Are Ants Intelligent?

Are Ants Intelligent?
Are Ants Intelligent?

Intelligent Ants

Is it possible that ants are intelligent? The idea may seem preposterous to some - after all, how can something so small, with the brain the size of a pin head be smart? The very thought of bugs and insects being intelligent seems like an insult to us humans. After all, aren't we the dominant species. The only species that builds cities, uses tools, farms, and demonstrates the capacity to plan and think?

But if we look closer, we can see that ants exhibit many of the characteristics and behaviours that we associate with intelligence and civilization. In fact, if ants did not exist on Earth but we encountered them on, for example, Mars I am sure that we would wonder if we had encountered an intelligent alien race that builds cities, farms, raises animals, and organizes itself into a complex society complete with social ranks such as nobles, soldiers, workers and slaves. I am sure that we would conclude that these aliens were in fact intelligent.

So let's explore the alien world of ants right here on Earth and see whether they are intelligent or not.

The Ant City - Fungus Gardens and Urban Planning

Ants Build Cities

I know what you are thinking, ant hills aren't cities. They're, well, ant hills. But did you know that large ant hills contain complex ventilation systems that remove carbon dioxide and bring in fresh air, or that they have the equivalent of hundreds of miles of sewers that drain the ant waste into special chambers were the waste is recycled? Did you know that ant cities have an incredibly complex transportation system including highways? Or that each ant city can hold millions of ants.

Sounds incredible, and for the most part it is difficult to imagine the engineering marvel which is an ant city because most of it is underground. In fact, if we were the size of an ant, most of an ant city would be the equivalent of three miles underground.

The video to the right shows what scientists discovered when they filled an ant city with cement and then dug the resulting cast out of the ground. They were able to see for the first time what an ant city looks like and explore the complex series of chambers, roads and ventilation shafts that allows millions of ants to live underground. The video is amazing and is well worth watching from beginning to end.

Farming Ants

Ants Farm and Cultivate Mushrooms

Ants are the only animal besides humans that farms food. All other creatures hunt or harvest their food where they find it and are dependent on the whims of nature, and climate for their survival. For example, wolves are smart, and they will exhibit cooperation and skill in hunting for food. But wolves do not capture deer and breed them. Deer will forage for grasses and other food, but of course they have no thought of sowing grass seeds to ensure a plentiful supply of foraging crops. In fact, not one animal besides man and ants has ever thought to keep their prey in captivity or to farm plants in order to feed themselves in the future. Even intelligent animals like wolves lack the foresight to plan beyond meeting their immediate needs.

Ants, like humans, farm plants and raise cattle. Sounds preposterous. It's true.

There are species of ants that collect leaves and take them to specially constructed chambers within their colonies where they grow fungus on the decomposing leaves. The fungus is then eaten by the ants.

The growing of the fungus requires a great deal of planning and forethought: an appropriate chamber must be constructed, the right leaves must be collected, waste must be removed so as not to choke the growing fungus beds, and the leaves must be seeded with the fungus spores. The spores do no grow naturally in throughout the ant colony; the ants must collect the spores and bring them to the leaves.

Fungus farming is an example of intelligence and creativity. Other animals and insects would recognize the food value of fungus growing on leaves if they came across it in the wild. But no other animal or insect, besides humans, would understand that by contaminating a new leaf with the fungus spore, it will result in more food later. This shows intelligence, understanding and the ability to think ahead.

The fact that ants farm is an achievement that sets them apart from the rest of the animal and insect kingdoms. What is even more amazing is that ants have been doing this for millions of years. Humans did not learn to farm until around 5 or 6,000 years ago. Prior to that, humans behaved as hunter gatherers just like the rest of the animal kingdom.

Ants Farm Other Insects

But ants don't just farm, they raise and keep other insects for food, just like humans raise cattle. Many species of ants will domesticate aphids and act like shepherds by taking the aphids to feed on plants, while protecting them from other insect predators. The ants will then "milk" the aphids by squeezing their abdomens and causing some digested plant juice to be released into the mouths of the ants which will then share this nutritious fluid with the rest of the colony.

The ants behaviour in keeping ants closely parallels that of human shepherds and cattle breeders: ants will take the aphids to different pastures, they will guard them against predators, and they will harvest them.

The ants' behaviour in this regard is markedly different from that of other animals or insects. Even though wolves display intelligence similar to that of dogs, they lack the foresight to control their instincts and avoid killing their prey in order to get more food in the long run. If a wolf gets his teeth on a rabbit, or a deer, it will kill it and eat it on the spot. No wolf would ever capture the animal, tend to its needs, protect it from other predators and then take food from it without killing it (for example milking a cow) in order to reuse this food resource.

The only animals that do this are humans and ants. And once again ants beat us to it: they have been farming aphids for millions of years. Humans discovered animal husbandry about 6,000 years ago.

Ant Wars

Ants Wage War

Ants are the only animal besides humans which wage war in organized batallions, against other organized opponents. Like humans, ants wage war to capture territory and food resources from other ant colonies. Sometimes ant wars lead to the total defeat of an opponent and the survivors are captured and held as slaves.

Of course, war in itself may not be a great example of intelligence. But the organization, planning and coordination required to wage war is the product of intelligence.

In contrast to the war waging behaviour of many ant colonies, some ant species settle their difference in single combat between champions chosen by each colony. Bert Holldobler, in an article entitled Tournaments and Slavery in a Desert Ant, noted that a species of desert ant conducts tournaments "in which hundreds of ants perform highly stereotyped displayfights". The losing ant colony is then enslaved.

Ant battle outside the Amherst Historical Society

Ants Capture Slaves

Ant wars will often result in the defeated survivors being kept as slaves by the victorious ant colony. They are incorporated into the new colony and made to work for the victors.

We must not equate ant slavery with the human experience. Obviously human slavery is morally reprehensible and wrong from a political, moral and economic perspective. Still, the taking of prisoners and using them as slaves is a behaviour that is both complex and unique to ants and humans.

When other animals defeat a foe, they either kill it or allow it to retreat. For example, if two male mountain goats fight over a female, they will ram their horns against each other until one either dies or retreats. If the loser retreats, the winner will win right to mate with the female goat. No animal would then make the loser his slave.

Ants, on the other hand, have figured out that defeated enemies can be useful. They can be spared and put to work for the good of the colony.

The ants' behaviour in capturing and enslaving other ants shows an understanding of 1) deferred benefit (it is better to use the slave ants for future work than to eat them now) and 2) organization (slave ants must be supervised and put to work on assigned tasks).

Ants Teach and Communicate

A recent study has demonstrated that ants can pass on knowledge from one ant to another and teach other ants how to find food.

Ants have been observed to use a teaching technique called "tandem running" in which an ant that knows where to find food, will lead a new ant to the spot. The teacher ant will slow his pace to allow the student ant; if the student ant falls behind.

The teacher ant's behaviour does not provide a benefit to the teacher. If the teacher were not leading the student ant, it could locate and collect the food about four times faster. But by taking time to lead a novice ant to a food source, it allows other ants to locate the food faster than they would have discovered it on their own. As a result, the entire ant nest benefits.

Scientists believe that this ant behaviour represents "the first time a demonstration of formal teaching has been recognised in any non-human animal". Once again, humans and ants have something in common.

Ants Cooperate and Exhibit Teamwork

Ants are tiny, but they can cooperate to an amazing degree. Their cooperation exhibits purpose, planning, and command and control. Below are some amazing videos of ants moving large objects, and other ants cutting down a tree.

Their behaviour parallels that of humans. Imagine an ancient workforce of Egyptian labourers building the pyramids by moving giant limestone blocks, and you will have a good comparison to the amazing ants.

Ant Teamwork

Ant Intelligence


Ants are the most successful species on earth. They have survived and thrived for millions of years; they have conquered and colonized every continent and environment except Antarctica. Ants can be found in burning deserts, in jungles, and in cities. Ants exhibit many behaviours consistent with intelligence and civilization: they build cities, farm, communicate, and accomplish tasks through collective, highly organized goal-driven behaviour. If ants were apes, or some other hominid, we would doubtlessly recognize them as intelligent.

