for small (and not so small) people on ant ecology and what we can learn from ants and the way they function. The book is informative and full of excellent illustrations that kids love.
The content is factually correct (without being overwhelming), covers a suite of important ant facts, including how a new colony begins, reproduction, foraging and the use of pheromones for communication. My favourite part is the section on the roles of the queen and other “castes” within the colony. Ants are definitely of the matriarchal variety, with the Queen ruling the colony, the female soldiers and workers doing all the work and male drones doing approximately nothing, except mating with the “queen-in-waiting” to form a new colony…and then dropping dead – my kids thought this was hilarious.
Whilst the book nicely covers many of the most important ecological aspects of ants, it also articulates for us some of the “values” of ants – clearly, not a value in the way we may teach our children to be kind or thoughtful – but, rather innate values, which ensure a colony (and ultimately species) survive and flourish.
These “values” include teamwork (e.g. building “ant” bridges and rafts), recycling (e.g. helping to break down waste and plant material, which improves soil function) and looking after family (i.e. caring for ant larvae so they safely develop into pupae and adult ants). Ultimately, the author has used ants to illustrate to us these essential values, which if we were to implement more effectively as a society, would better enable us to sustain our natural world.
So, whilst ants can sometimes be an inconvenience or a pest (i.e. in our homes and playgrounds) – it is also worthwhile remembering all the amazing features and services provided to us by those quiet little creatures that most of the time we never see.
NB: Introduced invasive pest ant species are a huge environmental, agricultural and social issue and below I address one of these species, the Red Imported Fire Ant.
Photos and Links
- Speaking of ant nerds (technically known as a myrmecologist), our friend Dr Alex Wild has an amazing collection of ant photos that you can view here.
- Here is a photo of some very cool leafcutter ants (Acromyrmex sp. or Atta sp.) taken in the Amazonian jungle in north-east Ecuador. These ants are endemic to South and Central America, parts of southern USA and Mexico. There are 39 known species of leafcutter ants and they use the leaves to “farm” underground gardens of fungus that grow on chewed leaves. The ants then feed on the various parts of the fungus that grows from the leaves!
- In researching this review, I came across this fantastic story by BBC, which is on the most “notorious” ant species
A note about the Red Imported Fire Ant:
If you live in south east Queensland (and beyond) you will most likely know about the invasive Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta).
Both my husband (#antnerd) and I worked as entomologists on the Red Imported Fire Ant programs in Brisbane and New Zealand. In doing so you rapidly begin to understand the havoc and danger invasive ant species pose. NB: The Australian Government defines an invasive species as “…a species occurring, as a result of human activities, beyond its accepted normal distribution and which threatens valued environmental, agricultural or other social resources by the damage it causes.”
The Red imported Fire Ant was first detected west of Brisbane in 2001 (and traced back to the Port of Brisbane). The Qld Government was quick to act, with the Fire Ant Control Centre being established and an extensive science, treatment, surveillance and awareness program initiated.
Early on, there was a lot of communication around the success of the program and eradicating the highly invasive pest species. In fact, in early 2006, a former Director was quoted as saying that widespread fire ant treatment was “almost over for Brisbane” and added “…[It’s] my last hurrah, my gift for Queensland” (Source: Courier Mail, see below). Unfortunately, that was not to be, and more recently the program has been criticised for not keeping pace with reported nest sightings or the spread of the species (Source: ABC News, see below).
In 2017, a national taskforce was established, with a $410 million budget and a 10-year plan to eradicate the pest species. Current treatment includes baiting that relies on “worker” ants taking the bait back to the nest and feeding it to the queen, which leaves her sterile (and thus the colony subsequently dies). Nests can also be treated directly with insecticide. Only time will tell how successful this effort will be.
As the name implies, the sting from a fire ant can be very painful and may cause a potentially dangerous (and sometimes fatal) anaphylactic reaction in some people. For this reason, children are particularly vulnerable, especially in new estates where the movement of soil may inadvertently introduce fire ants into an area.
Fire ants are also of particularly great risk to our highly valuable agricultural and grazing land throughout the region, native fauna and our landscape in general (fire ants can kill small calves and small ground dwelling native animals). The story of the yet defeated fire ant is a perfect illustration of the invaluable role of our biosecurity programs and the importance of adhering to restrictions and guidelines around what we can bring into Australia.
Resources & Further Reading:
- The best website to learn how to identify a fire ant, fire ant nest and/or report a sighting is here
Dr Samantha Lloyd is an ecologist and environmental manager with a passion for the Australian bush, children’s literature, dance, music and baking.
Having graduated from the University of Wollongong with a Bachelor of Science (Biology), 1st Class Honours in 1998 and a PhD (pollination ecology) in 2006, Sam has worked as an environmental manager for the SEQ regional NRM body; as an entomologist for the Australian and New Zealand Fire Ant Control Programs; and as Coordinator of the Moreton Bay Oil Spill Environmental Restoration Program.
Sam’s long-standing daytime gig is as Manager of the South East Queensland Fire and Biodiversity Consortium, with bushfire ecology and awareness being another of her passions.