28. In Praise of Ants: the Superorganism
"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise" (Proverbs 6:6)
Societies of colonial bees, wasps, termites, and ants, are sometimes called superorganisms. The closely cooperating animals function much in the same manner that cells and tissues function in a single organism. The united effort gives them the ability to accomplish amazing feats. Although superorganisms represent only 2% of the 900,000 known insect species in the world, they comprise more than half the biomass. In the Amazon rain forest where an actual measurement was made, ants and termites alone comprised 30% of the entire biomass. Ants alone weighed 4 times as much as the combined mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.1
It is interesting to note that humans, the most successful vertebrate, number approximately 6.6 billion. The total number of ants has been estimated at 10 million billion. Since a human weighs 1 to 2 million times as much as the typical ant, humans and ants comprise roughly the same global biomass.2
In The Ants, a Pulitzer Prize winning book, ants are considered to be the culmination of insect evolution in the same sense that human beings represent the summit of vertebrate evolution.3
An interesting question one could ask is this:
What would happen if a human society became as unified as that found in the superorganism? Has it ever happened in the distant past? Could that help explain some of the amazing accomplishments of ancient cultures which defy a modern explanation?
(See The Mind of God, chapter 10)