When it comes to ants, however, most people overlook these hallmarks of intelligence and attribute these bahaviours to blind instinct. They are just bugs, after all. They are creepy, crawly things. And they have tiny brains. Could they possibly be intelligent?

Ants are the Tiny Farmers

Ants don't just grow mushrooms and fungi within the depths of their underground realms, they shape and cultivate above grownd vegetation by selecting plants that they favor and destroying plants that compete with the ones they want to grow, in the same way that a human gardener would plant seeds and then take out any weeds that compete with their plants.

This leads to a phenomena known as the Devil's Garden or the Devil's clearing which are patches within the South American forest, where only a few trees of a certain type grow. Everything else - all other forms of trees, shrubs and even grass does not grow there. The reason? Millions of ants continuously destroy any plant which competes with a certain hollow stemmed tree. The ants favor the hollow tree because it gives them shelter and allows them to travel within its branches protected from bird predators.

Some might say that this is simply an example of blind evolution, that ants have simply been programmed genetically to kill any tree or plant except the hollow tree. They would argue that over millions of years, natural selection favored these ants who live in hollow trees and take care of their trees. The ants have no knowledge or why or what they do.

This argument presupposes that ants cannot think and therefore their actions, even though they achieve a defined and complex purpose, are simply the result of inborn instinct, of mindless chemical reactions. But what if we abandon our prejudice against the very concept of an intelligent insect and focus instead on the activity? How is it any different in essence from the actions of a human farmer who plants wheat in his field (a clearing so to speak) and who then spends time, energy and money on killing off all competing plants and weeds in order to ensure a good harvest. If we look at it that way, must we not concede that they are doing what we do?

If we came across a species of ape that did this, we would have no difficulty in accepting that their pre-human intelligence had allowed them to figure out the basics of agriculture. But when we see the same behavior and skill in an ant, we recoil at the idea that these tiny creatures - whether individiually or as a form of collective hive mind - may have not only intelligence, but the indications of a civilization.

Comments 71 comments

G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 8 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

Yes they are..I had an anthill 3-4 feet high..they only ate bugs and kept my yard bug free...but I was afraid the children I was in care of might get hurt if they fell into the ant hill...I mean they do bite.  any way all creatures were placed here on earth for a purpose...even ants.  and we shouldn't doubt be gentle and kind to them and everyone you come in contact with...God Bless  G-Ma :o) hugs  HAPPY EASTER

John Chancellor profile image

John Chancellor 8 years ago from Tennessee

Stephen Joyce wrote a highly informative book, Teaching an Anithill to Fetch.  He makes some of the same points that you do. That in fact in some respects ants exhibit more intelligence than humans.  Not that they do brillant things but that the work together brillantly.  They are great collaborators.  While humans let their creative intelligence keep them competing rather that collaborating.

We can/should all take a lesson from ants.  If we wish to accomplish more, then we would be well advised to collagorate more.

John Stein 8 years ago

to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn. These are some words that humans could use to describe intelligence. Ants are able to make at least simple plans based on the fact that they can find food, tell others and secure food in an organized fashion. They can solve problems based on the fact that if there is something blocking their path, they eventually find a way around it. They communicate with the use of chemicals. You have already stated they can teach each other how to work. Can they reason? If tht means to understand that you are hungry and need food or the colony needs to move to a better position, then yes. If that means weather they think about weather or not fighting other colonies to get food or territory is "moral or not", perhaps no. That would also corespond with thinking abstractly.

Because of the fact that a lot of ants spend most of their time underground, and there fore can not see well, the only way to protect themselves is by distinguishing between enemy and foe through sent. This means they would naturally not be able to communicate with other colonies, or it would be harder to do so if they wanted to. Ants also lack opposable thumbs, so they can not as easily mold the environment as we can, which would show their intelligence. However, because of the amount of weight they can lift, they are able to mold their environment.

If intelligence is also dependant on morals, than it may seem like we are and they are not. But we don't know what they communicate and how indepth it is or how fast they do it. Further more, the only reason humans developed morals was because of the fact that we eventually became too efficient at killing each other and because we could not stand independantly and defend ourselves from the environment, we had to start becoming more "moral" towards each other or become extinct and we had the brain capacity to do it. This leads into the fact that every species on earth evolves and is as intelligent as it needs to be to suit its needs. Humans, being so weak, developed brain power to compensate that fact. Elephants, being so large and strong stayed relatively unintelligent because there was no need. The people of Africa who were brought over to the US as slaves had no reason to develop so much technology because they had plenty of room and did not need to leave, it was not because they were inferior. So with ants, because they are strong enough to get food, make a home and are fertile enough to replace their losses, they do not need to become any more intelligent than they were when they first apeared.

If intelligence is dependant on feelings, than ants would be intelligent because pain is just a negative reaction to a harful situation that a being escapes from in order to live. Fear is a feeling one must get before pain in order to avoid death. Both of these are nessecary for a species to survive. Love is the bond between one and another, especially child of a social species (and some non social) that is nessecary for the more powerful to protect new life and to ensure their child, which is their purpose, survives or when a creature in a society has to protect another because of the instinct of communal relationship that brought them together in the first place (shown when ants or bees put their lives on the line before alowing an invader to attack). Love is also a feeling made up by humans to describe the feeling of meeting their match. This can be explained by the nessecary function of reproduction and the fact that people, because genetic defects can occur when multiplying with many people, must only find one person, so it becomes a random choice from society. No one knows why two people find each other, but in ant society,because of the fact that the male lives for such a short time, they are probbaly very aggressive and get anyone they can. Which does not allow for "love". Most ants, due to the fact that they are female would not love each other which explains their effectiveness (one less feeling). Sadness is a feeling that most mammals have because we must be connected in society, because we are stronger together. We don't know if ants feel sad when they lose a comrade, but they certainly do something with the dead bodies they carry somewhere.

When you say we should work together instead of fight and that we should look at the ants you can also look at the fact that ants fight each other of different colonies, yet it is in their intrest to work together. like i said, it is very hard for them to communicate, but the overriding factor is that they do not need to change and we chage to fast for them to adapt. The same goes for humans, we have no IMMEDIATE reason to change and it is hard to see into the future, especially when our leaders are not making the effort. The only way we will change is when we face immediate extinction, but because it could be an unatural extinction we all might die.

In any case, there is no reason why you should hurt an ant, just for being different. Intelligent or not, logically, they must have certain feelings such as pain and fear. And if that is true, than killing an ant is no different than killing a human, you just won't hear pleading to stop or begging, so it is like killing a mute baby. Accedents happen, killing one or two ants by stepping on them because you cant see them is not that bad and the colony is not going to stop working, but i can not agree with steppng on ants just because they are smaller. I actually think they are cute, seriously. And if you belive in God, i do not understand how you could kill another living being other than when it is for food. Wouldn't he be mad?

John Stein 8 years ago

Oh Yeah, one more thing, they are not bugs despite what society says. According to a book on insects, a bug is "an insect with front wings that are thick and tough at the base, yet delicate and see-through twoard the tips". That is the reason why some insects have the word bug in their name. Although I think a cicada might be a true bug. Don't try arguing with anyone about it though, they probably won't listen. Just like if you stated ants felt love because they have an unexplainable need to protect each other. Thanks for listening and I hope i contributed to your argument. It's about time someone stood up for arthropods, the backbone of planet Earth.

quotations profile image

quotations 8 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks everyone for your comments. As you can probably tell from my article I have always been fascinated by ants and their society. I think that we truly underestimate their intelligence. Obviously they have limitations - ants do not make tools, and cannot make fire, etc, but to ignore signs of ants' intelligence says a lot about our species chauvenism and how we treat our natural world.

Jason I agree that we should not harm ants, whether they are intelligent or not. People are brought up to treat insects with contempt and squish them because they are smaller, but I think that this is wrong on so many levels. I always try not to step on ants, even accidentally.

ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

I never viewed ants in this way. Pretty interesting stuff you have here. Thanks for all the information. :-)

Susan Ng profile image

Susan Ng 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

After reading this, I now believe that ants are more intelligent than some people. Haha! :D

RFox profile image

RFox 8 years ago

This is a fascinating article! Thumbs up.

John Stein  8 years ago

I am surprised at all the positive feed back. I was sure someone was going to say something rude about the topic of this article. Not that I am complaining.

bluerabbit profile image

bluerabbit 8 years ago

Ants are fantastic. Thanks for the great article!

Daniel Gibbs 8 years ago

This is amazing!! maby its time we humans take a page out the ants book!! talk about sustainable living !!! instead of steamrolling rainforest we could make much better use of recycling and things.

quotations profile image

quotations 8 years ago from Canada Author

I agree Daniel. Our arrogance towards the natural world often keeps us from seeing the wonders around us, so we destroy them.

Closet Elephant 7 years ago

This is profoundly irritating.

Your arguments, and the general observations of the previous posters, suggest that the behaviour of an ant society as a collective is representative of their capabilities as individuals. This is demonstrably untrue. Ant actions do not arise as a result of planning, experience, or an ability to make value judgements. It is merely the result of a number of attenuated, delicately specialised, instinctual traits, which, when present within an entire species result in an impressive facility for cooperation.

I have a great fondness for ants; they are, after humans, perhaps my favourite species on this planet. They exhibit a stunningly elegant social system, but let's not pretend for a second that this makes an ant "intelligent". At best, an ant can be considered a neural path within the colony's brain. That doesn't stop ants being stupid.

quotations profile image

quotations 7 years ago from Canada Author

Closet Elephant, I respect your opinion but I think it is unnecessary to find that individual ants are intelligent to conclude that ant colonies collectively are intelligent. The fact is that their behaviours result in exactly the things which we find to be the hallmarks of civilization: city building, engineering, farming, animal husbandry. I think our species prejudice prevents us from acknowledging that what we see is the product of intelligence.

However I disagree that ant behaviour is due simply to pre-programmed traits. After all, ants show remarkable adaptability to new situations. Even as individuals separated from their colony they are able to get around obstacles, forage for food, and problem solve (for example find the best route to a destination) which indicates that they are aware of their environment and process information to solve problems.

This summer I had a problem with ants getting into my kitchen. I was reluctant to kill them so I would capture them and but them in a jar with a lid until I had collected a few of them and then I would take them out into the garden and release them. At first the ants would sit at the bottom of the jar or randomly explore the sides of the jar looking for a way out. But very quickly the ants that had been caught earlier learned that I opened the lid, to throw more ants in. They then started waiting near the top of the lid and when I would open the lid to throw another ant in, the rest would jump out. They had also figured out that they should take up positions at different sides of the jar opening and when they escaped they all scattered in different directions. You can call it instinct, but the fact is that ants have no historical genetically programmed behaviour pattern designed to help them escape from a human holding them captive in a glass jar.

It's also interesting that even though the jar was transparent they were not fooled in thinking that the clear sides held the key to escape but instead understood that the lid, which is opaque and offers no apparent escape route was in fact the way out.

Also interesting was the fact that as new ants were added, they did not explore the jar, but rather joined the others in waiting by the mouth of the jar. This implies that the new ants were learning from the prisoners who had been there longer.

Math guy 7 years ago

Saying ants are intelligent is a stretch. Individual ants are "stupid" they have very little thought capability and limited memory. Saying everything is instinctual is not correct either, the instinct is not that extensive. What makes ants collectively intelligent is the way they interact. This is called emergent behavior and/or complexity behavior. It's amazing what such a group of simple organisms can accomplish, but at no point is there what we would term "intelligence" even if the effect is strikingly similar.

Nikov 7 years ago

Not really, Math Guy, because what are we, humans, but a large group of individual organisms that push towards a common purpose? The effect of that is the same thing as what these ants create, a complex system with a complex outcome. Without the rest of the group, the ants would be nothing, but without the rest of our organs, tissues, or cells we would also be nothing. And one person alone could indeed be driven to insanity due to no interaction with other humans, rendering themselves as useless as a single ant. Sure the opposite's true but that just makes good documentaries.

ben 7 years ago

What ants can do is incredibly impressive and reading this article, ants are crazy.

However there are a few things that us humans have that I'm differentiates us from ants. Such as abstract and artistic thought, morals, the ability to use tools created for a specific purpose, and the ability to make love for the hell of it.

Joe Entomologist 7 years ago

No, they're not.

Vash 7 years ago

Actually, it really is emergent bahavior. A human that goes away from civilization can still reason, think abstractly. An ant cannot, it never could. It's various achievements come from very simple rules, that spread out among a million ants, form complex systems.

These ants aren't amazing, evolution is.

Math guy 7 years ago

An individual human and an individual ant are very different in intelligence, as Vash pointed out. Comparing a single human to an ant colony is a more interesting line of thought. To some degree, a human is just a bunch of pieces each doing some small function. The difference is that in humans, this gives rise to thought. An ant colony does not "think": it does not analyse, it does not remember, It has no sense of self.

(If anyone has read Prey by Michael Crighton, this is discussed brilliantly there)

faladen 7 years ago

ants aren't the only animals aside from humans that wage wars, chimpanzees have been documented to wage war on other groups of chimpanzees, they will form hunting groups and attack anythin including other chimpanzees that intrude on their territory, they also have organized raiding parties they use to expand their territory. it is more like gang warfare, but it is still warfare.

betherickson profile image

betherickson 7 years ago from Minnesota

You have a nice article here. Ants are actually intelligent in my own understanding. Nice work! Thumbs up!

Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 7 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

Incredible story, Quotations. I've been fascinated, and impressed, with ants all of my life. Every nature or science show about ants has everyone in the room captivated and going "wow." I watch them every time they're on.

Are ants intelligent? Absolutely!

Iskaral 7 years ago

I never realised how awesome ants really were, but in regards to your belief that the ants were able to tell the difference between the opaque escape route and the transparent glass walls, apparantly ants see primarily in the UV spectrum, which would mean that from their perspective, the glass (which absorbs UV light) would be opaque and the lid would be more transparent.

Witchdocter69 7 years ago

Awesome article! Thanks for all the information. I wonder if ants are aware of human existence? I know... it seems to be a bit of a stretch but who knows. Somewhere there is probably a race of highly intelligent beings who are reading a similar article about humans. "Are humans intelligent?"

Ms Chievous profile image

Ms Chievous 7 years ago from Wv

Love the ants! I always had an uncle Milton ant afram as as kid!. I think ant colonies are kind on the same premise as the Borg from star trek.. One collective..

good hub!

nancydodds1 profile image

nancydodds1 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

Incredible article! Very interesting.

watcher by night profile image

watcher by night 7 years ago

Very interesting article! I also enjoyed the way in one of your comments you brought your own observations to bear on the subject. Always good to balance your own experience against widely accepted orthodoxies.

There is a short story by H.G. Wells which you might want to take a look at if you've never read it before. In it, there is a species of ant which does develop the capacity to make tools, and which does start a purposeful war on humans. And the story makes it pretty clear we wouldn't stand a chance if that really happens. The story is called "Empire of the Ants" and you can read it online free at this link:

Thanks for the great hub!

Waqar Latif 7 years ago

No doubt Ants are intellegent enough after Human, & also we look around find many other examples of intellegence, as Dog, Dolphine etc. But the matter of fact is, every other species other then Human is the part of nature. They only work for their surviver, don't look for moving forward.

e.g Ants are farming from million years, and man just started 6,000 yrs back, but yet Ant only farm for the fungus, they don't know to crop any other thing. while Man has achieve a level, just because he look for improvement, more & more. & u can see 1000s of other examples, like man started to built houses just 20,000 yrs ago, still man is a way ahead of ants.

