Open Access: CC BY 4.0


Ellison, A.M. & Gotelli, N.J.

Year: 2021


Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and humans: from inspiration and metaphor to 21st-century symbiont

Journal: Myrmecological News

Volume: 31

Pages: 225-240

Type of contribution: Review Article

Supplementary material: No


Ants have been metaphors and mirrors of the human condition for millennia. In the last fifty years, however, the potential for physical and cultural symbioses between ants and humans has been considered and, in some cases, realized. We illustrate and review ant-human symbioses in mythology, art, cinema, literature, agriculture, mining, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, and the implications of these symbioses for the push towards “becoming-with” nonhuman species. We trace a clear progression from the depiction of ant colonies as individual organisms to the recognition of them as paradigms of self-assembly and utility for solving practical engineering problems. At the same time, our social norms have evolved. The language we use to describe our own social relationships has resulted in a restructuring of the language we use to describe relationships among ants and presages further constructive symbioses between ants and people. Currently, most ant-human symbioses are one-way commensalisms (humans benefit far more than ants) in which ants are directly influencing human culture and language. Two-way mutualisms between ants and humans are hindered by their lack of a common language or the ability to translate their different languages, but two-way mutualisms may be emerging from artistic collaborations between ants and humans. However, it remains unknown whether or how ant social behavior or perception is altered by a colony’s interactions with humans.

Open access, licensed under CC BY 4.0. © 2021 The Author(s).

Key words: Ant control optimization, artificial intelligence, becoming-with, biological control, cleptotecton, communication, cyborg, domestication, forensics, language, mini-livestock, myrmecotektōní, myrmeculture, review, symbiosis.

Publisher: The Austrian Society of Entomofaunistics

ISSN: 1997-3500

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