When I have nightmares, they are often about ants.

Ants spilling frantically from an anthill, swarming over my ankles as I try to escape – or worse, suddenly clambering over my recumbent limbs as I sunbathe, jolted out of my peaceful reading by thousands of tiny feet pattering over my vulnerable body. *shudder* I’m certain these fears are based on childhood experiences, and while I can tolerate ants as long as they remain outside the house and off my limbs, (there’s a nest in my garden that I gave up trying to scare off when I learned that an empty ant nest is just waiting to be occupied by another colony of ants,) I’ve never felt the need to learn anything about them.

So I surprised myself when I heard about ‘Empire of Ants’ and actually really liked the sound of it. The blurb captured my attention by making ant colonies sound quite as capable as human societies – maybe more so! They’ve been around longer than we have, after all…


Ants have been walking the Earth since the age of the dinosaurs. Today there are one million ants for every one of us.

The closer you get to ants, the more human they look: they build megacities, grow crops, raise livestock, tend their young and infirm, and even make vaccines. They also have a darker side: they wage war, enslave rivals and rebel against their oppressors. From fearsome army ants, who stage twelve-hour hunting raids where they devour thousands, to gentle leaf-cutters gardening in their peaceful underground kingdoms, every ant is engineered by nature to fulfil their particular role.

Acclaimed biologist Susanne Foitzik has travelled the globe to study these master architects of Earth. Joined by journalist Olaf Fritsche, Foitzik invites readers deep into her world – in the field and in the lab – and will inspire new respect for ants as a global superpower.

Fascinating and action-packed, Empire of Ants will open your eyes to the secret societies thriving right beneath your feet.


What’s it about?

See above! ‘Empire of Ants’ is an opportunity to learn about how ants “communicate, organise and evolve”. Simple.

It is not a scientific examination of the ant genus, so don’t expect charts or family trees; it is an entertaining look at some common and some uncommon features of a variety of ant species.

It is also a look at how myrmecologists study ants and the difficulties that can be encountered, especially in jungles and at airports!

What’s it like?

This is an interesting account of the most fascinating parts of ant lives. Foitnik raises a thrill in her readers through her discussion of the most intriguing ant habits and foibles. Expect to learn about: ‘slavemaker’ ants, who raid other species’ nest and steal their pupae to harvest their future labour for their colony; ant zombies, directed by fungus to drape themselves over a tree to provide a handy sprinkling point for fungal spores; the amazing nature of ant navigation, which in the desert seems to involve using magnetic fields; and the self-sacrificing nature of worker ants in one particular colony, who, after barricading the entrance to their nest with sand to protect the insects inside from discovery, strike out into the surrounding area with no intention other than to die away from their colony’s nest and thus avoid drawing attention to it.

Final thoughts

If nothing else stays with you from reading this book, I think this fact will: for every 1 human on the planet today, there are approximately 1 million ants. (I suspect my next ant based nightmare to be truly disturbing!) Actually, ‘Empire of Ants’ is full of such interesting snippets of information that I suspect quite a few will stick. For instance, I never knew ants milked aphids for honeydew or that sneaky caterpillars could grow in their nests before making a very risky attempt at a getaway as a fully fledged butterfly / ant appetiser. As for the tapeworm that transforms a particular species of ant into a delicious looking treat for passing birds…wow. Nature is brutal.

An entertaining look at various features of ant life.

‘Empire of Ants’,
Susanne Foitnik, Olaf Fritsche,
2021, Octopus Publishing Group
Many thanks to Anne Cater and Octopus Publishing Group for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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