In short, "May be ants are more intellegent then Human, but they don't have a free will to go out of nature, and also they don't race"

If got time will continue my comments.. :)

AdamAnt 7 years ago

I think you are making two fatal errors: 1) failing to distingush between the colloquial definition of "intelligence" and the scientific definition of "intelligence" and 2) anthropomorphizing ants. Ants seem "intelligent" because they appear to be doing things that would require a great deal of smarts on the part of humans to pull off, and also because to humans, such collectivity seems like a pretty good thing. However, the behavior exhibited in ants is hard wired. It is not learned through imittion, nor is it based on trial and error or by learning from mistakes. Ant workers come out of fully equipped to do what they need to do for the hive -- not out of devotion, love, work ethic, but because that's what they're made to do, similar to how a computer is made to carry out its many functions.

While computers may do some amazing things, rather than calling the computer "smart" or "clever", credit is generally given to the mechanism that created it (a person or a programmer). Likewise, as someone mentioned earlier, credit in the case of ants can be given to the mechanism of evolution which, through millions of years of behavioral traits being successful or failing, more and more complex behavioral patterns have emergerd, ending up in what you see today.

I would also caution against using your animal husbandry and agriculture analogies. In the case of ants and aphids, it is a symbiotic relationship; the aphids and ants have ended up in a relationship beneficial to one another. This and ants' fungus cultuvation requirs nowhere near the behavioral complexity and species specific knowledge necessary to locate suitable animal and plant species, domesticate them and, through selective breeding, create varieties suitable for human use.

In any case, ants are remarkable, yes, but not intelligent in the sense of possessing "intelligence", but appear to be intelligent due to their behavior which, if mirrored by humans, would take smarts.

quotations profile image

quotations 7 years ago from Canada Author

Thank you AdamAnt for your insightful comments. I am truly greatful for the intelligent and thought provoking debate that this topic has generated.

I would like to address some of the points that you raise.

1. "Ants seem "intelligent" because they appear to be doing things that would require a great deal of smarts on the part of humans to pull off, and also because to humans, such collectivity seems like a pretty good thing. However, the behavior exhibited in ants is hard wired" -- I think that this actually supports my theory. If we accept that we humans are intelligent, I think that we must acknowledge that behaviour in other species that approximates human behaviour and oragnization must be the result of intelligence. The fact that ant behavior may be hard wired is not determinative that these creatures are not intelligent. Also we do not know how much of their behaviour is learned as opposed to being hard wired. For example, we know that ant workers care for the pupae in nurseries, could it be that they pass on knowledge and behaviours through biochemical secretions? If we encountered an alien civilization that was able to pass on acquired behaviours genetically to its offspring would we decide that they were not truly intelligent just based on that criteria? We might be able to if their level of technology was low, so that we might dismiss them as mere animals/creatures. But if this hypothetical race's level of sophistication included metal working, for example, we could not dismiss them as merely animals simply because they had hard wired knowledge. In fact, being hard wired may be an advantage over a species like ours that must learn everything from birth.

2. "Ant workers come out of fully equipped to do what they need to do for the hive -- not out of devotion, love, work ethic" -- in this case I think that you are anthropomorphizing by making making the standard for intelligence all too human. Just because a creature does not share human emotions or values such as love or a work ethic does not make it less intelligent. It is very human-centric of us to assume that our way of being is the only way. For example, can we say that ants are not intelligent because their hives do not distribute food based on a cash or barter system? Obviously not.

3. "credit in the case of ants can be given to the mechanism of evolution" -- I believe in evloution as it pertains to animals and to humans. We humans and our intelligence are both the product of evolution. The fact that ants also are the product of evolution does not make them necessarily unintelligent.

4. "I would also caution against using your animal husbandry and agriculture analogies. In the case of ants and aphids, it is a symbiotic relationship" -- but there is also a symbiotic relationship between man and his food. Wheet and rice would not be such wide spread plants if we humans did not plant and eat them. We benefit from these crops because the entire human race eats them in varying proportions. At the same time, rice and wheat benefit because we plant them, irrigate them, and keep pests and weeds away from them. The relationship is symbiotic. Similarly, many animals we eat have a symbiotic relationship with us. Take cows, for example. There are no wild cows because they could not survive in the wild. Leaving aside for the moment whether it is moral to raise them for food ( I am a vegetarian) the fact is that cows "benefit" collectively from the fact that we eat them. How? If they did not provide humans with food, we humans would not keep away the wolves, provide them with grazing land and barns to shelter in. The relationship may be more in favour of humans, but it is symbiotic nevertheless. So it is not a valid objection to say that ant farming of aphids etc is not evidence of intelligence because there is a symbiotic relationship between the ants and what they eat. Yes there is a symbiotic relationship, but that is true of all animal husbandry and farming. If what humans do is evidence of intelligence, so must ant behaviour. I think that in evaluating ant behaviour, we need to look at the fact that it is very similar to human behaviour and extremely different from all other insect and animal behaviour. The behaviour that they mimic is the same behaviour that is the hallmark of human intelligence: engineering, farming, city building, social organization. If these ant behaviours were so "unintelligent" one would expect them to be widespread in the animal and insect kingdom.

I think the reason we do not recognize intelligence in ants is that they are so nonhuman in appearance. If we found a colony of apes that did any of these things we would conclude that they were intelligent. But because of our human-centric biases we rationalize and come up with reasons to explain away the obvious

Stef 7 years ago

I would love to see the research behind this

Ken 7 years ago

I wouldn't say ants are intelligent individually, but their collective behavior, driven by their instincts, seems (or is) intelligent due to the phenomenon of emergence. Ants don't "think" because they don't have language, as far as we know, and if they don't think, how intelligent can one ant be?

Ants have been farming for millions of years, but humans have only been doing it for 6,000, you say? Well, we humans have robots that can farm for us now, but ants are stuck doing it "by hand". Ants only progress technologically as fast as evolution will permit them, but we humans can use our minds to speed up the process.

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midnightbliss 7 years ago from Hermosa Beach

wow, this is an interesting hub, and the comments too. ants are fascinating little creatures but sometimes they could also be annoying. LOLs

Godwin Berena 7 years ago

Just stumbled on your article. An excellent job! Thumbs up! Your work is a masterpiece and really inspiring. It is beyond question that ants are absolutely intelligent. They stand out for their uniqueness of all other creatures. In fact, they seem to surpass human beings in certain aspects of intelligence. Little wonder the Bible specifically commands us: "Go to the ANTS, you SLUGGARD, consider its ways and be wise!" (Proverbs 6:6).

In my latest book, Ants: More Than Just Insects with "Little Strength" - Wisdom for Purposeful Living, a 160-page book with 13 chapters, you will discover some amazing truth about ants that will convince you that they are more human than insect. Talk about skills and specialisation - the ants have them. And we humans can learn vital lessons on purpose living from these absolutely incredible creatures.

We can learn enterprise, foresight, industry, organisation, productivity, intelligent planning and sustainable development.

If ants are not intelligent, then God would't have asked man to go to the University of Ants for a degree in wisdom. Please kindly request Math Guy and Joe Entomologist to get hold of my latest book in order to consider the truth about the intelligence of ants to corroborate what you have said from another perspective. Best wishes!

 6 years ago

Ken; regarding your "ants don't think because they don't have language" viewpoint, ant's do have a "language" of sorts. Of course language in human terms carries with it connotations towards vocal and literary methods, but it is essentially a form of communication. And ants do have a form of communication, and that is through the use of chemicals, which they use for everything from alarm/warning signals to "signposts" towards a foodsource. So even by your standards ants do definitely "think."

Also, I'm pretty sure that if ants somehow were gifted with tiny little opposable thumbs or some other means of crafting tools, they would have quite possibly outstripped us by now in the technology department, if not only because of their little headstart.

You are confusing intelligence with technology.

Lastly, i think we need to come to a conclusion on whether we are viewing the ant's intelligence as a collective or as individuals. Right now it's like we're debating whether or not a nerve cell's function in the human brain makes it smart. You can't answer that question because it's asking something that can't be legitimately answered. (eg. "smart? are you asking about the brain or the nerve cell?", "what functions are you talking about", and "wait, define smart.")

