Archive for the ‘Ant Art’ Category

Today, I came across this picture:


This is Figure 1 from a massive manuscript on Cephalotes by de Andrade and Baroni Urbani (1999). It includes the following caption:

Aerial view of one of the lines of Nasca (Peru) representing abstract animal contours (left) and the contour of a worker of Cephalotes atratus (LINNAEUS) drawn in the same style (right). The Nasca design was interpreted as a spider, essentially because it has four pairs of legs. We contend that the Nasca design might refer to a cephalotine ant as well. The reasons for this claim are twofold: (1) cephalotines are much more common and impressive than spiders, and, (2) the Nasca design bears a typical insect character contradicting the spider interpretation, namely the separation between head and thorax. This latter character is considered as being of easier observation than the number of appendages.

I find this interpretation to be quite compelling. At the very least, it’s entertaining to think that the pre-Columbian Nazca people appreciated turtle ants so much that they incorporated them into such fascinating artwork. We really shouldn’t be surprised if this is this case – turtle ants are famous for their well-documented behavior of using their heads to block the nest entrances, and several species have highly specialized soldiers so dedicated to this form of defense that their heads are basically just saucers:

Cephalotes varians
(Image: Alex Wild)
Cephalotes varians defense
(Image: Alex Wild)

Although the true inspiration for these Nazca lines may never be known for certain, I’m adding this to the pile of evidence that clearly shows that cultures around the world hold a timeless appreciation for ants.



De Andrade, M. L. and Baroni Urbani, C. Diversity and adaptation in the ant genus Cephalotes, past and present. Stuttg. Beitr. Naturk. Ser. B (Geol. Paläontol.) 271:1-889.

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For today’s Monday Mandarin Meanings, I asked my school liaison (in China), Tan Lingzhao, to tell me an idiom with “蚂蚁” (ants) in it. She gave me:

Reguo shang de mayi

This is “rè guō shàng de mǎyǐ“, or “ants on a hot pan”. Quite reasonably, this phrase is used for somebody who is very anxious. I normally break down the meaning of the characters, often with lighthearted interpretations, but here they are mostly straightforward. “热锅” is “pan”, “上” is “on”, and “蚂蚁”, as already mentioned, is “ant” or “ants”. But 的 is really exciting! It’s a grammar particle.


Reguo shang de mayi art


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Today, I found an article from 2010 that discusses this artwork:

Man kills 200,000 ants for artwork

What’s so special about it, you ask? Well, as reported by The Telegraph, this piece was made by artist Chris Trueman by killing 200,000 ants. I’ve discussed the ethics of killing ants before (see here and here), but regardless of one’ answer to the general question of the morality of killing insects, one of Trueman’s comments borders on depraved:

Mr. Trueman, from Claremont, California, admitted that putting the piece together had been a challenge.

He even stopped half way through the process because he had an attack of conscience after killing the ants.

He said: “It took several years, not because of the actual labour, but because at one point I started to feel bad about killing all of the ants and I stopped the project for over a year.

“Then I decided that the first ants would have died in vain if I didn’t finish the work so I decided to continue.”

So in other words, he felt bad for killing ants, but then decided to kill more ants to finish the thing he didn’t feel was worth killing ants for so that the ants he initially killed would still be used for that thing that he stopped killing ants for because he felt it wasn’t worth killing the ants for it.

However, although I find Trueman’s reasoning for his change of heart convoluted and kind of creepy, I personally think the picture is awesome. But this is coming from the guy that’s already killed tens of thousands of ants on a Kansas prairie to answer some questions for a small research project and who will likely generate a life-time anticide total in the millions. In any case, I think we can all agree on one conclusion of Trueman’s:

“Ants ride the line of what we consider intelligent life, if we see them in the kitchen, many of us think little of killing them all.

“If we take the time to look at them they are remarkable creatures.”

Whether in art or nature, ants are remarkable indeed.

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