We're trying to answer an undefined question here, and we're having trouble getting a definite answer here because it's undefined.

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suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

I think I've seen them have funerals. Fun and interesting Hub. Thanks.

Christoph Dollis 6 years ago

Dear author of this post. I put my email address in by mistake. In the URL field.

Can you please do me a huge favour? Can you kindly edit my comment and remove my email address so I don't get spam?

Thank you.

quinn 6 years ago

First of all, ants and humans are not the only creatures that wage organized war as you describe. Chimps do this too.

Secondly, you say something very interesting:

'We must not equate ant slavery with the human experience. Obviously human slavery is morally reprehensible and wrong from a political, moral and economic perspective.'

Why? There is no scientific basis for such an arrogant assumption.

edward 6 years ago

now i think ant are 2nd smartest things.

 6 years ago

Something i discovered yesterday is that ants also gather their dead.

There's a big nest near my house, and the day before yesterday i decided to try using pesticide to stop them from entering my house. So, obviously several of them were killed. By the next day, i passed by to see the nest, and the surviving ants (which were still millions) pilled the dead ones together in little bunches. I dont know why they do this, but i found it impressive that they just gather the bodies of the dead ones and put them together.

I am really amazed of how intelligent and well organized they are.

deeperm 6 years ago

Very interesting article. I always though that ants had something different than other insects. This article proved and elaborated on my point.

Thumbs up!

VivekSri 6 years ago

smart take. appreciate and enjoy sharing this hub. life is made of small wonders!

John 6 years ago

Found through Google after watching ants in my garden.

Ants as colonies seem intelligent. Around the world some colonies of ants have developed new behaviour to hunt larger prey. These new behaviours in colonies are going to continue to develop. They seem to have the capability, as colonies, of developing most behaviours of early humans, even if, individually, worker ants have pre-programmed specialisation.

 6 years ago

Wow. I knew that ants were pretty smart from what I've seen of them when they invade my home, but I never knew they farmed or fought real wars or even raised cattle! Ants are more amazing than ever :D

Josh 6 years ago

Wonderful article, I loved reading about how ants have such an extensive social society that very often goes unnoticed by us Humans. -God Bless

shell 5 years ago

You sound bias. Saying that ants taking slaves isn't the same as humans, because they aren't intelligent enough to know right from wrong, but then saying that they've been more intelligent than us for millions of years.

I really don't give a damn how smart they are. Because if they are so smart, like you say, and they have no morals what-so-ever, then fuck yes they all need to be killed.

Ps. I'm going to destroy some ant hills right now.

Quinn 5 years ago

Oh.. also i'm not sure about chiimps.. but lots of extinct species of animal have had formal teaching such as the Neanderthal and possibly even the Erectus/Ergaster folks too. I think it's also possible dolphins teach one another.

It's fairly clear ants are probably extremely intelligent in an insect sort of way (they don't seem to be symbolic, for example - which is part of what makes us so incredibly special) but comparing them exclusively with humans is selling a lot of animals a little short.

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Papa Sez 5 years ago from The Philippines to Canada

One other thing that was not mentioned yet but are actually more easily seen than most ants that live in the soil are the weaver ants. They cooperate in building nests on trees by weaving leaves together using silk coming from their larvae. Guys, if interested in learning more, just check my new hub and find more info about it. Cheers!

Lauren 5 years ago

I've always known ants were intelligent! Click here to take survey

antsy mccants 5 years ago

uh. hey guys. i'm an ant. yep, we learned how to use the internet and type in english. i just wanted to say thank you to all our fans. we love you!

also. i'd like to say that you humans... you all dont know it but you all think as a single organism too. watch time-lapsed video of your community sometimes and you'll see what i mean.

anyway, i'm out. i'm late for work.


-antsy mccants

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honeybee2u 4 years ago from PNG

What an excellent hub. Yes, these tiny creatures are so amazing. I shared your hub link on one of my hubs

Stevos 3 years ago

Wow. What a great article and discussion. Amazing. I found it from a Bing search from a question I entered: Do ants think? I just read every comment too. As has been discussed here, maybe the more descriptive question is: Do individual ants think? I've always been interested in the little critters. I have several colonies of different species of them on my grounds, from tiny black ants (maybe 1/16th of an inch long at most), to a small red ant colony, to a full size (1/2" maybe) black ant colony that is huge with four or five entrances to what I think is the same colony. I'm in the desert in the heat and the black ants mostly stay in during the day. At night, the black ant colony is out in force in the thousands, in about 1/4 of my yard. Only a few of those ants seem to stray more than 50 feet from the colony entrances. A very few of them do venture farther out exploring parts of the rest of my grounds.

I wonder: What are those individual ants doing that far away from the colony, and are they thinking? Out of thousands (tens of thousands?) of ants in a colony, wouldn't it make sense that some individuals are smarter than the rest? Maybe some individuals are genuinely curious as to "what's out there further from the colony?" Also, just like humans, (like me a bit) maybe a few individuals think that living in that crowded ant city is a bummer and they like the wide open spaces where they could live not being "bugged" by all those other ants, at least for part of the day. Out of millions of creatures in any species, logic is that there must be a few individuals who have the capacity, and the determination, to take individual actions, not just live with hard wired predetermination, even if the rest of them aren't so smart, or smart at all. Or am I wrong? I hope this discussion is still open and will welcome hearing everyone's ideas if so.

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quotations 3 years ago from Canada Author

I believe that ants are individually conscious but also part of a larger "hive" mentality. You can tell that they are capable of independent action by the way that they quickly adapt to their specific situation. For example, catch an ant and put it in a glass jar and it will immediately go to the lid, even if you invert the jar, because it seems to understand where the opening is. It does this even though it is completely cut off from the rest of the ant colony so it cannot be getting direction from them.

I think however that ants have a limited interest in non-colony affairs. I doubt that they speculate about humans except to the extent of how to avoid the big bad giants.

MarshND 2 years ago

Ants may communicate, but they never try to communicate with us.

jm 2 years ago

I am still wondering how could they be smarter than a human as you know that an ant has a mere 260 neurons compared to a humans billions neurons with trillons of synapses

anniesnow 2 years ago

I wonder if there is an ant God?

AuntAnnie575 2 years ago

It was not long ago white man thought natives peoples where animals with no intelligence. Who be the stupid ones?

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quotations 2 years ago from Canada Author

This is true. For ants, the only things they find relevant about us is 1) staying out of our way and 2) stealing our food

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quotations 2 years ago from Canada Author

As the philosopher Spinoza once said: "I believe that, if a triangle could speak, it would say, in like manner, that God is eminently triangular, while a circle would say that the divine nature is eminently circular." If ants have a religion I am sure that their god is an all powerful ant.

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quotations 2 years ago from Canada Author

I don't think that ants are smarter than us. But that does not mean that they are not intelligent.

Plus I suspect that ants have a colony based collective intelligence. So while each individual ant may have fewer neurons than us, the total number of ants working together achieves an impressive neuron total.

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quotations 2 years ago from Canada Author

Very true. Unfortunately humans are even more blind to the possibility of non-human intelligence. Scientists are only nos starting to acknowledge that dolphins and elephants are intelligent.

dan 2 years ago

checking the .......

dan 2 years ago

So, first of all. Thanks for the sophisticated article! In the garden of a Hungarian countryside, with a hundreds of different species growing,I can tell you mysterious things about the behavior patterns of ants. For a few years on, I understood and read some of that. They recently have made huge damage in some part, even in and around the house, so I started to take care of them. Cause I am a green friendly person, respecting all the lives on planet earth, I thought, it unnecessary to kill them, and dirt my Karma, so I started to use salt.For a while, it was very successful. But the game just begun than. Somehow they figured out the danger of the salt, and just walked around it. I tried other methods than, with the same result. and another. They attacked a few of my fruit trees, and after I recognized when I was on a hangover, and lay down into grass, I saw them walking up to the top of a grass, and look around, and walk back down, and go to see the next one. Like a scanner. So I started to count, and found out how many I can count in a square foot and multiplied that with the size of the area, I suddenly realized the fact: I am living with millions of ants together. Scary. So ended up buying poison for ants, after many reading and tries, which was working. For a while...Somehow they are like an artificial intelligence project, or a bloody football/soccer team, and don't fall to the same trap - the different individuals, I meant, think about it, like totally different teams, at a totally different playground - trey have a capability to learn collectively, and store that in each of them minds. Human can't do that, only in simple things, after massive losses, I think. So ten thousands of them climbed the tree daily, and managed something which i had no idea about, probably they fed themselves. and suddenly co located the brand under the tree, into the tree root system. Than I poisoned the exits from the ground, and than thousand of them killed and fallen. Dead ants all around. Than in a few days, when I thought, the actual rip off colony died or disappeared, I checked the trees again, and they made roads under the surface of the tree. I think its a bit long here, explaining my experiences, so I cut this short now, after I read many about their behavior and about how they can interpret losses, and fixing their collective behavior for success. My basic message of non scientific comment is somehow the communication works only to living with ants without losses, and after 3 yrs we are alright, they're off from house, and stop eating my veggies in garden. But I learned the fact, they can use other animals to improve produce goods, and they must use algorithms when building underground cities and tubes, because their tubes can lead to target destination sharper than a GPS positioning, and they just not bothered by any other animals, and trey trace and find any piece of food in minutes, etc. Very sophisticated community. And they can heartlessly destroy anything, just anything, even concrete! Just unbelievable. As this article. Thanks again, with all response. Enjoy the rest of your summer. peace

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quotations 2 years ago from Canada Author

Thank you for the really interesting observations. I really do believe that ants are extremely intelligent in their own way.

moogal 14 months ago

lol. Ants have zero intelligence. Do they all go 'ant school' to learn to be good ants? They do everything instictually. I guess if instinct = intelligence then bacteria are intelligent too. Hahaha

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quotations 14 months ago from Canada Author

I think your comments are based on an unwillingness to see the obvious because it would challenge our sense of being the only intelligent species on the planet, and we are clearly not. What does it matter if they go to school or not. There are many human tribes and cultures with no education, no written language, etc. Would you say that these humans are not intelligent.

Instead of focusing on the how they learn to do what they do, realize that these amazing ants build cities, cultivate crops, raise insect cattle, cooperate, have castes, etc. -- all the things that you would expect an intelligent species to accomplish.

William D. 5 months ago

Ive done some food experiments on ants from where i am livng now and ive seen extactly that they can simply plan out and eventually find the food i place down and as a matter a fact ive seen ant colonies and even ants talking to each other! after that i doubtlessly believed that ants could actually be the 5th smartest organisims on the planet and love that this article supports the whole thing and tact that ants are actually intellective besides humans/dolphins/chimpanzees so thank you very much whoever made this article


Hope we find other articles about this statement LOL

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quotations 5 months ago from Canada Author

Glad to come across another believer in the intelligence of ants! I would say, however that they may be more intelligent than chimps because ants cultivate food and build cities.

sab 2 months ago

We humans are made up of many cells. As only one in eleven of these is actually human anyway physically we are more like walking coral reefs than individuals. These multiple physical units have a shared conciousness which can manipulate the whole, which we call 'our body', on a very rough large scale level. This we think of as a body and mind.

The tendency to seek the quality of intelligence based on similar structures is anthropomorphism that is not really a rule of nature.

There are strong indications that intelligence can be found in structures which do not follow this model. For example and perhaps siphonophores which may use light in the same way brains use electricity.

Ants may be multi-cellular parts which individually only have limited intelligence, similar to our white blood cells only knowing enough to attack hostile organisms, whilst at the same time being parts of the body of a colony which has it's own overall intelligence and sense of identity.

How much does the overall behaviour of one of the species of Army Ant,, differ from that of a roving predatory mammal whose intelligence we acknowledge. Varied problems are encountered and overcome. Similar problems, such as crossing water, are dealt with in similar ways but that is only like swimming. We don't see technological development but haven't been looking for very long or at very much.

There is a great deal more to be discovered about inter-ant and inter colony communications, scent has been much studied, gestures a little. the coming area seems to be sound

So far we have problems even observing passively in the relevant electromagnetic and vibrations frequencies used by ants so know precious little about what sort of mind a colony of ants may have or at what speed it may function. Has any one else noted that when we consider an animal to possess a significant intelligence it is measured against the human yardstick after passing human made tests such as mazes? Or when we acknowledge that it may communicate for reasons other than the most basic drives ( reproduction, territory, threat, food etc ) it is because the animal has been able to communicate with us, using human sounds symbols and gestures. In the experiments with apes, dolphins birds and so on it is the animals which have crossed the gap, rarely humans.

We have no idea yet and can't be truly empirical about anything until we know far more.

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quotations 2 months ago from Canada Author

You make really good points. My impression is that even if ants are part of a larger collective consciousness, they are more comparable to the human inhabitants of a city than the cells of a human body. For the hive mind or consciousness theory to be valid, ants would have had to evolve communication and neural networks completely different than any other species, because no other group of animals or insects appears to have a collective consciousness. In fact, all other social insects and animals (including humans) lack this collective consciousness.

To me, a better analogy is the way in which human residents of a city interact. They are each individuals but each also a part of a greater whole. Their collective actions, communications, etc gives rise to what could be described as a super organism. If we watch time lapse images of traffic on streets we see that the streets resemble arterial blood vessels moving supplies in and about the city. There are many other analogies between the functions and aspects of a city which parallel those of a human body. There is even a controlling mind in the form of a town council or some other governing body, made up not only of individual human "cells" who sit on the counsel but all the other "cells" which carry out functions needed to support the existence and direction of the city, from the garbage collector (scavengers?), police force (warrior caste), etc.

Depending on the perspective or biases of an observer unfamiliar with human affairs, a hypothetical alien, for example, one might conclude that there is only one organism, the city and that the individual humans who make up its population are merely multicellular parts of an organism.

Perhaps neither perspective is entirely wrong. Perhaps we humans create a super organism through our collective interactions, in the same way that ants do. But it does not negate the possibility that ants in and of themselves have an individual intelligence.

I agree with you that we tend to measure other animals by a human yardstick and tend not to try to bridge the communication gap. This is changing a bit when it comes to cats and dogs. Most pet owners have come to understand some of their pet's language, such as cat's yawning or blinking slowly to say that they love you. But when dealing with an organism as radically different from us, such as ants, it is difficult to see how we could bridge the communication gap. The first step would have to be to acknowledge that there is something there to communicate with, namely a sentient organism, whether that organism be the ant colony or the constituent ants. Most humans can only see ants as a nuisance, and fail to recognize the possibility of an intelligence despite signs of a "civilization" equal to for example some of the first cities of humankind in Mesopotamia - namely the existence of cities, of architecture, of farming, of animal husbandry, of social castes.

I have to say, however, that if the communication gap between humans and ants is ever bridged, it will be by human scientists. Even if an ant were to attempt to communicate with a random human, the human would at best ignore it and at worst squish it. Moreover, it is my impression that despite all of the ingenuity and skill that ants display, they are essentially a static society and there is no real progress or innovation. They have had farming and animal husbandry for millions of years but for whatever reason have never progressed beyond that. They are, most likely, a non-inquisitive species and to the extent that ants may contemplate humans at all it is to assess their threat level and to scout them as sources of crumbs and other food. Ants carry out their functions in a way that is flexible to the situation (avoiding obstacles, etc) but they show no discernable interest in anything beyond their own world.

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    Ant War

    Comments 40 comments

    Leif 6 years ago

    awesome article...i never knew they were so favorite fact about them is the fact that two warring ant cities will have their respective champion fight each other instead of an all out war between the two cities...reminds of the beginning of the movie Troy....amazing!

    quotations profile image

    quotations 6 years ago from Canada Author

    Quinn - regarding you assertion that chimps wage wars. I am aware of bands of chimps raiding other chimp groups. Sometimes several chimps band together to launch the attacks on other groups. However, it seems to me that these are more raids than wars. From what I have seen, they are not organized or as extensive like the ant wars, probably because the chimps lack the numbers and the social organization of ants.

    As for your comment on my statement concerning slavery, I was trying to say that the practice of slavery is morally wrong but is nevertheless evidence of social organization.

    Wow... 6 years ago

    Wow... I'm amazed. This article actually made me want to look up more ant stuff, starting with that first video. Haha. I was amazed at their "Ant City". I spent a whole hour learning about ants... Hmm... I remember I had alot to say... I mean I even read all the comments... but, anyways I'm a very doubtful person. So I still believe its POSSIBLE for everything that the ants do to NOT be a sign of intelligence but rather something else, but I'm more on the side that it is intelligence. I'm a very open person too, I think... So if the ants were stated to be intelligent by "Fact" then I would probably believe it. Then again theres not too many "Facts" in this world, mostly opinions. But still this article was VERY amazing. And unlike many times that I've read other stuff that I could really care less about, I'm truly happy I read this. Haha... I like to learn stuff, and this was very interesting, so thanks.

    Oh yeah, I was going to say something about how someone posted a comment saying that ants would be probably erm... less likely to live if left on their own without other ants to "Tell them what to do or "Teach" them" well in my opinion Humans are pretty much in the same boat so to speak. Like yes, humans could reason and find their way around things without help... or something. But, if ants are "Intelligent" couldn't a lone ant do the same as a lone human could? For example, if some humans were born in a jungle without any other human interaction their "reasoning" or "Instinct" would help them get food and other things they need to survive as I think ants would do, even without other ants to "Teach" them. (Lets just say these new-born humans live long enough to live on their own. its just an example so yeah...) Also those humans would more than likely learn from watching other animals in their vicinity, and through trial-and-error. So Yeah... I think ants are probably intelligent. It seems more probable than not probable to me.

    Think about this when the ants first came to be if they aren't "Hard wired" then that would mean they were just learning how to survive too, much like us humans had done like them cavemen or whatever... anyways ants adapted and eventually got to where they are now, there could be a number of reasons why they don't have technology like us humans do, but if the ants had started out doing the same things they do today then they were more than likely "Hard wired" to do these things. I guess maybe we'll never know? Heh... See ya.

    ThisIsAJoke 6 years ago

    This article is poorly researched and full of holes. Where are your sources? As a preeminent ant biologist, I take some major issue with some of your blanket statements. For instance, ant slavery IS morally reprehensible. If looked at from afar, human slavery would look, I am sure, just as "natural" as ant slavery. In a recent interview, I talked to several human as well as ant slaves, and their experiences seem to be very similar. As academics, we must be careful not to offend an entire civilization many millions times larger than our own.

    BIGAL 6 years ago

    Well...the way I see it...ants are still gonna be around when humans will all have vanished (coz we are too dumb) from the who's the smartest?

    heartlessmushroom 6 years ago

    This is really interesting. But do ants develop technology? I think that's what sets us apart from them. Besides, they dont seem to need technology as they are very succesful already.

    Megamax 6 years ago

    I do not beleive that ants have inteleigince on their own, rather that they share a common awarness. What I mean is all ants of the same colony share their inteligince with one another and the queen, but the queen is the commanding mind. Also ants aren't really that inteligint, because they just do the same things over and over, what they are genetically wired to do. It would be like saying someone is inteligint for building a really neat block tower, but they have built the same or similar one thousands of times, to the point where they don't even think about it.

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    quotations 5 years ago from Canada Author

    @shell - I think you misunderstood my comment about ant slavery versus human slavery. What I meant is that the institution of slavery is morally evil but implementing it requires social organization and intelligence: capturing captives, keeping them from escaping or rebelling, directing their labor for the enslaver's benefit. What I was trying to say, however, was that just because I find the ants' practice of enslaving other ants to be evidence of intelligence, I am not glorifying or approving of slavery.

    I cannot speculate on whether ants have any sense of right or wrong other than serving the collective, but then humans have often demonstrated even less moral sense while at the same time demonstrating advanced intelligence. Think of for example the Nazis - they developed the V2 Rocket, jet engines all of which required intelligent allocation of resources (very often slave labor) and research etc - but they were also completely morally depraved and evil. So intelligence does not require goodness. And I suppose that your plan to go stomp on some defenceless ants proves the point.

    Quinn 5 years ago

    Ants and humans are not the only creatures that wage organized war. Chimps do as well.

    Quinn 5 years ago

    Edward, they remove their dead for a very obvious reason. Because you don't want a bunch of dead bodies filling up your space. Any animals that live in groups have to have an effective method for avoiding their dead.

    Quinn 5 years ago

    I think this comment got lost but if not, mods can get rid of this one...

    Ants and humans are also not alone as teachers and teach each other to use tools.

    1. Lots of extinct species have passed information between them. Such species include neanderthal and possibly the erectus/ergaster crowd.

    2. Chimps and gorillas have been known to both teach and use tools though this may not be considered formal or complex teaching.

    3. It's been suggested dolphins teach and pass information, possibly symbolically.

    Ants are clearly intelligent for an insect. That may be significant because insects are SO alien to what we are. We haven't shared a common ancestor pretty much since the beginning. So an "intelligent" insect could easily be comparable to an "intelligent" mammal (like a dog, dolphin or human) in a very broad way. Insects aren't symbolic that we know of. They're not emotional. They lack nociceptors and do not feel pain. Insects are essentially organic machines so when you judge insect intelligence, you really have to start from that perspective.

    source(s): social insect friend and sympathizer

    darris 5 years ago

    @quotations no they are actually wars. not just raids.

    they expand and protect their borders.

    Angela 5 years ago

    Wonderful article! My son and I watched a documentary that mentioned how ants in the rainforest sometimes get infected with deadly spores. When this happens, other ants recognize the symptoms and take the infected ant far away from the colony. If they don't, the spore can spread and infect the entire colony.

    I started thinking about this, and I couldn't figure out how an ant could possibly predict future outcome without intelligence. How could they know that symptoms eventually lead to death if they don't have higher reasoning skills? No other species I know quarantines their sick besides humans. (There may be others, I just don't know of them.)

    Anyway, those thoughts led me here, and my son and I spent an enjoyable learning time on your page. Thanks for the effort you put into it!

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    quotations 5 years ago from Canada Author

    @Angela - I did not know that about ants. I think that this behavior is one of many that points to intelligence on the part of ants.

    Illistrated Man 5 years ago

    Ants are not smart just they have a well adtaped set of instints like little clockwork soliders

    quotations profile image

    quotations 5 years ago from Canada Author

    @Illistrated Man - I have to disagree with you - ants are not clockwork: their behavior highly complex and adapts to different situations in a way that a preprogrammed automaton could never do. They display a high degree of organization and purpose. If you encountered any group of humans doing the same things: farming, raising cattle, building cities - you would conclude that they were not only intelligent but had a civilization.

    We tend to refuse to believe the obvious about ants because as a species our pride has caused us to delude ourselves into believing that we are the only intelligent inhabitants of this planet.

    sErgEantaEgis 5 years ago

    I don't think that ants might be as intelligent as human, since they don't have any form of art or culture, and they can't communicate their intelligence to humans in any known way. I am, however, awestruck by their cunning intelligence.

    quotations profile image

    quotations 5 years ago from Canada Author

    @sErgEantaEgis - I don't think that ants are as intelligent as humans. Their intelligence is limited to solving issues and problems of interest to ants - and as such they likely have no ability to contemplate philosophy or develop mathematical theories as these are unnecessary to meeting their immediate needs of building shelter, obtaining food. But this does not make ants unintelligent - compare them for example to primitive cave dwelling humans. When our intelligent though primitive ancestors had no written language, only the most basic tools, and knew only how to hunt and gather food, the ants had cities and agriculture.

    It is true that ants cannot communicate with humans. But this does not make them unintelligent - we humans cannot communicate with ants. In fact ants would have no reason to believe that there is any value in communicating with us since their only interaction with us is when we stomp on them and destroy their cities. To ants we are just one of the many brutish predators that threaten their existence and their ant civilization.

    dalemcleod profile image

    dalemcleod 5 years ago from USA

    Excellent hub!@quotations! I agree with you that the behaviour of ants is highly complex and adapts to different situations.. Thanks for the hub!

    Kalm 5 years ago

    Great info, I also heard that ants capture larve and keep them in a sealed dark chamber (with food) so that the insect (from larve) grows blind, and the ants then use these blind insects like cattle to farm.

    Also, I read that ants split seeds into two, so that the seed does not grow if water mixes into it. God is Great!

    karmant 5 years ago

    i wonder when someone develops a communication system with ants

    that way when I find ants in my house I can tell them to clear off

    oh damn! maybe THEY are trying to communicate with me!

    "we mean you no 'arm! we just harvest you for fungus!"

    skannerz22 5 years ago

    he talks shit a lot "The only animals that do this are humans and ants. And once again ants beat us to it: they have been farming aphids for millions of years. Humans discovered animal husbandry about 6,000 years ago." he obviously doesn't know humans have been around for 2-10 million years and the "husbandry" has been around since people were still at pryamids ... longer then 6k years ago (8k+)

    everything else is true though except that bullshit there ^

    also the first video was removed from youtube... so remove it from here lol

    maybe ants came from mars? or they are still there underground..

    jamiesweeney profile image

    jamiesweeney 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

    Ants are really magnificent. These tiny creatures are something to be gift from mother-nature .

    Aiden 4 years ago

    I really like ants so I mght write a book on ants thanks for info.

    Love 4 years ago

    I think ants are really cool little animals. They all have like a really cool society and I think we all need to learn from them. HUMANS LETS TRY AND LIVE IN THE WILD INSTEAD OF JUST SURVIVING IT.

    Teak 4 years ago

    This is an interesting article. The big problem with it, however, is that it treats all ants alike.

    As a simple example, there are more than 20,000 species of ants. Only a few of these actually farms mushrooms. Similarly, only a few milk aphids for their honey (and the ones that milk aphids for their honey never farm).

    Ants are fascinating creatures, but it's easy to overstate their intelligence, if you take exceptional behaviors exhibited only by a few, separate species, and then attribute each of these behaviours to all ants, as is done in this article.

    quotations profile image

    quotations 4 years ago from Canada Author

    @teak - You make a very good point about the fact that my article generalizes the behavior of some ant species. Still, there are many behaviors that are suggest intelligence which are shared by all or at least almost all ants, such as the construction of complex underground cities.

    Perhaps a more accurate question would be, are some ants intelligent? Still, I believe that the behaviors described can only be explained by acknowledging that at least some species are intelligent.

    kenrick 4 years ago

    they certainly act as tho they are intelligent but the question is weather or not this is because they think and reason these things in to existence or if instinct is responsible for this. like a computer program it may look intelligent on the outside but it really is not.

    quotations profile image

    quotations 4 years ago from Canada Author

    @Kenrick - but that of course begs the question of whether even we are intelligent, or merely a "program" designed to think that it is thinking for itself. If we cannot infer intelligence from behaviour then there is no way of knowing subjectively whether anything is intelligent.

    OsirisFox 4 years ago

    Ants are incredible insects (my favourite hands down), but I will say though that their mortal enemy the termites, give them a good run in terms of insect civilisations.

    quotations profile image

    quotations 4 years ago from Canada Author

    You are quite right - African termites build enormous cities. Perhaps I will do another article about the termite civilization!

    Ella 3 years ago

    I can best most human beings and ants are still able to outsmart me.

    At the very least, this means they're highly adaptable and highly cooperative.

    From here, you can decide how to define intelligence. I'll still feel i've made my point.

    ??? 3 years ago

    Don't some damsel fish kill corals and use the coral as a farming land where they grow algae and protect it from other fish? Some species of damsel fish even take a step further, they destroy any algae that they do not want. This lets red algae survives, but now with declining damsel fish predators the damsel fish are taking it to hard, especially on corals. If that wasn't enough damsel fish are highly aggressive, a three inch feeder damsel easily drove away my 13 inch lionfish by pure aggression, the damsel bullied the lion so much until I removed the damsel and just fed it to my marine betta, which was more than happy to swallow the damsel. However, marine bettas are not native to coral reefs.

    quotations profile image

    quotations 3 years ago from Canada Author

    I had not heard about the damsel fish farming, but if they do this may be an example of intelligence as well.

    ali 2 years ago

    I followed an ant, and it led to an and ant hill or whatever they're called. I watched them put food in one place, and other things separate, they live like humans without school/jobs/ect

    Stevos 22 months ago

    Just a couple of ant happenings here in southern Arizona on my property.

    Ants are very interesting and amazing creatures. I do often wonder what their level of consciousness is. Can an individual ant think/act as an individual? Out of the millions of ants, do any of them decide to take off on their own or maybe with a couple of ant friends (do ants actually have friends?) to live a life away from their original colony? Does an ant, or some ants, have the ability to think on a level of something like " I don't like this colony life. It's too crowded. I think I'll strike out on my own for ant fame and fortune. I'm tired of feeding everyone else in the colony. I want to keep more of what I earn myself and become a capitalist ant!". Being of a capitalist/libertarian tilt myself, I would think that would be great.

    My philosophy with ants usually is to observe them and see their incredible feats and "live and let live", as long as they don't invade my house.

    Unfortunately, over about a year, a single red ant colony completely took over my back yard. It started with just a few, but by about three months ago literally thousands were carrying about at once, especially at night. When I took my dogs out the ants literally covered almost every foot of the yard. The dogs got stung on their paws a couple of times and finally I was stung too doing some gardening. Wow, that was painful and the pain lasted for five or six hours. Worse than a bee sting. Though feeling guilty doing it, I finally called out a pest control guy and he did away with the colony. No more red ants within two days. I still feel a bit guilty but it had gone to the point of "It's me and the dogs, or the ants!".

    I still have a few black large ants on occasion and a colony of hundreds of very tiny grey or black ants that forage around our pond/waterfall and am always careful to protect them if I can as they cause no trouble whatsoever. We have a lot of flowers and plants, and in the warmer weather every night I'll see the large black ants carry leaf cuttings and flower petals over the wall that surrounds our property. A month ago seven or eight of those ants were together pulling a small dead caterpillar, and with a super ant effort over about an hour, they were able to push and pull it over our six foot tall wall, drop it over the top to the other side, climb down the wall after they dropped it, and then pull/push it away. I was tempted to follow them all they way to their colony just to see it but since it was after midnight, I just said goodbye to them and their herculean task.

    Thanks for having our ant "forum" here as it's a great occasional outlet for my "ant thinking"!

    Olddaddy 12 months ago

    I love ants! I care for every animal including them. I might watch them at some points, but I do believe they are intelegent! There are my favorite animal, hands down. They are the most interesting animal I've ever learned about. I've read many articles about them on the Internet.

    quotations profile image

    quotations 10 months ago from Canada Author

    Ants are truly amazing and intelligent too!

    Ravi Shankar 4 months ago

    The human body has billions of cells each of which could potentially be made to live independently in a petri dish; the same thing is true of the cells in our brain. We would hardly call any of them "intelligent" but collectively those cells certainly form an "intelligent entity. The ant colony is similar except that the individual ant is a lot more than a single cell. Some of the thing that are not mentioned in this great article are: ants also build nests with the understanding that the leaves have to be kept live, they also know how to prevent them from getting hot in the tropical sun, they know how to use the silk secreted by their larva to bind the leaves to form a nest, there are ants that will protect a tree by raining down on any climber and biting them to hell! Chimps and Gorillas have not learned how to protect themselves from rain but ants they share their habitat do!

    quotations profile image

    quotations 4 months ago from Canada Author

    Thank you for the additional examples of ant intelligence. I was not aware of them.

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